Choice and cameras


I want to upgrade some of my digital video kit, but the seemingly endless choice of models and advice out there has left me in a daze

Like a stuck record, I come back to an issue I blogged about in 2013 here, and in 2012 here. The difference here is that I’m going to be applying ‘my choice’ in a market where it feels the products on offer (and the advice that goes with it) are seemingly infinite.

“If people are faced with a limited amount of information, limited time and a limited ability to learn how to scrutinise what little information they have in front of them, the choices that they make may not be the same if given increasing amounts of all of those variables.”

My words in Do you have time to think? My point being that information, ability to scrutinise that information and the time you have to scrutinise it (along with the ability to make a choice – eg finance-wise) all have an impact on decisions you make.

An incredible journey with digital media in 2014

I’ve been making and uploading my own short video and audioclips on a regular basis of late. (See here for videos, and here for audio). The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – not so much for the quality but that because someone happens to be filming, publishing and publicising from meetings, community events and small performances where previously there might have been no one. In the process of doing all of this, I’ve noticed the limitations of the kit that I have. Hence being able to ask slightly more informed questions. Yet at the same time, I don’t feel nearly as informed as I would like to be before parting with several hundred quid on a new gadget.

Where do I want to get to with all of this?

I want to become an informed practitioner of digital media. I’m not aiming to be a professional film maker or anything like that, but I want to do more than turn up, set up kit and press ‘record’. Ditto with editing – I want to do more than turning down the background noise, turning up the voice or music enhance options, or tweaking the anti-shake toggle. I want to get to the stage where the video and audio are as they are because of conscious decisions I have taken with the kit, rather than relying on the auto-options.

The context for me will remain community action and local democracy for quite some time. I think there’s altruistic and historical merit in capturing this sort of footage for generations to come. Career-wise, whatever I end up doing (assuming my health recovers) I hope the knowledge I acquire will enable me to ask informed questions of those I will work with.

So…back to the cameras. The problem is…?

So many brands, makes, versions and models to choose from. What direction is the industry going in? What sort of price should I be aiming at? What sort of kit will be too expensive for the sort of thing I want to do? Camcorder vs DSLR? Which ones are ‘the best’? (That last one being a bit of a silly question because it ultimately depends on what the user wants to do!)

The other thing is personal principles with electronic waste. I’m tempted to go for a second hand model. I don’t feel particularly compelled to break the bank for a brand new one when a higher spec second hand model for the same (or lower) price will do just as well. I like the idea of a camcorder because it fits into my shoulderbag easily and discretely. I’m not so keen on the bulky shape of DSLRs – even though several people who do digital filming professionally all seem to be using DSLRs today.

Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise!

The squeakiness of my existing cheapo tripod messed up some recordings despite my various attempts to resolve this. So on looking at a new one, the young me is all ***Wow!*** at the thought of upgrading to this… until you look at the price tag. The only thing I have of that brand is this mini tripod that can also be a mini camera holder out and about. It significantly reduces camera shake. While filming Malka Kovalenko & Bity Booker at Hotnumbers Coffee recently (See here), I lent the gadget plus phone-holder to one of Malka’s friends who was also filming but with a smartphone. She said the attachments made a huge difference. I’m also learning about the benefits of remote controls – it’s awkward starting and stopping recording having to press the gadget that’s doing the filming. Yes, you can solve it in editing by clipping the ends, but it just doesn’t ‘feel’ right.

Which brings me to the next issue of ensuring that whatever I buy has the right adaptors/sockets/ports to link up with existing kit. This is where standardisation makes sense. This for me is an EU-wide issue: It’s a ‘You have got to make your stuff compatible with stuff made by your competitors’. Were it not for an ink cartridge refill place in my neighbourhood, this would be a bit of an issue for me as my printer doesn’t like generic print cartridges. It makes sense for a firm (not naming names) to lock people into their brands. Whether it’s printer and cartridges, hardware and software to even washing machines and washing powder, it reduces competition and raises prices without the guaranteed increase in quality.

Thinking ahead with future purchases

I have in my mind the type of shots/clips I want to film – and just as importantly the effects I want to achieve. The clip below was something as a complete beginner I was (and still am) incredibly pleased with.

The speed of the train combined with the still water and the flat countryside followed by the slow but majestic appearance of the large wind turbine for me is quite something. But filming while in motion is not easy. Browsing through a book that I ended up purchasing today, the authors made a point about the risks of trying to film while in control of, or on the back of a moving vehicle. The point they made about motorbikes is well made: Both camera operators and riders train hard to become skilled and safe in this. It’s not a case of jumping on the back of someone’s wheels.

The other thing that made me go ***Oooh!*** was this piece of kit. The footage in the review below (as well as the author’s comments in the piece) speak for themselves

Now, everything doesn’t have to be expensive. For example rather than spending lots of money on a proper camera track, you could do this:

Just think of the fun you could have with those accessories applied to something like…a council meeting! There are a number of movie tricks that can be applied to such meetings that can make an individual councillor look like a superhero or the head of an evil organisation. We covered this at film skool. It’s probably why the cameras for BBC Parliament are dead still – you don’t see filmed footage where the camera is moving or zooming in or out. For obvious reasons, the TV footage has to be as ‘neutral’ as possible.

Now, in the grand scheme of things I won’t be forking out huge amounts of money on all of that expensive kit. I don’t have the money and couldn’t really justify the purchases at this stage even if I did. I’m not going to jump in at the deep end because finance aside, technically and knowledge-wise I’m not ready for it yet.


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