Video Camera Savvy

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Question: We're getting ready to purchase a video camera to use in our school. Are there particular features we should be sure to look for?

The IT Guy says:
With the availability of great video editing software and inexpensive video cameras, creating videos as part of school activities has never been easier. However, to make your editing life easier, it's important to pick the right camera at the beginning. Here are some things to consider –

  • Recording media. You can now buy camcorders that record directly to digital video tapes, or mini-DVDs, or to an internal hard drive built into the camcorder.
  • Tape
  • Mini-DVDs
  • Internal hard drive
  • Computer interface. Your camera may use Firewire/IEEE1394 or it may use USB 2. Either method is about the same speed, but you need to make sure the computer you are using will work with the option on the camera.
  • Low light capability. You will probably be shooting a lot of video indoors, so try out any camera you are considering by doing some taping in similar conditions. Some brands of cameras are notorious for "noisy" (or grainy) video in dim light. Check the user comments at websites such as or
  • External audio connection. If there was one thing I would emphasize, it's to make sure there is a microphone connection on the camera. One of the worst issues with school videos is poor audio. If you're going to have kids talking to the camera, they need a microphone! Strangely, some entry-level cameras don't have place to plug in a mic, forever dooming you to muddy sound. Avoid them!
  • Advantage: inexpensive
  • Disadvantages: winding and rewinding tape to find sections you want, can't play back the video without the camcorder
  • Advantages: they can be played back in most DVD players, and they take less space to store than tapes.
  • Disadvantages: they're more expensive than tapes, and depending on the camera may not be editable on a Mac.
  • Advantages: you don't need to pack around tapes or mini-DVDs.
  • Disadvantages: if you fill your hard drive, you can't record any new video until you copy the video onto the computer, and once you copy it onto the computer you'll want to back it up – onto tapes or DVDs.

In addition to making sure you get the right camera, there are accessories you really have to buy to get the most out of your camera. I'll discuss those next time!

Next Tip: TBA