Welcome back, come to learn a little more about Filmmaking? It’s ‘The Amateur Filmmakers Guide’ Wednesday where I a long time amateur filmmaker who has made all the silly mistakes one has to do to get any good, ‘’learn from your mistakes’’ and that old saying. But what if you didn’t have to? What if someone could mark all those pitfalls with a big X, wouldn’t that be pretty handy, no?
If you answered yes to the following then listen up and listen well because if your serious about starting into filmmaking you got to nail the basics otherwise it’s like trying to learn French but not bothering to know the verbs and tenses.
This week we’ll be explaining all the basic film camcorders and their formats, avoiding those you won’t come across for at least a few years such as 16mm and 35mm (35mm is the God of film cameras and can cost over a hundred grand). But Have no fear if you pay close attention you won't be confused any longer!
Camcorder? That’s what records film, right?
Buying a camcorder can be a tough decision when you take into consideration all the options; price, quality, design, features and specifications, recording format and optional extras are all key factors to compare when deciding which video camera suits your needs best.
First up is the price. This is greatly affected by the specification of the camera and generally, is relative to the video quality captured by the camera. Video cameras can range from a few hundred dollars up to 2000+; the more you pay the better quality you are likely to get. But let’s face it; you haven’t got that kind of cash.
Specifications that greatly affect video quality are the size of the image sensor (the bigger the CCD or CMOS imager, the better but don’t worry yourself about that yet) and the effective video resolution. Other spec’s to note are the optical zoom range and whether or not the camera has image stabilization.
Many video cameras also produce decent digital stills. But are unfortunately rather expensive and a cheap digital camera would do just as well in its stead. Remember the camcorder should be chosen for its film recording capabilities
The design of the camcorder is also an important factor for most, and not just for aesthetics. Some camcorders, bulky or small may be easy to use, whilst other designs may simply be too difficult to navigate. Touch screens and small buttons help keep designs minimal but they may not be the most comfortable way to access menus and options. Some models compromise the size of the LCD in favour of more compact camera; others may completely do away the viewfinder.
Recording format and connectivity are also important; some video cameras come with a USB port for a direct connection to your PC, some record direct to DVD, others to hard drives, flash memory cards or older formats like MiniDV and Digital 8 tapes (A format I despise above all else). High quality video can be achieved with all of these formats however there are pro’s and con’s for each type.
Probably the most popular recording medium, MiniDV’s are small tapes that measure 2.5 by 1.5 by 0.5 inches. They are relatively inexpensive and produce high quality video (Quality is debatable in comparison to the new digital camcorders). Depending on the quality of the camcorder, the video image can be more than 500 lines of horizontal resolution. It can also support High Definition, consumer and semipro camcorders that capture HD do so using MiniDV cassettes.
These cameras are equipped with, view finders, touch screen, and high quality in-built microphone along with the function for external mics (Two is the standard) and are considered superior for that reason.
However, Editing MiniDV requires a PC with a Firewire connection (not USB as is the more common these days), some editing software and a bit of patience. Despite the time consuming method of re-capturing your footage into the editing software (A long and time consuming process), MiniDV is widely supported by many video-editing and effects software. There is also a whole host of editing decks and other hardware products available to aid you’re editing.
Digital8 and Hi8
Digital8 models record high-quality DV-format video on analogue 8mm and Hi8 cassettes as well as dedicated Digital8 tapes. The Hi8 tapes are slightly bigger than MiniDV so they tend to be more bulky.
Digital8 enable digital video to be recorded on an analogue tape, however this cut recording time in half. A 120-minute Hi8 tape captures only 60 minutes of Digital8 video.
Like the MiniDV they can also deliver more than 500 lines of horizontal resolution producing high quality video; however as an obsolescent format there is a small and shrinking selection of camcorders available. But can also mean you’d find one for a cheap price.
MiniDVD records video direct to DVD and lets you take the disc and instantly view it on your DVD player. This is a great simple way to record and watch your home videos. You get easy searching and random access to video segments, a convenient and stable format for archiving and selectable image-quality levels including high-quality variable-bit-rate recording.
Mini-DVD camcorders record high-quality MPEG-2 footage directly to a mini DVD-R or DVD-RAM and can also deliver more than 500 lines of horizontal resolution. The downside is that the video recorded on DVD-R cannot be edited on a computer. MPEG-2 encoding generally compresses the footage so much that when you try to edit the resulting clips in a video editor, you risk adding artifacts (Bad Computer codes) that can degrade your video’s quality.
Recording times can be unpredictable using variable bit rates and also less reliable for live recording; as a single bad bit can render an entire disc of video unrecognizable.
Flash Memory and Hard Drive Camcorders
SD Flash Memory
Flash media cards (most commonly SD) have enabled manufacturers to design ever smaller camcorders. With cards ranging up to 4GB, it is now possible to record longer and better quality video than ever before using flash memory.
Hard Drive video cameras or better known as HDD may be slightly bigger than their flash memory brothers but they have the longest record times, 6 hours or more of video with better quality.
Unlike MiniDVD camcorders they store video using in a various encoding allowing simple drag and drop system and connect via USB. Because of this there is wide support from advanced video-editing and video-effects software.
The image-quality is selectable; there is increasing models for recording in High Definition but can cost in the thousands, clips are also easily archived and accessed and both video and still images can be recorded on one card/hard drive (instead of on a cassette and a memory card).
HDD and SD camcorders are the most commonly sold camcorders nowadays in shops such as Argos, Currys, Tesco and many more. They produce high quality images even at their low cost. If you intend to buy a MiniDV or Digital8 you will struggle to find ones on open market and will most likely have to buy online or second hand from EBay and such. Whatever your decision I hope you have at least a basic understanding of camcorders.
It’s a lot to take in and in an age of technological takeover it’s not a pleasant feeling knowing your new buy will be next week’s out of date model. I myself own a Sony Handycam HDD digital camcorder. It produces a high quality and is compact. It's a very nice start for any serious amateur filmmaker but lacks however in it's sound capabilities. The information is all there and I hope you enjoy searching for your camera.
Competitions for Young Filmmakers and Film
You could be the Cinemagic Young Film Critic of the Year. To enter the competition all you have to do is send a film review (not more than 500 words) on one of the films screened during Cinemagic 2010. There are a number of wonderful prizes to be won.
As part of Cinemagic Dublin we will be programming a short film competition that will see a young jury reviewing and critiquing new films from all over the world.