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Camcorder Buying Tips From A Professional


When I recently started reviewing the new camcorders in anticipation of purchase I found it easy enough to find good information on the various formats and features, but little reliable guidance on what features really mean to the user, and matter to the professional.

To solve this dilemma I contacted Wayne Green, a former TVNZ / TV3 cameraman who now produces and direct independent films. To keep things focused, I only asked him two key questions.

Q 1 : What basic camcorder features and production tips make a difference between professional looking videos and real amateur productions.


Size - Small handheld camcorders are very difficult to keep steady. To get a good result, without the shaking commonly seen in amateur production you really do need to invest in a tripod.

Speed Pan – the body moves at the same speed as the eyes. From a film recording perspective, this results in ‘whip-panning’. The video producer needs to train themselves to use their eyes at the same speed.

Text Content – the professional standard is that text captions need to be on screen long enough to read twice.

Menus – many cameras have too many features for the capability of the user. This makes menus complicated and menu selection longer to complete. Restrict features to those that really matter and work your way through the menus carefully.

Some camcorders, like the Panasonic VDR-D150 have two menu trees – the ‘Basic Menu’ with all the quick items one generally uses in home video, and an ‘Advanced Menu’ with features that would normally be set well before video begins. This may include manual light settings, manual zoom etc.

Based on the main uses for your camcorder, make sure the features you will use the most are the easiest to access.


Q 2: What advanced features help add a real professional look to the end product?


Lens Coating – lowers incidence of intra-lens reflection, flare and ghosting. Lens coating is critical to achieve very sharp focus, especially when shooting in High Definition. See Canon HD20, Canon XL2 DV

Anti-shake - helps correct camera shake almost instantly even when the camera is hand-held and in motion or the zoom is held at a long focal length. May employ gyro or vector detection, or both methods to pick up the widest range of vibrations. See Canon HD20

Anti-dust – an antistatic coating that minimises dust particles entering the camera body when lenses are exchanged. A CCD vibration function is also used to briefly shake the sensor to dislodge dust particles. This usually occurs automatically at power-off and can be manually employed from the menu. See Sony D-SLR, Canon EOS-XTi

Digital Stereo Dolby - Mini DV and Digital8 cams offer digital audio with both a 12-bit [single recording track with added dub later] and a 16-bit [CD quality] format. Digital DVD and hard disk camcorders provide digital audio in the form of stereo Dolby Digital® sound or even 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound to give full digital enhancement capability.

Use a tripod – using a tripod gives you a steady filming platform, as well as enabling control from the remote. Using built in pan features, rather than hand forced panning helps to prevent whip panning.

Exposure - Learn to manage the exposure well. Many small sized camcorders are not good in low light. There are several ways in which low light is handled by camcorders: infra red, using LCD screen light and low light exposure lenses and settings.

Thanks Wayne



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