We prefer DSLRs for video because they also shoot great still photos, and it’s one less camera to carry when traveling. Image quality is incredibly good. The main disadvantage we’ve found is that there’s no autofocus for video — meaning you need to pay a lot of attention to your manual focusing when shooting. It’s not a big problem — just something to be aware of. The issue is being fixed, right now, by Canon, Nikon, Sony and others (very pricey, though).
If you’re looking for a camera to shoot video only, a nice range of digital options are available. We like the Kodak Zi8 (around $400), which is pocket-sized and extremely simple to use, yet shoots beautiful HD video. You won’t get quite the image quality of a DSLR and a big lens, but for most interviews and average shooting situations, this works great. It does autofocus, too.
Even higher-end cell-phone cameras tend to shoot OK video. Sound quality is bad, though.
In fact, we don’t rely on any camera’s internal microphone for audio. Instead, we do one of two things:
- Plug an external microphone into the camera’s mic jack. Here’s a mic that can be attached to the camera’s hot shoe. Others can be hand-held. For interviews, you can use a lavelier mic that clips to a shirt collar.
When shopping for a video camera, always look for an external microphone jack. Otherwise you’ll be stuck with bad audio from the camera’s internal mic. Unless …
- You record audio with a good-quality recorder (we use the Zoom H2), then match up the audio and video files in editing. The big advantage here is that you can monitor audio levels both on the recorder’s screen and with headphones/earbuds; if you’re using an on-camera mic, you either have to buy extra equipment or just pray that the audio comes out OK.
A separate audio recorder is especially useful if you want audio recordings of interviews, or want to capture natural sound and add it to videos later. The recorder is only a little larger than a cell phone. Note: The Tascam DR07mkII is another good choice for a similar price (around $150).
Finally: No matter what camera you choose, you need a tripod. Even when you think you’re holding the camera steady, video can be extremely shaky. Use a tripod for any interview and any situation where you’ll be focused on the same thing for more than a few seconds. An inexpensive tripod is usually fine, especially for a light camera. You’ll see a clear difference in video quality when you use a tripod.
We use either FinalCut Pro or FinalCut Express (now discontinued). FinalCut is made by Apple and is the most widely used among pro videographers. Apple’s iMovie is basically the substitute for FinalCut Express, and you can create a decent video with it. FinalCut is only available for Macs. For PC users, we recommend Adobe Premiere Pro (high end), Adobe Premiere Elements (probably all you’ll ever need) or Sony Vegas (a range of versions and prices; all are pretty good). Don’t settle for Microsoft Moviemaker, the one included with Windows. It’s very limited.
Here’s a link to good instruction about producing a video story.
And here’s a blog called Journalists’ Toolkit, which contains lots of basic advice plus technical info on video formats and transcoding.