Do You Need a Camcorder Anymore?

Project 2012: Day 325

Back in 2000, a year after moving to Australia, I bought my first digital camcorder. It was (is) a Panasonic device that records to Mini-DV tape. I needed to hack the camcorder to record my edited video back onto the device. Then there was the investment in a Canopus Real-Time editing card (about $5000), not to mention the NLE software, and thousands of hours learning the craft to make somewhat better than “home” movies. Most of my distribution was to VHS tape, as most of my audience (family and church) didn’t over a DVD player back then.

Over the years I upgraded both camera, and editing machine, up to a Canon HF-100 HD Camcorder that records to SDHC card.

But I can’t remember the last time I used it. Definitely over a year ago.

And I’m shooting (way) more video.

At the end of the day, my iPhone shoots 1080p High-Def video, that I can edit well enough for my purposes on my iPad. I always have my phone with me. I distribute direct to YouTube & Vimeo. So here’s my question:

Do You Need a Camcorder Anymore? 

Beware: Cheesy Video Ad Here

Well you know, if Steve Jobs has the kahunas to get up on stage and flog his iPad, the least I can do is a cheesy video about a “YouTube Cam.”

Since my blog about the Flip MinoHD, I’ve had a bunch of requests about a pocketable, good quality HD camcorder, and I came across a couple of these Kodak Zx1’s last week. So I thought, a quick review and make ‘em available on eBay.

You’ll enjoy one of these great cameras, which sport quite a few better features than the Flip. E.g:

  • Still photo (3MPx)
  • Replaceable, rechargeable batterythese ones have both the Kodak Li-ion & a couple of Kodak AA’s + 2 chargers;
  • Expandable memory with SDHC card Great for when you won’t have a computer around, like if you’re camping, or travelling
  • Shoots in 720-60pReally crisp played directly on your HD TV
  • HDMI OutNo computer needed for quick replay
  • DC InGreat for conferences or long shoots
  • Did I mention water resistant?well splash & (light) rain proof anyway

It’s certainly not the best video I’ve made, but it does the job. Shot mainly on the Flip, with a couple of scenes on the Zx1 itself.

As you can see, the Zx1 shoots great video, which you’ll find easy to shoot, edit, and share on your site. If you’re interested, whether you buy one or not, I’d be happy to work with you to discuss the basics of video, especially wrt to online video.

You can check out the first Kodak Zx1 I’m listing at 25% less than retail (including the extra batteries & chargers) here: http://cgi.ebay.com.au/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=290396857649&ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT#ht_2286wt_1313

Note, these will be online for only 3 days.

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Perfection in Portable Video?

There is no question that as the web speeds up, and reaches into your very pocket, the best way to grow your business, any business, is by reaching people on the web. There is also no question that your best sales asset, is you. Not banner ads, print ads, trading directories, mail shots, radio, or even TV, but you. The final rhetoric question is about the dramatic consumption of video on the web. YouTube is already the second largest search engine.

What do I know about video though?

I’ve been shooting and editing video, personally & semi-professionally, for over 10 years. In that time I’ve gone from producing VHS video tapes (although from a MiniDV source), to DVD, on USB flash memory, and on the web. Today, the vast majority of my video is on the web (why, oh why did I get my PC with a Blueray Burner?). Apart from the odd family DVD to send to the UK, my videos are all watched online.

Camcorder of choice? The Canon HF100 – this shoots in HD (1080i), straight to SDHC card which allows me to edit directly without the need for cables, but most importantly it has an external mic connection, external headset and gain control (so you can control the audio volume). The little Canon Zoom Mic I bought with the camcorder is the dog’s b’s. Capturing voice in amongst the worst ambient noise, and full dynamic stereo of e.g. an orchestra, sweetly.

Now there’s a couple of things to note about video edited on PC, and delivered on the web.

  1. Unless you have the most powerful desktop, rendering true HD is very time consuming. Although both my Fujitsu Tablet and Alienware mx17 do render true HD, rendering in 720p is significantly snappier.
  2. Both upload speeds, and storage space for 1080i sized videos is in short supply. And no-one is prepared to wait (or has the download limit to) for a 1080i video to download.
  3. Pretty much all the video host sites that allow HD (YouTube, Vimeo etc) host in 720p anyway. Note, Vimeo will allow you to embed HD videos on your site, without having to head over to their site for this privilege.

Both of these things will change in due course, but for now, 720p is the sweet spot for quality, editing, and download speed. If you want to have videos which are crisp, compelling, and good quality, you want HD. If you want people to be able to watch them, you want 720p.

Now the HF100 is a great camcorder, and like my Canon 500D DSLR camera, I use it for those productions I want the best quality for. But despite it’s nifty size, it doesn’t fit in my pocket…. “Is that a camcorder in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”

There is a lot of video, from wishing someone overseas a Happy Birthday, to interviewing a business colleague at a conference, to capturing the simplicity of an afternoon out, where the HF100 is simply overkill (or too bulky to carry). Enter the Flip!

Flip?

Flip video cameras have been around for a couple of years, and only recently available to buy in Australia. More recently, they’ve turned to HD video. Note, not 1080i or p, like other vendors (Kodak, JVC, Sony amongst others), but 720p. This is smart imho. As mentioned, capturing in 720p maximises the amount of video you can capture on the camcorder, provides great HD quality, and still is easy to render, upload, and host.

So when I got an email from Amazon offering 40% off the Flip MinoHD for 24 hours, I pounced!! As mentioned in a previous post, Amazon delivered the Flip in under 2 business days.

Pure Design

flip_minohd[1] I love devices that nail good design, and the Flip MinoHD nails great design. Their promise is a camcorder that is simple to use, portable, and provides great quality video.

Both the device and the accompanying software makes producing video a walk in the park. There are two buttons on the MinoHD. A power button, and a big red record button. Der. Switch it on, in under 2 seconds you’re ready to record, hit the big red button and you’re capturing in High Def.

Slide the toggle on the right-hand side and up flips the USB connector. Plug it into your PC or Mac and the Flip SW fires up. If this isn’t installed on the computer, the installer is on the camcorder, and will auto-install. Simple!

From the Flip sw you can upload to your computer, export to another drive or device, do very rudimentary editing (trim in/out, join clips, add music, simple title & credits), upload directly to YouTube, or share on your very own Flip Channel.

Note, this is definitely nowhere near as powerful as other editing packages. It’s not intended to be. Flip wanted to provide the quickest way to shoot, and get video online. That’s all. If you want to composite, do chroma key, add intricate titles or control the score, you need to use another package. But if you want to shoot a happy customer and get it online before they get home, then this is perfect.

But wait, there’s more…

Of course you can edit the videos (clips stored in MP4, compilations in WMV) in other packages, and if you want to add animations you may want to do this.

You can zoom on the Flip, but bear in mind it’s digital (which degrades quality) and only up to 2x. Given the distance you’ll be standing from your subject, you’re probably better off just moving the camera physically closer.

It does have that most important of camera accessories. A std 1/4” tripod mount! Why is this important?

Beware there be monsters…

The Flip is about simplicity and portability. It’s pocketable. Light. But shoots in HD. Camera shake could easily be a real problem. So if you’re going to shoot an interview, or anything for longer than about a minute, it’s a very good idea to mount the camera with a tripod. Or at least a monopod.

You may want to shoot yourself describing a product or service. Remember, no-one sells your business better than you. A great idea is to mount the Flip on a monopod, which allows you to hold it further away than your arm, and stabilise the shot simultaneously.

No, you can’t plug in an external microphone. So remember to be close to your subject, especially if there’s a lot of ambient noise. Or record audio to a separate device.

White balance, aperture, and focus is all automatic. You’ll need to keep these constraints in mind when shooting. Position yourself to avoid extreme backlight. But my experience is the low-light quality is darn good (for a $120 camcorder) and the video quality is perfect for the candid shots I use this device for.

Go where no man has gone before…

Given this device cost me less than $160 delivered, I have no fear taking it out on my bicycle, or videoing on the beach, or in my car. I’ll probably get a waterproof housing, or bag, and take it on the boat too. You’ll be less enamoured taking your $1200 HD camcorder (or even far inferior quality iPhone) to any of those locations.

Where can I get one then?

You can still get the 4GB Flip MinoHD (1hr recording) for US$145 at Amazon, which is about AU180 delivered. The 2GB version retails for about AU$298 at JB HiFi or Dick Smith.