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Cameras

There are all manner of cameras out there from which one can make video. If you're planning to post something on the web, you can get by with footage shot on your cell phone or a video-capable digital camera. CVS even makes a disposable video camera these days, if you want something quick and dirty and really inexpensive. Then of course there's always the video camera you used to shoot family gatherings and your children's recitals, etc. Technically, any of these formats will work for the web, so long as they are digital or can be converted into a digital format, a process called analog to digital conversion.

You can't do much with the few minutes of relatively low-quality video that your cell phone can capture. The more limited your ability to control the quality of the footage you capture, the more limited your ability to tell your story well. What's more, if you use a relatively good video camera and pay attention to your lighting and composition, you'll increase your distribution options considerably. So, choose carefully when deciding what format and camera to use. If you['re new to this video production thing, I'd suggest you use whatever you have or get something cheap and/or used with which to experiment. In either case, it can't hurt to consider the following:

Format: Knowing where you want to distribute your video will help you determine what format to use. Television stations like to use formats described as "broadcast quality." At one time, not all that long ago, television networks shot and projected everything on Betacam-SP. Now days, they are experimenting with High Definition, Pro-Video and even Mini-DV. Anything lower-end than mini-dv, Digital-8, or analog signals like Hi-8, VHS and SVHS are not likely to be considered broadcast quality, nor would you want to project them in a theater, but they might translate well enough to the web, so long as you can convert anything analog to digital. It's up to you to determine what format provides an image quality that's acceptable to you.

Image Quality - 3CCDs or 1CCD? According to Wikepedia: All broadcast quality cameras contain 3 Charge-Coupled Devices (AKA 3CCD). 3 CCD or 3-chip cameras come in a number of formats. The least expensive and most commonly used format by amateurs and independent video professionals is mini-dv, although I think pro-video and high-definition are catching up. A 3-chip camera for any format will probably stand you in good stead whatever you're hoped for distribution outlets, but not all three chip cameras are made equally, and some one chip cameras, especially those that allow you to go easily back and forth between manual and automatic controls, can produce some pretty dandy images. If you are able to control the lighting and have a basic understanding of composition you can make good images with almost any camera. If your camera work sucks, even the best camera will not save your project. Popular 3-chip cameras considered broadcast quality for the mini-dv format (which I am most familiar) include the Canon XL and GL lines and the Sony DCR-VX range. Those are pretty expensive if you're not certain you can make money through their use. Panasonic makes a larger range of 3-chip cameras priced for independent professionals as well as consumers. Sony and Canon make some pretty good one-chip cameras that some consider comparable to the lower-priced three chip Panasonics. If you're thinking of buying a one chip camera or a lower end three chip camera, there are a few things you should be sure to consider.

How much manual control does it offer? There's really no excuse for buying a camera that doesn't allow you to manipulate the focus, exposure, shutter speed and white balance. Without this ability, it's pretty tricky controlling the quality of your image, especially in difficult lighting situations. If you've never tried taking your camera off the automatic settings, this site www.easycamcorders.com/d/Tutorials.htm explains why it's a good idea to go manual and how to do it. They also have a very helpful buying guide if you're in the market.

Does the camera have a headphone jack? You do not want to shoot a whole rack of footage only to find that you haven't captured any sound at all or that the air conditioner that you hardly noticed during the shoot, overpowers everything your subjects are saying or that you can hear the interviewer's questions fine, but the answers are completely unintelligible. The only way to know for certain if you're getting clear audio is if you listen to it while it's being recorded; ergo, the headphone jack and a good set of headphones.

Can you plug in an external microphone? If you're forced to use the on-camera microphone, you'll have to keep the camera within maybe 3 feet of any subject who is speaking and shooting in a crowd or near a busy intersection will be pretty much forbidden. If you suspect you'll be doing most of your shooting alone without a sound person, then it's nice if your camera also has an accessory shoe to which you can attach a microphone.

Further Reading: There are many options to choose from if you need a camera or if you eventually want to make an upgrade. Fortunately, there are plenty of reliable sources beyond this page to help you make a decision. Two good sights are www.camcorderinfo.com and www.cnet.com, both of which offer camcorder reviews and specifications. If you're considering buying a used camera, read this article first www.videouniversity.com/buycam.htm.

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