Tuesday, May 6, 2008

advice needed on video camera purchase

I've been talking a bit about getting back into making short films again. For my birthday, Tracy and my family pooled money together, and I've got a little bit of other money I can spare, to buy an inexpensive digital video camera and editing software. I've got a budget of about $500 total.

I think I'm going to buy Adobe Premier Elements, because it's cheap and sounds like it'll do what I want. I just need something pretty basic. (I'm on a PC and use XP.)

I need help on trying to choose a camera. And I need advice as to what to buy, that fits in my budget. I can either go new or used (Craigslist).

Here's what I want to do:
  • Make short films for fun.
  • Make some low budget art that can amuse, move, and entertain.
  • Post these films online (Youtube) where it can reach an audience (at least my family and friends).
  • Burn DVDs for friends, family, and fans.
  • Have fun working with fun and interesting people
  • Learn and refresh my understanding of how storytelling works on film/video.
  • Possibly create film versions of some of my stage plays (especially Pieces of Whitey)
  • Make some films with the kids, for fun.
  • Develop my eye and my ability to edit.
I don't need to create something (now) that will be broadcast via the airwaves or will be projected in theatres.

So, I have about $350 to buy a camera. I know it's not going to be fancy, but that's what I can afford. Here are features that I think it needs:
  • it should record to mini-DV tapes. (that seems to be the standard, still)
  • easy manual focus access (autofocus can be problematic)
  • ability to do manual aperture/exposure control
  • an external microphone jack
  • decent resolution (but it doesn't need to be high def). (I'm not sure how to define what resolution I need.)
So... please help me out--What features am I missing? Do you have any suggestions for models? I've seen a used JVC GR-DVL300 that I could afford. I also saw a new Canon ZR930 today that was in my price range.

If anyone out there has any suggestions, I'm very interested. I'm starting to look over review sites and getting some ideas. I think getting a camera and software in hand and making stuff is better than waiting forever for the perfect deal. But I don't want to get stuck with something that won't do what I need.


Malachy Walsh said...

I used a SONY mini dvc video camera with a carl z lense for a few years and loved it so much that when it overheated in a glove box and needed to be replaced, i bought a second.

however, i've had more problems with it since and they no longer make them with the mic jack and accessory shoe.

i would recommend whatever you get, if you buy it new, buy the full extended warrantee.

while it seems expensive, it's less than replacing the camera and if the warrantee is full, they will give you a whole new camera even if you're at fault (for like dropping it etc.)

you will also sleep easier.

patrick said...

Thanks for the advice, Malachy. The mic jack was important to me. I ended up buying a camera on Saturday, a Canon ZR930 (I need to post about this), one of the only inexpensive mini-DV camcorders with a mic jack. It's not fancy, but it fits in my budget. I've got some editing software on the way, and I need to buy a shotgun mic--the ATR-55 seems both cheap and acceptable. I havent' had much of a chance to play with the camera yet, but the little bit I have has been fun. (I bought it before your post, so now I'll be extra careful not to drop it or melt it).