So many times I have had people ask me how to get a good video camera. Some other times they may have already acquired the equipment, but would want to know if their choice in terms of the make and model were right.
Answers to these questions may sound very easy on one hand, but they are actually difficult to arrive at in that everyone I assume, have reasons why they choose to buy an equipment such as a video camera. If you not privy to their reasons, how can you attest to how right their choices were.
It is very easy to answer the second set of persons (those that have already made the purchase) by saying, yes, you made a good choice – this option is stress free and saves you a lot of hassles in terms of trying to explain why you think his/her choice is appropriate or not. If you must put into consideration the reason why the individual acquired his equipment, then most often you’ll find yourself saying ‘sorry mate, your new equipment does not just cut it with regards to the reason why you bought it’.
I am not trying to say that any piece of equipment is useless, however it saves lots and lots of money and whole truck full of hassles if you acquire the right kind of equipment that you need from the onset. I remember once, I proudly mentioned to my friend Emmanuel Etim (working with Rhed Pixels in Washington DC then) how I just placed an order for a Manhattan HD on-Camera monitor. When he asked me for the specifications of the monitor that I just ordered, I did not know. It sounds funny, right? Well it happens to some of us once in a while.
The truth therefore is that you need to understand the kind of equipment you need before you set out ordering it and making a commitment.
Most times, when it comes to making purchases, our bottom line usually is the cost of the equipment, and this becomes the deciding factor towards making the purchase. From experience however, I strongly believe that with careful search, one can get exactly what he/she wants at a very affordable rate.
In making a purchase, I think we should always consider durability; how durable or how strong is the equipment. Other aspects include ensuring that you purchase all your gear from reputable vendors. We all know that there are vendors out there that will quickly make a full refund if you return a piece of equipment that you just bought, whereas others that will never consider a refund as an option. When buying any piece of equipment, always look out for some form of warranty or the other. If you are asked to purchase some form of insurance or extended warranty for the product, and you intend to use that piece of equipment for a long time, then it will be a wise choice to pay or buy the extended warranty. These warranties sometimes cover accidental damage and failure of equipment due to age and use.
If you are planning to buy a professional video camera either for business or to use in your private productions, the following features outlined below will be a good guide towards your picking up a good piece of equipment. For all those knowledgeable, it is a known fact that manual features in a camera and certain other accessories will give you better control over your footage and improve the general quality of your recordings.
These features have been broken down into 10, and they include;
- Focus Control
- Iris Control
- White Balance Settings
- The Image Acquisition Chips
- Audio Monitor
- Sound Control
- Audio Inputs
- Filter Ring
- Lens Adapters
- Automatic Overrides
1. FOCUS CONTROL: Most modern digital cameras out there now have automatic focus controls (AF Controls). When you want to buy a piece of equipment that you intend to use professionally, then discountenance the Automatic Focus Control and look out for an equipment that will allow you to do your shoot on manual focus control. Most automatic focus camcorders have a tendency to drift in and out of focus, adjusting to different objects within the scene thereby softening up your shot. When you have the ability to lock the equipment into full manual focus mode, then you can choose what you want to focus on thus ensuring that your camcorder’s focus stays locked in.
Those used to shooting footage in manual mode will also tell you that it is a lot easier to have better and more creative shots when shooting on manual focus mode. Rack focus and other creative and complex shots are a breeze.
2. IRIS CONTROL: What is an Iris? The Iris is used to adjust the aperture of the camera lens, controlling the quantity of light entering into the camera or rather the quantity of light that will reach the sensors. In layman’s terms, it is the iris that most times increases the exposure or the brightness of the image. Do not get me wrong, there are various items that ultimately control the brightness of your picture. These include the Iris, the Shutter and the electronic gain within the camera, however, most people that use a camera will go first to the iris in a situation where they want to increase or decrease the brightness of their picture.
Insist on buying a camcorder or camera that has the ability to switch the Iris control from automatic mode to a manual mode. The ability to manually adjust the iris allows you to make sure that your scene is always exposed correctly. So many times, I have seen many shots completely blown out due to incorrect exposure. When you are however on automatic, the automatic function most times compensates for the total exposure of your scene, thus making it that if you have a subject in front of a window for instance, the object will tend to appear in silhouette while the scene outside will be correctly exposed. With manual Iris, you could adjust the exposure to correctly light your subject.
3. WHITE BALANCE SETTINGS
Different types of light have different colours or rather the technical term is different colour wavelength. Although due to the compensation of our eyes, we tend to think that the colour of light is usually white and consistent across different settings. Sunshine usually tends to stay within the blue end of the colour spectrum, while the normal tungsten light bulb fittings within your house and halogen bulbs give off very yellow light.
The Camera’s white balance settings helps to balance out these different light colours. Cameras with auto white balance automatically adjust to these light differences, however, in mixed light situations such as if you are shooting in-doors and have to go out immediately, or you are shooting in-doors with tungsten light fittings and have an open window with a lot of sunlight flooding in, the auto white balance may have a hard time adjusting to make the lighting look right. Buy equipment that offers you the opportunity to switch the White balance settings to a manual mode. With manual white balance, you can control the colours being recorded and get better looking video in any lighting condition.
4. IMAGE ACQUISITION CHIP
There are chips inside the camera that translate the real world into digital image. Currently two basic types of chips are utilized in video cameras; these include Charge Coupled Devices popularly known as CCDs and CMOS chips. Some camcorders come as single chip cameras while others come as 3-chip camcorders. 3-chip camcorders record higher quality video with better crispness and colour saturation. 3 CCDs are usually the standard for professional-quality video cameras until recently that the CMOS chips are making more and more in-roads towards high quality pictures in video recordings. Note that with CMOS chip cameras, you need to consider the fact that very few cameras how global shutters installed if they are fitted with CMOS sensors. Most CMOS cameras come with rolling shutters installed. The rolling shutters have a way of affecting the pictures especially when you are doing a pan during a shoot.
5. AUDIO MONITOR
It is not often that you see a video cameraman doing a shoot and having an audio monitor of some sort, whether in the form of a headphone or otherwise. The practice of monitoring your audio during video recordings will save you a lot of stress on the long run. I had an experience once, where I interviewed the then Federal Minister for Transport without an audio monitor. I felt that I had just had a very big scoop that day, only to get to the studio to find out that I could not make use of any of the cuts, simply because the microphone I used during the shoot was faulty and nobody noticed on-time.
Unfortunately, not all camcorders come with a place to plug in headphones. Some good ones go beyond just a plug in, to also provide a visual cue of the audio displayed on the Camera view finder while your recording is on-going. Without any form of monitor, you may not be able to monitor the sound that’s being recorded.
6. SOUND CONTROL
Your equipment of choice should not just allow you the capability of monitoring your sound. It should also offer you the ability to manually control the volume of the audio or sound being recorded. This is of utmost importance if you are doing a professional video production.
7. AUDIO INPUTS
Most professional Cameras afford you the opportunity to have different kinds of audio input. The microphones built into cameras are usually low quality microphones and due to the fact that different recordings present different audio challenges, you should look out for a camera with separate external microphone input.
8. FILTER RING
A very overlooked but important accessory in video production here in Nigeria are filters, from the simplest and easiest general UV filter that has the capability to protect the lens from scratches, through to the ND filters. Most times, we prefer to use the in-built camera ND switches. Look out for video cameras that have a screw ring around the lens where you can add a filter. Other filters types include polarizers, low or high contrast filters, pro mist and star effect filters. All these filters will adjust and enhance the look of the recorded footage.
9. LENSE ADAPTERS
The best and high end professional video cameras have removable lenses. Lenses especially the Prime lenses are very expensive piece of equipment to have, and may not be affordable to all. The alternative then is a lens adapter. Lense adapters come most times as screw-ons and will modify the existing lense allowing you to record either wide-angled or telephoto images. It will not be a waste of time if you can check on the website of the manufacturers of the camera you want to buy to check if they have lens adapters available for the camera that you want to buy.
10. AUTOMATIC MODE
Although in almost all of the above, I recommend the availability of manual modes for most of the options, that does not mean that there is something wrong with the automatic mode setting. Note that manual features will allow you greater creativity and control over your camera, however it also means more work and less room and margin for errors. You will need to put in more time, more work and concentration into every video shoot. This is on the premise that you understand how to use these functions very well. It will therefore be quite nice if the camera has an automatic mode function. In this mode, the camera controls the focus, the sound, exposure and most other functions automatically. This will come in handy when you need to begin recording immediately, or if you haven’t mastered all the manual controls yet.
Let us hope that this guide will help you make the right decisions, when next you go out there with the aim of buying a camera that you intend to use for professional video shoots. If you think you have other features that professionals need to consider before making a purchase, please feel free and add your comment here.