Basic Advice for Choosing the Best Budget Video Camera

Basic Advice for Choosing the Best Budget Video Camera

If you're shopping for gear to make videos during the sales events this season, you're likely going to be attracted to low cost, budget video gear. Cost is important, and I encourage everyone to make their videos in the most cost-effective way possible, but it's important to know the limitations of the gear you buy.

Digital SLRs have the pixel count we like, but there are reasons why they're so cheap compared to cameras designed specifically for capturing video. The infamous rolling shutter issue prevents us from rapid pans, and the fixed position monitor at the rear of the camera limits our ability to shoot from angles that are very high or very low.

Of course you can add an onboard monitor, but with an articulating arm to support it, you might be adding another $1,500 to that camera you thought would be so affordable. There is an entire industry of accessories that add functionality to DSLR, and determining what to buy can take hours of wading through websites and forums.

What follows is advice to help you sort the issues of how to choose a camera.

Don't be seduced by tech specs

If you're making video primarily for distribution on the web, resolution really doesn't matter that much. Nearly every video camera captures in HD resolution – including many smart phones. 1280 x 720 is the lowest resolution HD, and that is often perfectly fine for video on the web.

There are a few advantages of working at lower resolutions:

  • Smaller file sizes
  • Increased storage capacity
  • Faster post-production workflow due to lower demands on your computer for rendering and exporting.

As much as we want our videos to be shown in full HD on the web, the higher bandwidth required for that may cause your video to stutter and pause. Not everyone has a fast enough connection – even if they're watching at work. If your video hangs, your audience is having a crappy experience.

Talk to people with firsthand knowledge

Ask around to get feedback from people who've actually used the equipment. Go beyond the general impression and ask questions like "What did you not like about it? What annoyed you the most?"

Remember: it's the limitations you want to know about. There are plenty of voices out there to tell you all about the awesomeness; they're often trying to sell you stuff.

Try before you buy

There are reams of great information to read, but nothing is better than holding a camera in your hands. I recommend using the camera for several hours before you commit to purchasing. Renting a camera over a weekend is usually a bargain, and that allows you the time to bring the files all the way through a post-production workflow.

Stay within your budget, but don't forget the extras

They're less fun to buy, but you probably really need things like extra batteries, microphones, cases, and cables.

Do you need the latest and greatest? Probably not.

That camera everyone was raving about last year is probably still a pretty good camera. Plus, with the money you save buying last year's model, maybe you can afford the better tripod that will help you make smoother shots.

An important aspect of acquiring gear is to understand that your needs will always be evolving. As you make more video, your skills will improve. You'll know when it's time to trade up for a better kit, and when you search for what to get next – you'll know exactly why you need it.

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About Our Contributing Author - T.W. Li
T.W. Li is the lead producer at Video Parachute, a Chicago video company. T.W. has been making video and film for more than 20 years, and he teaches Cinematography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.




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