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Old January 18th, 2008, 05:25 AM   #1
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: Durham in United Kingdom
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Baboon filming - What video camera to buy?

I am trying to get my head around the million of models of cameras out there and I hope somebody can help me!

For my Phd research I must film baboons feeding in an area of about 75x75 meters; Preferably, I want to zoom in afterwards (! digital zoom is thus of importance) so I don't loose the overview of the whole troop. If possible, I want to analyse the number of hand-mouth movements, facial expressions (this requires high detail!) and vocalisations. Is it possible to connect an external sound recorder to it to (record and) analyse the sounds separately?The camera will also be used for general wildlife filming afterwards, so a good optical zoom would be a much appreciated a bonus. Expected amount of footage is around 45 minutes per day and this for at least 3 months, but the camera can be downloaded daily. It should have good battery life though, because electricity is not always a given at my field site. I have to analyse the footage on a PC, but possibly just a slowmotion replay will be suitable for this (which programmes are recommended?). I am wondering how much storage I will need (should I buy a huge external harddrive or burn the data on DVD's - how big will the files be)? I would prefer to get a smaller video camera, so I can use it privately on holidays after I finish my research. I will definitely need a sturdy tripod (and the camera should be as much as dustproof as possible) - what can be recommended in this respect?

My budget is around 4000 US dollar, but possibly I can buy 2 cameras for this (this way I can film from different angles). I don't quite understand that the cheaper models from e.g. sony have a larger digital and optical zoom than the more expensive models?!

Any suggestions are very much welcome, you may also email me

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Old January 18th, 2008, 07:07 AM   #2
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1. Do not even have digital telephoto in your consideration, they are junk.

2. I would look at a camera with a 20x optical zoom. for the area your are going to be filming that is plenty. canon zr 800 has a 35x optical zoom (costs 250 dollars) and might make a reasonable back up camera, though I do not know how good it is. I have one as a tape player and if it is a consideration I could shoot a short clip of video of it for you to see.

3. Two cheaper cameras vs one higher end camera?? Well, if you are going to film wildlife later then a prosumer camera, eg Canon gl2 (standard definition but makes great video) or Sony fx7 (this one is hd) would not be bad choices. I reckon you could get a used older canon xl1s pretty reasonable and then you can change lenses etc. I personally only have experience with canon and sony.

4. Most of the slightly more expensive cam corders allow you to attach exterior microphones. You could get the rode video mic, it is a shotgun mic and has pretty good directionality and reach, particularly for the price!! Of course you can spend a couple thousand just on a mic if you want.

5. Premiere elements is a good software package, reasonably easy to use with great tools. It does have time stretch that gives some slower motion.

Vegas software has better slower motion but I have found it tuffer to get a handle on.

Batteries: Sony and Canon both have pretty long life batteries, lasting hours in warm weather.

You might consider a hard drive based video camcorder, quicker to download, then burn to dvd.

you could consider getting a cam corder that cuts directly to dvd, however the quality is less than mini dv do to the compression.

video is super memory consumptive, if youo are on a lap top that is a huge issue. I would get an external hard drive, if that is the case.

It takes quite awhile to capture, render, encode and burn dvds

6. Tripod. for a small cam corder like the zr 800 the velbon 686, at less than 100 dollars will do a suitable job and is adjustable for drag on pan and tilt. anything heavier and bigger requires a substantially better tripod.

hope the above is of some value.
Dale W. Guthormsen
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Old January 18th, 2008, 12:51 PM   #3
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Dale has made good points, Louise.

The Canon GL2 is called XM2 in Europe. I've used it on and off a tripod shooting big raptors for 2 years. It's quite good even in dull light at max.optical zoom (x20) provided you leave it on the tripod.

I use a Benbo Trekker + Manfrotto 701rc2 head. That allows smooth panning & tilting.

I recharge 3 BP945 batteries overnight & as your XM2 manual would tell you they would keep you in power longer if you use the LCD screen sparingly.
It might help to conserve power if you learn to use standby/lock lever.

Turn off power when action gives way to slumber. This will also save tapes. I use Fuji or Canon minidv 60min tapes. they are not expensive and well worth bringing dozens of them to save off-loading/downloading each day's footage.

For facial expression you must get within 25 metres ... the closer the better, within the bounds of safety. You may need a colleague for safety. I don't know. But if you can't stay within 25 metres the XM2 will not do the detail.
You're then looking at a camcorder with interchangeable lens like Canon XL1 or XL2. I don't know how your budget will stretch to that combo and I have no experience of either of those Canons.

Two rules to conclude: 1. Make sure the background you include in every frame (behind the baboons) excludes the sky (any brightness in background will black-out all facial detail). 2. Bottles of water & insect repellent.

Then come back and share it with us. Yes Louise we love fresh footage.
Welcome aboard.
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Old January 22nd, 2008, 08:07 AM   #4
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Location: Durham in United Kingdom
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Thanks for all the advice so far! Getting close to the troop is no problem at all. This is what I do for work - I observe baboon behaviour for my PhD degree, already for quite some time so they are well habituated by now. I can get within 5 meters or closer to most of them and know / recognize them all individually. Pretty cool. But the thing is that I want to film the troop overview and will therefore position myself at the edge of my artificial feeding site, making the distance between myself and the furthest baboon around 50-75 meters. I am going to have a search for those cameras on internet now - by the way, I am staying in South Africa at the moment, so I'll look for both names...
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Old January 22nd, 2008, 08:23 AM   #5
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You mention 'zooming in to examine their facial details'... this can be accomplished by optically zooming in of course. It can also be accomplished in the editing program, by essentially digitally zooming into the frame... BUT just like enlarging a regular photo shows more graininess, enlarging a digital image shows more 'pixels'... blockiness. In order to be able to do this, its best to shoot in Hi Def, or HDV.

From your posts it sounds as if you are a relative newcommer to videography. HDV can be a complicated workflow and is overall more expensive to invest in than regula DV.

The reccomendations for regular DV or MiniDV as its called, will be for low light small compact cameras.

The point I am making, depending on your skill level, and commitment to acquiring new skills - it might be best to assign the videography work, or at least the editing, to a skilled videographer... perhaps someone in your university? This will free your attention from learning to become a videographer, editor - to focussing on analyzing the images.

Just a thought.
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