Why CAN’T I use a $500 camcorder?

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    • #49116

      Hi all,

      At the risk of getting flamed or laughed at, I wondered if you could help me understand more about the ins and outs of low-end cameras, vs. something much more expensive. I’ve posted elsewhere about this, and my apologies for any redundancy. Also, this in no way is meant to negate any of the (much appreciated!) comments that I’ve already gotten on other posts. I’m not out to challenge anyone in particular, I’m just trying to gather as many opinions and as much information as I can.

      Long story short, I’ve been asking around online about the cheapest possible camera for an upcoming project. Basically, I’m torn because I’ve heard comments on either side of two different extremes. At one extreme (I’m generalizing) I hear something like “Anything less than $2000 or $1500 is a complete joke.” At the other extreme, however, I’m hearing “It’s about so much more than just the camera. Nowadays, you can get good video from an iPhone if you know what you’re doing.”

      Now, I totally get that it’s about more than the camera, but putting that aside for the moment- which is it? Cheap stuff, or high-end stuff, or something in-between?

      Of course, the answer is that it depends on the needs of my project! So, here they are:

      1. I need good (“professional-looking”) picture quality. HD preferred.

      2. The camera will mostly be filming only two different shots: waist-up shots of me speaking, and close-ups of my hands. The close-ups will be overhead shots of my hands on a piano keyboard. I mention this because, although the hands will be moving, they’ll be moving across the same basic plane with respect to the camera. Everything will be shot indoors, with (hopefully) ample lighting.

      3. Based on the description in no. 2 above, and in my admittedly very newbie judgement, it doesn’t seem to me that I need manual focus. I also don’t see the need for high-end image stabilization (the camera is never moving), or manual exposure control. In fact, I don’t THINK I need many of the fancier things that higher-end cameras offer. By the way, I have separate, high-quality sound equipment, and so the camera’s audio capabilities are of lesser importance.

      4. I know that I’ve left off some of the important concerns, such as the quality of the lens, imager, etc. This is admittedly what I know the least about, and I suspect that it may be the answer to my end question. If that’s true, though, I would appreciate it if someone could set me straight, and help me to understand those details.

      Because here’s the end question: I’ve seen some cameras in the $500 range that SEEM to have most of the specs that are actually required for this particular project. They have mic input jacks, at least some optical zoom, use flash memory, are made by reputable companies, and several at least claim to shoot in 1080p, or at least 1080i. Now, I don’t know to what degree the people who say “nowadays an iPhone gets a great picture” are being cynical, but if that really is true, then with all-due respect to the many here whom I believe are absolute experts at this, why isn’t a camera in the $500 range good enough? Why do I need to jump up to $2000?


    • #201239

      No one said you couldn’t. Many of even the cheapest HD cameras look pretty decent so long as there is plenty of light on full automatic mode. Normal indoor lighting probably would not be sufficient, but you can add some cheap lighting to your shots – just visit your Local Lowe’s/Home Depot etc. I still would find one that could lock a focus in manual focus though, you never know how the camera will react.

    • #201240

      Simply try out some units at area electronics outlets, pick your poison, and learn to utilize this “tool” to the best of your ability. Depending on the myriad of opinions and suggestions from others will (has) overwhelmed you. At some point an individual needs to follow his/her instincts, research options and budget, commit and produce. Success is a fundamental result of being able to commit and pursue, not dink around indecisively waiting for someone to make the hard choices for us.

    • #201241

      James, the look of a finished video production has a lot to do with two factors – 1) The eye and mind of the videographer/editor/producer and 2) the equipment (camera and other) the videographer/editor/producer has at their disposal.

      Without either being of high caliber the end result will suffer.

      In a prior life I was a professional photographer and have taught that craft to many – I have long said when being questioned about my equipment choices that I could outshoot many using a Brownie, meaning it should be the equipment that limits you, not your skill.

      I still feel this way, now including video in the mix. You should always create to the level of your equipment (meaning your camera and software are what should limit you, not your talent).

      I cannot speak for others but I started with a small, decent, consumer grade camcorder and still shoot with a consumer grade (high end consumer but consumer grade nevertheless) camera. Everything else I use is professional quality (NLE, assets, support software, related hardware like tripods, dollies, sound equipment, etc…).

      My budget prohibits me from spending much more on a prosumer or professional camera, so I have honed my skills to the point where they are suffering the crunch of running into the brick wall that is my camera. The end result is still a better product than others with professional cameras at their disposal can produce, and my clients agree, which is why I rely on much repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals.

      So in the end, what I am trying to say in a long winded way, is choose a camera you are comfortable with, learn to use it right up to the limits of it’s technology and hone your own skills all the time – If the camera is a $200 unit or a $200,000 unit, either will be useless unless the human talent behind the lens is not up to snuff and conversely, either is capable of making a masterpiece.

      Just MHO.

    • #201242

      I have an assortment of cameras, from cheap to expensive… all have their place, and uses. The main thing is this… what are the limitations of each peice of gear?

      For example if I need a fisheye perspective I got three choices…

      1)my more expensive camcorders with a fisheye attachment…

      2)my d-slr with fisheye lens

      3)my go-pro

      so which is best? NONE!

      if I’m shooting a long take, like an hour or more…. my sr12 or hdr hc1 with fisheye adaptor or my go-pro… d-slr gets into heat and recording time limit issues.

      if it is a lower light scene then the camcorder beats the go-pro in low light image quality.

      if it is in good light and the camera needs to be someplace wet, or dangerous to the gear or mounted on a vehicle, the go-pro is better… you won’t see me rigging up a d-slr to a car during the daytime when a go-pro and some painters tape will do the job, but at night, I have no choice but to rig the d-slr…..

      short takes in low light? the d-slr beats ’em all hands down no contest.

      They all got thier pro’s and con’s. and if used correctly, they can all produce stunning video.

    • #201243

      I used to work for one of the largest production organizations in the world, the Dept. of Defense. Though I ultimately worked with top of the line cameras, I initially trained with low-end camcorders. The philosophy was; ‘if you can’t shoot well with basic gear, you won’t with high-end gear either.’

      When I went out on my own, I initially could not afford a high-end rig so I got a simple camcorder and used my knowledge on shooting, lighting and sound to push that thing to its limits. You will constantly read here in the posts that it is not the camera, but the shooter that makes the ‘quality of the video high’.

      I guarantee you I could put a RED ONE Epic with everything you need in your hands and if you didn’t know what you were doing, it still would look like crap. On the other end I can give a pro a Point-and-shoot with video and they would come back with usable if not great looking footage.

      Cameras are a lot like guns. They all shoot, but their accuracy and effectiveness strictly depends on the gunman. You’ll either ‘spray bullets’ everywhere and not hit squat or draw a smiley face on the target because you’ve learned the tool’s controls and how best exploit its strengths and limitations. No matter what camera manufacturers pitch you, there’s no getting around that rule.

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