Comparing video cameras for multimedia reporting

by December 3, 2010

If you’re ready to start shooting video, one of the first considerations is what kind of camera to use. Fortunately, there are plenty of inexpensive, highly portable, entry-level camera options for multimedia reporters. Here are a few to consider:

Flip UltraHD

Flip UltraHD

Price: $100-$200, depending on capacity and model

The Flip has been the popular choice for an inexpensive handheld video camera for several years, and its reputation is deserved. The camera is so simple to operate that I’ve seen a preschooler operate it correctly the first time she picked it up, so it’s perfect for beginners. The latest generation has improved video quality and image stabilization, and larger memory options. The obvious downside to the Flip is that its memory is predetermined and unchangeable. Previous versions of the camera ran on AA batteries, but the newer models use a proprietary built-in battery, which can be problematic if you’re out working for a full day. If you choose to go with the Flip, remember that it’s best for interviews at close-range in reasonably quiet environments or b-roll in which distinct dialogue isn’t necessary. It has no external microphone connection, and the built-in mic won’t give the best results if you’re trying to interview someone in, say, a noisy convention hall. (There is an aftermarket mic for the Flip that does add a microphone jack.)

Pros:

Probably the easiest video camera to use out of the box

Cons:

No external microphone input, so sound gets muddy if you’re shooting from a distance

Fixed memory allotment

Requires computer with internet connection to transmit

Kodak Zi8

Kodak Zi8

Price: $100 – $150

The Zi8 is Kodak’s answer to the Flip, but it comes with a few particularly useful upgrades. First, the memory in the Zi8 is upgradable SDHC. So, if you need more recording time as you get more advanced, you can just get a bigger card. The Zi8 also features a mic input, which is rare for cameras in this class. So, with the addition of an inexpensive lavalier mic, you can capture decent interview audio in noisier environments. The proprietary rechargable battery is also an issue with these cameras.

Pros:

Expandable memory using SDHC card

External microphone jack

Cons:

Requires computer with internet connection to transmit

Droid X

Smart phones with video capabilities

Price: Varies widely, $100 (with a contract) to $400 or more

If you’re willing to shell out the monthly data fees and upfront costs, there are some great smart phones on the market for shooting video. Various iPhone, Android, Windows and Blackberry models shoot HD video that is perfectly suitable for the web. You may run into audio issues for these too, but there are aftermarket solutions for many models. The real downsides to using for smart phones to shoot video are storage space, cost and battery life, but the ability to shoot, edit and transmit video on-the-fly is invaluable for breaking news. Be careful about getting the biggest possible data plan if you’re planning to use your phone as your main video-gathering and transmitting tool.

Pros:

No need to carry an extra piece of equipment

Limited editing and transmission on the go

Cons:

Limited memory

Requires generous (and often expensive) monthly data plan

Shooting can drain your battery quickly

A few other quick tips for using any of these options in the field:

Invest in a tripod. Getting the tilt and wobble out of your video is key to keeping a viewer’s attention on your story.

Go toward the light. Shoot outside or in well-lighted rooms. None of these cheaper camera options perform particularly well in low light situations.

Focus on audio. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, good sound is essential to good video. Even if you’re shooting a simple interview, making sure people can hear the questions and answers clearly should be a primary concern.

What are you using to shoot video? Share your tips and tricks.