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Old June 10th, 2013, 12:33 PM   #1
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Threshold for cheapest decent video camera?

Hey, all.

I don't know much about camcorders, and I'm new to the forum. Hooray! And I apologize, because I know nobody loves seeing the, "I'm new, which camera should I get?" posts. But hopefully a kind soul will have mercy on me.

My needs are pretty unusual. I'm hoping to get a small fleet of cameras, perhaps three, to document artistic projects. Ideally, they will record to a memory card, function while plugged into outlet power, and never be taken off of tripods (except for transport). I won't be using the audio feed from the camcorder mics other than for reference points during the video editing, so sound quality is not an issue. Hopefully memory cards can have capacity for 4+ hours of footage at a time. And, since this is coming out of my wallet and not a company's, cheap is good. =]

However, I've noticed that a lot of cheap camcorders really suck! A lot of them look like portable webcams, in that even though they technically have whatever resolution they claim, the picture is as blurry as all getout, they track motion terribly, and they really suffer in low-light performance. I'm hoping for something that will, at a minimum, look really good on Youtube: acceptable low-light performance (and the ability to intentionally have the picture recorded dark if filmed in a dark room), resolution of 720p or higher, relatively clear picture, and motion is somewhat fluid instead of a mass of blur.

But, as a beginner, I have no idea if the camera I described can be had for $120 each, $250 each, or $600 each, or higher. Yikes! And the price really matters if I'm buying three, especially because I have to purchase memory cards and tripods for each.

What do you recommend as the cheapest decent video camera? How would the Canon R400 perform for my needs?

Thanks!
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Old June 19th, 2013, 11:49 PM   #2
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Re: Threshold for cheapest decent video camera?

I think that Canon's M5 series would be something to look at. The M500 occasionally goes on sale refurbished directly from Canon for about $240 or less. Just check once or twice a week to see if they have any available and if a sale is going on.
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Old June 20th, 2013, 03:48 PM   #3
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Re: Threshold for cheapest decent video camera?

Typically, as soon as you include "dark room" (and this is somewhat subjective), you change from a low end consumer camera to a higher end consumer/prosumer/pro price category... small sensors (in lower priced camers) and dark rooms don't mix well... and "good" light is a big component of "good" video quality.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but physics being what it is, you should either plan for lighting or a bigger budget... or prepare to be disapointed.

Another thing you are facing is the long recording capability - video cameras are becoming more rare (and expensive) as "Point and shoot" cameras (and phones) encroach on the market - most people don't NEED long clips for casual use, and the cheaper "multiple use" devices do things "sorta good enough" - you of course want MORE that "sorta", so you may have to adjust your budget and/or expectations a bit if you're really serious about your project...

If you can give more detailed info about your use, perhaps you will get more helpful info....
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Old June 20th, 2013, 04:35 PM   #4
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Re: Threshold for cheapest decent video camera?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Luke McCready View Post
However, I've noticed that a lot of cheap camcorders really suck! A lot of them look like portable webcams, in that even though they technically have whatever resolution they claim, the picture is as blurry as all getout, they track motion terribly, and they really suffer in low-light performance. I'm hoping for something that will, at a minimum, look really good on Youtube: acceptable low-light performance (and the ability to intentionally have the picture recorded dark if filmed in a dark room), resolution of 720p or higher, relatively clear picture, and motion is somewhat fluid instead of a mass of blur.
Yep. You're a beginner. Everyone starts as a newbie; nothing wrong with that.

Here's the deal -- cameras need light. If you starve a camera of light, even an Arri Alexa, it's going to give you noisy video. An Alexa will give you less noise than a cheap Canon handycam, but it will still give you noise.

If you want a dark video, you light the scene well and capture it full range and darken it in post. Recording dark is recording noise. If you don't want a noisy video, don't record one.

Blurry video is often the result of newbies trying to capture in dark natural light with a camera on automatic. Many cameras' first choice to deal with this is to open up the aperture as much as it can, which will put pressure on the autofocus system. As will the low light (makes it difficult for autofocus to see what's in focus and not, which in turn makes the autofocus slower and makes it hunt more). This can of course make the image soft.

Next, it will likely want to lower shutter speed. So if you're recording at 24 fps, the camera will lower shutter speed to 1/24th. Which will render motion blurry.

Next, it will likely increase ISO, which will make the picture both softer and noisier.

All in the quest to get enough light for the sensor.

I'm just saying, low light is a PITA that offers no easy solutions. Even expensive cameras with "great low light performance" have problems with low light.

My advice? But one camera of the type you think will work for you, and try it in the environment you want to capture in. Use it. Play with it. Learn what it can do and what it can't. Go from there. Experience is the best teacher.
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Old June 20th, 2013, 05:31 PM   #5
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Re: Threshold for cheapest decent video camera?

Here is an example of the Canon R300. I purchased it last year for $249 USD. The reasons I purchased this camcorder were the external mic and audio out jacks. I was really pleased to see that there was no rolling shutter effect with the propellors in this video.


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Old June 21st, 2013, 08:03 AM   #6
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Re: Threshold for cheapest decent video camera?

I agree with Blackhurst. When you start adding in that you need "acceptable low light performance" you start elimating most cameras under $600.

What is the artistic project you'll be doing? Could you possibly shoot it brighter then adjust the brightness/contrast later on in post? Should be pretty easy in something like Sony Vegas or Premiere Elements which are cheap. I'd also suggest trying to shoot manual mode without using Gain (adds to the graininess), and not use auto focus. Auto Focus in low light iis probably terrible on these cameras, so just zoom all the way in, focus up, then zoom out. Should work for most shots, depending on the movement.
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Old June 25th, 2013, 10:17 PM   #7
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Re: Threshold for cheapest decent video camera?

Cost? Around a grand, and up. As an example of the genre I recently added a Canon HF-G20 to my trio of Canon HF-S200's, and I couldn't be more pleased. Better lens performance, better sensor light sensitivity and low light performance, lower noise, manual white balance and full on-the-fly manual control (aperture, shutter speed, gain).

It really shouldn't come as a surprise that really cheap cameras quickly become marginal when shooting conditions are challenging. Also, shooting dark means you will never recover a really good image from that footage. Until you go way up the food chain you are working with only an eight bit codec, so any extreme pushing of the image to brighten it up in post, besides magnifying the noise, is also going to make it band like crazy.
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Old June 28th, 2013, 01:49 PM   #8
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Re: Threshold for cheapest decent video camera?

You have stated you are trying to document artistic projects. Since you are not really specific about what they are you can get a variety of opinions about what you will need to do. I do agree with some of the directions the posts are going when you mention your concern about low light. However, even that can be addressed "on the cheap", but not always with acceptable results.

My mother was an artist and she had several articles and books about how to best take photographs of art. As those books reflected even photographing is complicated. No matter how much you spend on equipment if you don't know why it does what it does, you can quickly be disappointed with the results. So people recognize their own limitations and accept the fact they need to hire a professional.

Other people are capable of wrapping their brains around these nuances enough to get great results at very low expense. However, it takes quite an effort if you expect anything close to a professional look. One example very important to art is the white balance. If you can't get the camera and lighting to agree on what is white, you are already fighting a battle. To most artists getting the color (photo/video) to look "exactly right" is extremely important. The lower end cameras may or may not be very good at this "basic" step of obtaining a white balance. If they can not get a good white balance whatever they are filming will look too (cold) blue or too (warm) yellow/orange.

Even my $1,750 AG-AC90 has issues when it comes to a very accurate white balance. The AG-AC90 is a great semi/professional camera at an excellent price point, but it cannot over come many of other issues associated with quality video without help. For instance, on lighting I have a couple of 300 watt halogen shop lights. I tried working with them to get a good amount of quality light on a person setting just a few feet away and the results to me were disappointing. It just took so much more adjusting and "fiddling" to get the lights where I needed them (generally I could not get them to work as I needed to), that when I purchased light stands and actual professional tungsten lights the results are dramatically different. The light from shop lights are not easy to control and its easy to get shadows where you don't want them. I am a patient guy, but after an hour fiddling around with the cheap DIY gear I get very frustrated and I think most other people do too. The analogy applies to the cameras themselves. They all have limitations. In general, the more expensive ones have few limitations and/or they have adjustments which minimizes the limitations.

Back again to advice on your issue. I would take a different approach to what you are doing, in that I would look for a starter camera to put in your hands and start using for a few months. I then would take what you learn and then buy your "A" camera and some lights. Personally the consumer cameras are all so limited or have flaws, most anyone will find them annoying to use except under very controlled circumstances. Like what you said locked down on a tripod with settings fixed. Beyond 2 cameras, filming things can get quickly super complicated and frustrating. Mainly because you need good light and most of the time light comes mainly from one source. The placement of a third camera with a separate and unique angle can be quite tricky because you probably will get one or more of your lights in the shots.

At the worst if you start with a low priced camera you can generally use it for other personal use.

You were wanting to have all 3 cameras the same (and that may work), but from what I see most people will use and "A" cam and a "B" cam. They adjust each of the cameras to match as close as they can (but even that can be difficult).

One final example of how lighting is important. If you want to rely on daylight from a window, think about how the sun changes how much light comes in from that window over a 4 hour period. Then think "can I edit something which I filmed later in the day next to something I filmed 4 hours prior" and the answer will be "no". It won't look the same. The light changed too much. However, if you are purely trying to just document your artistic work chronologically and the 3 cameras are to keep it interesting after editing, then yes you can just use 3 cheap cameras if you light your subject well. However, when professionals film we like to keep the lighting the same (unless for effect) so various cuts can be used right next to each other.
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Old June 29th, 2013, 10:11 AM   #9
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Re: Threshold for cheapest decent video camera?

Get yourself a few GoPro HD cameras. Cheap unobtrusive.
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