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From the author of Essential Features for Your Digital Video Camera

Essential Features for Your Digital Video Camera

Whether you've already assembled a wish list of dream equipment, or you have no idea of what you need, it's hard to know which camera features you'll really use and which are just window dressing. Let me give you some clues for shopping. Make sure that whatever you buy includes at least the following features:

  • Inputs for external microphones and outputs for headphones
  • Large, clear LCD viewfinder that lets you see what you're doing
  • Charge-coupled device (CCD) or CMOS sensor—get the biggest image sensors that you can afford
  • Zoom lens
  • Manual white balance, focus, and exposure controls
  • Option to output video at lower resolution
  • Standard outputs, including FireWire (i.LINK on Sony), USB, HDMI components
  • Compatibility with standard accessories, LANC input, tripod screw
  • Internal hard drive space and card slots for flash memory
  • Rechargeable battery with at least two hours of shooting time

Good Sound Is Crucial

Here's the most important thing you need to know about choosing a camera for video podcasting: Good sound is really, really important. Viewers will put up with a few hiccups and glitches in your video, but if they can't hear you, they're gone.

All consumer video cameras have built-in microphones. Some sound okay. Unfortunately, the physics of sound mean that with a built-in microphone (mic for short) you'll always get noise that you don't want along with the sound you do want. Instead, capture your viewers' attention with better sound from an external microphone. And look for a headphone jack, so you can monitor that sound yourself.

So many consumer camcorders are available that choosing one can be overwhelming. Looking for a microphone input and a headphone jack narrows the field, because most low-end and pocket cameras don't have these features.

Get the Basics Right

Many beginning podcasters can get started with a camcorder that costs under $500 (see Figure 4). Want to spend less? Look for older models with the features you want, sacrifice high definition (HD) for digital video (DV), or stick with a tape camera while everyone else moves to hard disk (HDD) or flash memory (SD and SD-HD).

Start with the best camera you can afford, but save some money for a microphone, headphones, and a tripod. (I'll talk about accessories in part 2 of this series.) Add accessories when you can afford them; if you get good equipment, you'll keep using those accessories long after you trade up to a more advanced camera.

Consumer camcorders include a lot of features, such as titling, effects, and stills, but focus on the basics. Even though some still cameras shoot great video, most video cameras don't shoot great stills. You'll probably never edit or title in your camera.

Figure 4 This small Documentally.com crew is shooting handheld with a Panasonic HDC-TM300 and an external microphone.

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