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Old September 7th, 2010, 11:48 AM   #1
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Decent consumer camera for video journalist project - under $500

Hi guys,

I'm involved in a large overseas project with young people, training them to be small-time video journalists - to equip them to tell their own stories - in quite a troubled country (I won't be specific).

We need to buy 17 cameras and have a budget of max $500 per kit, so anything prosumer is not an option. Really, we need some form of 'handycams' for the project. Flips have been mooted, but I'm concerned about the sound quality.

- Ideally we'd have external sound, as long as it can be shoe-mounted onto the camera. I think this is probably a big ask for this level of camera...?
- Should also be hard drive camera, no tapes.
- I really don't think that full HD is a requirement here, and if there's a handycam that shoots decent SD, or 1280x720, without trying to cram full HD pixels into an otherwise shitty quality image then I'd prefer that.

They'll be editing with Adobe Premier Elements.

I'm concerned about the trainees not having good enough kit to do their stories justice, but I do seriously understand the financial constraints of the project. The set-up needs to be simple, super portable and not intimidating - to either user or subject.

I don't know where to start with this kind of camera. Can anyone advise as to what's the best option for our budget?

Thanks so much in advance.

Jamie Kennerley
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Old September 7th, 2010, 05:36 PM   #2
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I'm thinking you'd want at least $1000 per kit, so that you can get a flash memory camcorder, cards, tripod, and carrying bag.
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Old September 7th, 2010, 06:05 PM   #3
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I don't think you want to send "kids" (or older "young people") out and about in a "troubled country" (don't know the specifics of the "trouble", but...) with $1k kits... seems like a dangerous proposition offhand.

Yes, cheaper setups are going to get lower quality results, but with a moderate amount of training even the cheap cameras could produce usable results. You're not going to get "high quality" anything (sound or video) at sub $500, but if the content is compelling, quality only needs to be "adequate" - the big network news airs cell phone footage if it's unique and caught "the shot".

It's easily forgotten that it's the CONTENT, and the skill of the operator as well as their sense of the story, not the camera. Equipment is a "tool", and it's the skills required to use that tool that will pay off down the line - framing, composing, lighting a shot, finding the story and capturing it...

Smaller discreet cameras are probably safer and will make the subjects more relaxed, but smaller cheaper cameras will have compromises in performance. I don't know that there's a way around that equation.
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Old September 7th, 2010, 07:11 PM   #4
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For simple & non-intimidating, what about the Go Pro HD Hero camcorders?. Rugged and made to take a beating for around US$270 each. Shoots 1080, 720, and WVGA resolution. Lens is f2.8 so low light might be "good enough". Just remember to budget for the SD memory card.

For external audio you'll need a separate device like a simple digital voice recorder (US$30-$100). It's an extra thing to lose, you have to sync up the audio and also remember to turn it on, but if you can train them properly or send out 2 person teams, they are more likely get better audio than anything mounted on the camera.
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Old September 7th, 2010, 07:20 PM   #5
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Kodak Zi8

This is small like the flip, but has the ability to use external mic.

So this, a few SD cards and a mic set up could be had for under $500.
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Old September 7th, 2010, 07:52 PM   #6
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I'd try something like the Canon SX20IS: Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Digital Camera 3633B001 - B&H Photo

and a cheap light: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000WKW69Q/ref=oss_product
If this is overseas, I'm assuming you will be narrating or interpreting over the sound anyway, so just use the camera sound for ambiance and use a good mic for voice over. I don't believe this camera has an input anyway. You'll have to tell your students to not move their hands or zoom while shooting if they want to use the sound recording (it will pick up hand and motor noises). Also invest in NEAT video noise suppression for a single computer to take some of the noise out of the picture.

If the lighting is going to be good, you can go with just about any PowerShot camera and ditch the light idea. The SX210 is pretty good with decent light and very inconspicuous and travels in a pocket or small cell phone sized case:
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS Digital Camera (Black) 4246B001 - B&H

Last edited by Roger Shealy; September 7th, 2010 at 09:27 PM.
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Old September 7th, 2010, 10:48 PM   #7
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Roger barks up a very good tree!

If you consider a P&S still camera with video, you've got a lot more options and at a lower price point. Audio won't be great, but it can be usable, and you're talking small and discreet, so again it fits the bill.

Personally I've been using a Sony DSC-TX7, and it's really a rather good "pocket" HD camera, not much zoom range, but OK for close work - you have to have a few spare batteries as it eats them like candy (like 20 min run time), but it can do both 720P .mov and AVCHD 1080P, along with good stills. I've got a DSC-HX5 and the older HX1 in the fleet - the HX1 does 30p 1080, the HX5 uses the same sensor as the TX7 and has the same video options. The TX1 had 720P video, but I had problems editing the .mov files, the AVCHD works better for me, YMMV.

Since you're training "journalists", the ability to take stills is probably also valuable, and these silly little P&S cameras are getting to where they'd be way better than a cheap "consumer" video camera IMO. You could add a simple flash bracket and a small LED video light for more stable video and night/low light use. The Stratos FBX folding bracket and a Sima SL 20 are cheap, and functional, plus the whole rig fits in a pocket!
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Old September 8th, 2010, 03:21 AM   #8
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At a budget price point maybe something like this new Nikon P7000 with mic input, 720p24 movie mode etc - all for $499 and available soon - end of this month. I have a Nikon P6000 (which my wife uses mainly) and which lacks any decent movie modes but is otherwise a superb, very rugged (important in your project I feel) compact point and shoot. Should be ideal for discreet shooting and no doubt super easy to use if you just set it up on auto - but capable of so much more for those that bother to learn the manual controls.

Nikon Coolpix P7000 brings manual heat to the prosumer level -- Engadget
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Old September 8th, 2010, 04:02 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Blackhurst View Post
I don't think you want to send "kids" (or older "young people") out and about in a "troubled country" (don't know the specifics of the "trouble", but...) with $1k kits... seems like a dangerous proposition offhand.
I've worked on similar projects and they can be of great help for the kids. For an example watch 'born into brothels' that one an oscar a few years ago.

Theres many NGOs running such projects in developing countries, i think it would be much worse not to give kids an inspiring and fun experience just because they happen to be born in a 'troubled' country. If theyve grown up there theyll know better than anyone how to avoid trouble.

But true, without knowing any specifics its hard to comment.

James, wouldnt another option be buying half the amount of gear and have them share it, or was that already your plan? May give you more options. On the other hand you can give them a RED to shoot with but if you dont have a LOT of time to train in techniques and aesthetics of good film making it wont make any difference to the end result, I think many of the above options would work just fine.

Do you have a plan for editing / storage workflow? 17 kids filming in HD is going to generate a lot of material!

(This is a project my friends setup in South Africa Youth Media Movement on Vimeo the kids there have made some great stuff, best of luck with it all!)

Last edited by Manus Sweeney; September 8th, 2010 at 04:53 AM.
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Old September 8th, 2010, 04:54 AM   #10
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Thanks for all your thoughts and suggestions. It's a serious project, with a lot of intelligent work done to get it to this stage. I'm not overly worried about the safety of the participants. It's their country - although many of them will have done some schooling in the States. As you say, they'll be much more streetwise than those of us on the organisational side of the project!

It isn't an option to share kit between them, although this would have been an otherwise good suggestion.

I've decided to plump for this camera:

http://www.amazon.com/Canon-HF-R100-Memory-Camcorder/dp/B00322ON8S/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1283890648&sr=1-1
which is at the bottom end of the Canon Vixia range, but will be perfect I think. Recording to SD cards, which I think is a safer bet than onto an internal hard disk, so they have the ability to remove and store rushes separate from the camera.

Along with this mic:

http://www.amazon.com/Canon-2591B002-Directional-Microphone-Camcorders/dp/B0012ILNK0
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Old September 8th, 2010, 05:10 AM   #11
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Consider an inexpensive tripod or monopod otherwise you'll get "youtube" only quality.
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Old September 8th, 2010, 05:13 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Manus Sweeney View Post

Do you have a plan for editing / storage workflow? 17 kids filming in HD is going to generate a lot of material!
Yes, we will have. They'll all have their own laptops and we'll be establishing processes for them all to keep to. Much of the computer side of things will take place at our base, so we'll be on hand for much of the downloading and sort-through of rushes. As well as helping them tackle their stories.
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Old September 8th, 2010, 06:25 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Roger Shealy View Post
Consider an inexpensive tripod or monopod otherwise you'll get "youtube" only quality.
Of course. I'm thinking this one: http://www.amazon.com/Slik-SPRINT-Travel-Fluid-Effect-Panhead/dp/tech-data/B000EG5V2M/ref=de_a_smtd
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