Part 1: Choosing the right Video Camera
As outlined in my introductory post on the subject of creating your own in-house web videos, the availability of easy-to-use, relatively low-cost point-and-shoot cameras (some would include even the iPhone in this category) and editing software (think iMovie) makes it very tempting to produce your own Product, Event, or even Corporate videos for your company’s website. If that is the way you’re leaning, but are unsure about what kind of professional video production equipment you need, let me give you some insights on what to look for in production and post-production equipment.
Of course, if you would rather hire a professional to handle the end-to-end production process, check out our very affordable pricing.
Today, we look at the minimum performance specs for a professional video production camera to deliver quality web videos.
Get a camera that shoots in HD
HD is the standard today, and it is critical when your video must show visual detail. In resolution, that means 720P or 1080P. Almost all “prosumer” cameras shoot HD (even the iPhone shoots HD). Keep in mind that the greater the resolution, the larger the size of the file, dictating the need for faster, bigger file storage on the camera and with your editing system.
On the flip side, avoid spending the extra cash to purchase the latest 4K resolution camera for your video production. You’ll likely be uploading your videos to a video streaming platform like YouTube or Vimeo. Although YouTube can support 4k video, your viewers don’t need 4K for visual quality, their Internet connection is likely too slow to stream 4K, and you don’t need the additional expense in specialized 4K editing software and hardware.
Make sure you have an effective Zoom Lens
Most camera’s (like the ones mentioned below) come with a fixed zoom lens. A zoom lens gives you the ability to get close to the action, without having your camera in the way of the action. A good zoom lens also gives you the ability to zoom out and get a wide-angle and capture the “big picture”. Another benefit of a zoom lens is that it allows you to add “motion” to your footage, by zooming in or zooming out on certain shoots.
My recommendation is to ensure that your zoom lens has a good range from 35mm (wide angle) to 135mm (zoom in).
Good low-light capability
The downside of a zoom lens is that the more affordable zoom lenses often have a relatively high “f-stop”, meaning that it has a relatively narrow optical lens, limiting the amount of light that comes into the lens, and therefore limiting your ability to shoot indoors in low-light conditions. Some camera’s compensate for this by adding special “low-light” features, such as large CCD or CMOS imaging chips. Most cameras allow you to increase the “gain” digitally, but this often adds unwanted “graininess” to the captured footage.
Either way, chances are you will need to invest in a good lighting kit for any type of indoor video production, from interior action shots to interview shots. See the related post on choosing the right lighting kit.
Having external inputs and control for audio is a must-have
To create a professional video production you absolutely need great audio. Crisp, clear, and without unwanted background noises.
Standard built-in microphones do a good job of capturing ambient sound, but will disappoint you if you are trying to capture a person’s voice. People like to watch people telling stories. If that is going to be part of your videos, then you will need a “Lavalier mike”, either wired or wireless. And that means that your camera needs to have the ability to “plug in” these external microphones, usually via an industry-standard XLR connector. XLR inputs are grounded and they reduce hum and noise in the audio recording.
And if you want great audio, your camera will also need to have the ability to manually adjust the audio input levels before recording. You are going to be re-adjusting levels for every recording you do, because each environment has a different sound profile, and each person speaks at different levels. I prefer to have audio control knobs on my cameras so that you can adjust the levels on the fly without searching through the cameras menus. Alternatively, you could try to do some audio corrections after shooting, in post production, but this is not recommended because it always degrades the overall audio quality.
Manual & Automatic
Camera’s are very “smart” these days, but it is dangerous to assume that fully automatic “point & click” cameras will give you quality results. And so your camera must have the ability to manually override the focus, aperture, shutter speed, etc. There is nothing more annoying, for instance, than an automatic camera losing focus while you’re filming because there is some movement or action in and around your scene.
My preference is a camera with zoom, focus, and iris wheels. When in manual mode, you are going to be adjusting theses constantly and it is best to be able to have precise control on-the-fly, while you shoot.
DSLR or Camcorder
Some background is required here. For years, the only option to record video were Camcorders. Then along came more and more powerful Digital-Single-Lens-Reflex (DSLR) cameras, with the ability to shoot HD video at regular 30 or even 60 frames-per-second. For a while it seemed that DSLRs were becoming the choice because of their flexibility and relatively low-cost. In fact, during my time at Princess Cruises early in 2015, the company was in the process of standardizing on DSLRs for all their video needs.
However, for professional video production the swing is back towards dedicated Camcorders for their ability to focus completely on features needed to create great video. So if you are serious about turning out good quality video footage, opt for a Camcorder over a DSLR solution.
If you would like specific recommendations on video cameras, talk to the pros at Vistek, Canadians largest video equipment supplier, and the preferred source for all things pro-video. Based on my recent conversations with their camcorder team, they suggest models like Canon XA20 or Sony PXW-X70. That means you’ll be spending anywhere from $2,400 to $3,000.
Tripod and fluid heads
Tripods and fluid-heads are the most overlooked pieces of equipment for creating great video. They are essential for creating smooth, stable footage. There is no point getting a great camera, if it is going to be mounted on a flimsy tripod/fluid head.
Look for a fluid-head that is specifically designed for camcorders and video cameras. You will want the ability to adjust the drag so that you can smooth out any pans or tilts that you do. And you would want the ability to easily and reliably lock the camera horizontally and vertically.
As for a tripod I would recommend one with adjustable rubber feet/ spiked feet. This will allow you to shoot indoors on carpet or wooden floors with the rubber feet, and out doors on grass and dirt with the spiked feet. I also find that one with a mid-level spreader works best. They don’t crowd your feet and are easy to set up and put away.
My preference is a Sachtler tripod and head – rugged, reliable, precision German engineering.
Up next: lighting
In upcoming posts, I’ll suggest your best choices for lighting kits and audio equipment which will add to your professional video production arsenal. Stay tuned!