Buying Video Gear for Your Small Business: Part 1
By Julie King | April 1, 2011
YouTube and high-definition (HD) video online are one of the next "big things" when it comes to web marketing for small businesses. The idea is simple and the benefits clear. So the real question is this: What does a small business owner need to start producing videos for the web?
Things have changed quickly, with rapid improvements transforming the online video experience. Full-screen HD video is quickly becoming the norm, while access to low-cost, high-quality equipment is opening up the playing field to smaller companies.
We recently researched cameras extensively as we plan to add more videos to CanadaOne in the coming year. As part of our research, we interviewed video pros Jordan Drake and Chris Nicolls of The Camera Store in Calgary, Alberta.
We have divided what we learned into a two-part article. This first article explains the basics of camera selection. In our follow-up article, we share tips from Jordan and Chris on how to shoot great videos on a budget.
Equipment Basics: Camera Classes
The first thing everyone wants to know is what camera they should buy. The answer depends on what you need to accomplish. Most small business owners will look for equipment in three main categories:
1) DSLR Cameras:
If you are on a budget, but need a Hollywood or high-end commercial look in your videos, most likely you will want a "digital single-lens reflex" or DSLR camera.
"A Canon Rebel T2i with a 50 mm lens will do a better job in low light than some $15,000 cameras," says Jordan.
The strength of a DSLR is the ability to get beautiful focus on the primary subject and its excellent low- light performance. Another advantage is that your DSRL doubles as a high-quality still camera, with performance that no camera built into a camcorder can match.
One weakness with DSLR cameras is that, once you start shooting, you need to adjust the focus manually, which makes it difficult to shoot when there is motion — especially if you are an amateur videographer.
An odd limitation with DSLR video is that the cards used to store video on the camera are formatted in a standard called "FAT 32," which has a 4 Gb limit. Depending on the quality of your footage, that means that you can shoot video for approximately 12 minutes at a time. When the video stops, you can restart it immediately, but this means that someone has to be monitoring the camera.
Audio is also a problem with DSLR. While most DSLR cameras now allow you to connect an external audio device, the lack of a headphones jack means you can't tell when there is a problem with your audio, possibly putting your entire shoot at risk.
"If don't have headphone jacks, you can't hear if things are going wrong," notes Jordan.
The final drawback of shooting with DSLRs is that it adds to the production time. If you need to get your videos online quickly, a standard camcorder will speed things up. Jordan will use a secondary DSLR "B" camera for close-ups, while using a camcorder — often the JVC HM100 — for the main footage and audio.
Suggested equipment: If you are looking to add a second camera for high-quality close-ups, the Canon Rebel T2i packs a lot of value for its price (currently around $700). When shopping, be sure to ask the salesperson about the flexibility you will have in adding different lenses.
Tip: If you buy a DSLR, don't be surprised if you find yourself encountering "camera cost creep." You can soon spend thousands of dollars on extra accessories, from close-up and wide-angle lenses to DSRL rigs that mount on your shoulder and include displays that will help you get a better focus on your shots.
2) Consumer Camcorders:
These camcorders have smaller sensors compared to DSLRs and pro video cameras. Nonetheless, Chris explains that entry-level quality is pretty good.
For many business owners, this is the best place to start when shooting videos for the web. Important considerations will be the video resolution (1080p is preferred) and the format of the video (there is no point in buying a great little camera, only to discover that it uses a proprietary format which will make the footage difficult to edit).
These camcorders can do a better job of capturing a moving subject, provided that the camera itself is not moving quickly during the shot. When you start to do quick pans, you can get a choppy video blur during the transition, which can ruin your footage. Cameras with smaller sensors will also often have poor low-light performance.
Other important things to look for are the ability to add an external microphone and, of course, the picture quality. For amateur videographers looking to keep things simple, it is best to set up your shooting frame on a tripod and add lighting if necessary.
Video from a decent consumer-class camcorder should have a nice focus overall. You will probably find the colours less vibrant and the video flat compared to a DSLR because all objects in the shot are displayed in a similar focus. The low-light performance on these cameras tends to be particularly poor.
Suggested equipment: This area of the market changes quickly, with new models being introduced every year. One of the best ways to select a camcorder is to take a trip to different online review sites. It's important to be critical of what you read to gain a true picture of the pros and cons of different hardware. Professional reviews on sites like www.camcorderinfo.com can help you cut down on your research.
3) Entry-Level Pro Video:
If you need to have a camera that performs well in a variety of situations, from low-light shooting to capturing action, you may want to investigate cameras on the pro market. If you compare prices, you will see a fair amount of cross-over between the lower-end pro cameras, high-end consumer cameras and mid-range-quality DSLRs.
Pro cameras typically start at $2,000 with four main manufacturers at the lower-end of the market: Canon, JVC, Panasonic and Sony. All four have a variety of cameras with different pros and cons; chances are good that a camera that is $5,000 or less will more than meet your needs.
While pro cameras often bring much better image quality and low-light performance, they can also add to the complexity. To use the camera properly, you’ll want to invest several days of reading and experimentation to really understand how the camera works.
Many pro cameras are also large in size, which allows the manufacturer to include more electronics, controls and larger lenses. There are exceptions like the new Canon XF 100 and 105, but the bulk and weight may be important reasons to look for something more compact.
Suggested equipment: When buying at this end of the market, you start to move away from the idea of an all-purpose camcorder and choose a camera to match your production needs. It is helpful to talk with an expert like Jordan or Chris, with experience in the pro market, to help you identify the best camera for you. From my own experience, salespeople in a store that caters to the consumer market gave me bad advice when I asked about pro cameras—in one case advising me to not purchase a mid-range pro camera for reasons that I later discovered were not true.
Tip: Don't forget that if you will occasionally need a high-end camera and you live in or near a large city, you can often rent pro cameras at a cost of a few hundred dollars for the weekend. Make sure that you have what you need to capture and edit that footage before you rent the camera.
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