Low priced camcorder for beginner filmmaker?

Discussion in 'Digital Video' started by roisin and mac, May 3, 2010.

  1. roisin and mac macrumors 6502

    Feb 3, 2008
    Hi everyone!

    I am looking for a recommendation for a camcorder/other device that captures moving images with sound, to be used by someone who is just getting into filmmaking. This person doesn't have a lot of experience. There is mainly just a short video art workshop, which did not do much in terms of teaching techniques and use of equipment: the coordinator gave out a theme each week, and they had to come up with a short video (around a minute) that would interpret that theme. Each participant did what they could with whatever equipment they had or could borrow privately, because the workshop organizers did not provide any. So my friend made do with the video capture on my Nikon D5000 DSLR a few times, or sometimes the same thing on her sister's compact camera. So, obviously, not close to the right equipment. But it's something she is really keen to explore further: she definitely enjoyed this course, but she is also really into films in general. She watches anything and everything she can get her hands on, and is thinking of potentially going to film school if she does like what the medium does for her.

    But she can't really get that far on equipment that's so generic, especially if she's having to borrow it! So she needs to get something that will broaden her horizons in terms of what she can do, so that she can better figure out what she can go with this medium. At the same time, she's pretty skint, so she probably can't afford pro equipment (and second-hand is probably not an option, because in order to actually get a bargain with used equipment you have to really know your gear; she doesn't, neither do I, and neither of us knows anyone who does who could help her shop for something decent). So any recommendations for something along those lines would definitely be welcome, as would any general guidelines on what to look for (such as formats, eg DVD or Hard Disk, etc).

  2. WayneH1 macrumors member

    Apr 28, 2010
    I think one decision you need to make is whether to go all HD or to stay with SD. The only reason NOT to go HD is cost; working in HD requires more resources (better camera, faster computer, more disc space, newer software, etc.) But the results can be outstanding and, if you're learning a new field, you want to learn where the technology will be in the future. That's not SD.

    On the other hand, you can learn a lot about filmmaking working in SD, and it's so much faster and easier for "practice" work. The workflow from camera to DVD is very smooth and fully supported by Apple. The workflow from camera to, for instance, blu-ray disk, is much murkier.

    I just wouldn't want to waste too much time on SD-specific lessons and certainly I wouldn't invest artistic time into an SD project where the output matters (rather than learning the process itself). Just imagine yourself learning to edit analog tape with a razor blade. That would be a waste of time, and I think learning much about SD is a similar waste of time for someone new to this field.

    I've been doing hobbyist video editing from all the way back in the analog 8mm days, and now I'm enjoying being all digital. (Well, once I digitize my old tapes.) My previous miniDV camera was a Canon and I've recently upgraded to a new HD Canon Vixia HV30. It's really great, IMHO, and cheaper brand new than my old analog 8mm was when it was new. Once you go HD, you can't go back!
  3. baypharm macrumors 65816


    Nov 15, 2007
    I will give you my answer but it may not be the one you want to hear. From reading your post - it sounds to me as if you are wanting to place too much emphasis on equipment. That's a fatal mistake. There are tons of people out there with expensive camcorders who have no idea of what they are doing. My advice is forget equipment. Buy the absolute cheapest camera you can find in a pawn shop. You have to start from the beginning. It makes no sense to spend $7,000 on a camcorder when you have no clue of what goes into the making of a good story. The type of media is of no consequence at this point.

    Use a cheap camera and study light and shadow; camera angles. These two elements are 95 per cent of making a good moving story - assuming of course you have a class A script and talented actors on hand.

    I always tell people to start with a still camera and learn lighting and camera angles and focal lengths. Once mastered you can apply these to moving pictures.

    You can start by taking a camera to the beach or a park and go from there. Once you master the basics then you will be in a better position to know how to light scenes and choose camera angles and focal lengths. All key elements to a good kinetic storyline. Learn by doing. Make short films and watch them over and over and see where you made mistakes.
  4. KeriJane macrumors 6502a


    Sep 26, 2009
    I totally agree with the previous post.

    You don't need fancy equipment to start.
    Use SD so as to keep your costs low. Yes, it's a dying format but easier and cheaper to manage for the reasons stated previously.
    MiniDV tapes are still just fine, cheap and readily available.
    Cameras with memory cards, Mini DVDs, Hard Disks,etc. are more convenient and much faster at transfer but add nothing to the creative process.

    Get a lower-end camera from a decent "named" manufacturer. I have a personal preference for Canon products though any of the big names should be fine.

    I cannot recommend used "Pro" equipment because it's likely to either be worn, damaged or just too old. A used, CHEAP
    MiniDV camera in good condition might be a good one if it's not too old.
    Practice! Remember "The Blair Witch Project"? It was famous for what can be done with simple, cheap equipment.

    Someone just starting out needs a simple, cheap and durable camera that she won't be afraid of breaking or just plain taking risks with.

    Have Fun,
    2¢ Keri
  5. RedTomato macrumors 68040


    Mar 4, 2005
    .. London ..
    Agree. Get cheap equipment. Spend the rest on a decent book, and to pay the costs of making films. Make as many as possible, and review your mistakes.

    If you don't make mistakes, you won't learn. So get on with it. Learn how to get the absolute best out of your cheap camera. By then you'll be in an excellent position to use a good camera well, instead of just being some dick or fanny with an over-priced camera.
  6. WayneH1 macrumors member

    Apr 28, 2010
    Excellent advice here. There's a lot to any art that doesn't depend on the tools used to work in that medium. But I still maintain that any craftsman or artist must also know their tools intimately in order to produce the best results. Investing too much time learning obsolete tools - in this case SD video - is a waste of time.

    On the other hand, and coming back to the OP's question about what to buy on a tight budget, it seems the consensus here would be to stick with SD equipment and workflow. This will be cheaper, easier, and give the student the freedom from hassling with the tools more than the artistic process and product, because working in HD right now is simply not as ...simple... as working in SD. Going HD, in addition to costing more, could actually hinder the student from learning the other basics of film making.

    I don't disagree with that consensus, but I would also warn the student to remember that the tools are moving on. Her better funded peers (competitors?) will already be learning them.

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