Monday, December 26, 2011

Plug-A-Matic Buying An Audio+ Camcorder

A what? The focus is on the quality of the audio. The video is an secondary feature. And no, I don’t mean an audio recorder. Maybe I can describe it as an audio+ Camcorder

Audio+ Camcorders

Who would want such a thing? Podcasters! You are at a convention or social event. You are talking with the genius of the moment and you really need to get a good recording.  You could be a citizen journalist without a lot of cash. You can be a student, a historian, a hobbyist talking with an expert in the various incarnations of Namor Mckenzie aka the Sub Mariner. 

Most Point and Share camcorders have dicey microphone placements. The mic can be on top where the zoom motor can be heard. Or on the bottom where your hands grasping the camcorder is going to be picked up.

Users who are looking for an affordable camcorder with good audio include:

  • Audio/Video creators, podcasters and videobloggers
  • Musicians and singers
  • Visual storytellers
  • Journalists, reporters, writers
  • Documentary activists, historians, memory keepers and folks like that.

If we had the money we’d get the high tone stuff. We don’t. So the search is locked in at:

  • Between $150 and $350
  • Ease of Use
  • Mac and/or PC Compatible
  • Able to adjust audio to specific needs

It can be done, if you are flexible. There are trade-offs you need to know:

  • At this price point the video quality will be acceptable in the high definition side. Your budget might have to settle for standard definition.
  • You might have great audio and not as great video.
  • You will have to be more aware of lighting concerns. More external light is better, especially if you are recording indoors or in a controlled environment.
These are questions you should be asking yourself. Is this for home? For interviews? On location? Will I be uploading in the wild? Will I have time to do this? A regular camcorder with an external mic jack might be a better choice than these devices.

The Contenders

High Definition Audio+ Camcorders

Zoom Q3HD Handy Video Recorder
Olympus LS-20M PCM Recorder

Standard Definition Audio+ Camcorders

Alesis Video Track Handheld Camcorder
Zoom Q3 Handy Video Recorder

On the retail side you are not going to find the Alesis, Olympus or Zoom products at your local Target or Tesco brick and mortar (UK shout out) You will have to go to a music store which can be a trippy experience.

Don’t go to a music store during peak hours. There always seems to be some guy on symbols or drums the few times I’ve gone. It really is the headbanger's ball

Some of these audio+ camcorder are fixed in that there doesn’t seem to be a planned upgrade or new version coming out anytime soon. One of the above devices I suspect is a closeout candidate but I can’t confirm it just yet.

Mac Users: you know you have to check to make sure if the camcorder video format is compatible with your video editing software. If not, and you are not a techy kind of guy, you shouldn’t purchase the camcorder.

The Usual Vendors of Reliable On-line Purchasing Options

  • Amazon
  • Adorama
  • B and H Photo

You want to visit YouTube for camcorder reviews, and check out places like or Videomaker magazine for information.

Plug- A-Matic Buying A Point & Share Camcorder

I hope you thought about why you want a camcorder. The next few posts are going to be kind of a template where I’m going to imagine a possible user and conjure up a possible camcorder option.

Point and Share Camcorders

The point and share person wants a camcorder that they can turn on at a moment’s notice. It is there for the baby’s first steps, the car accident up the street, or one of many conflicts between freedom of speech and law enforcement.

Life happens and you want to be ready. My understanding of what these users want is:

  • Low costs – Between $100 and $199
  • Ease of Use – Push a button and recording happens
  • Able to transfer from the device to the computer
  • Able to upload to a video web hosting service
  • Able to create a DVD for non-techno friends and relatives

It is doable at this price point. But there are trade-offs you need to know:

  • At this price point the video quality will be fair to very okay. Not necessarily great.
  • The audio will be either really bad or just acceptable. (There are exceptions with certain models of camcorders)
  • Outdoors the video will be pretty good. Indoors it can be horrible without a lot of supplemental lighting.
  • You will need to learn how to use some form of video software. It might be the stuff provided by the manufacturer. It might be the free software provided by Microsoft or Apple.
  • Hand held camcorders and smartphone videos suffer from the shakes. Humans cannot hold the camcorder absolutely steady. You will need to think about how are you going to have steady video. Does the camcorder have image or optical stabilization?

It is a balance between what you want, what you need, how much can you pay and the time it might take you to get a video you want to share with friends and family.

The Contenders

If I have to pick I’d go with one of the following vendors/camcorders

High Definition Camcorders

Kodak Playtouch or Playsport
Panasonic HX-DC10 or HXDC1
Sony Bloggie line camcorders

Standard Definition Camcorder

Samsung F50 Flash Memory Camcorder – this is a standard definition camcorder but if you are recording a performance or event from a distance you will appreciate the 52x optical zoom. With the use of optical zoom you will need a tripod or some kind of support to stop the shakes.

If you have a digital television and you plan to watch videos from it this might not be a good option. If you are just uploading to a video web hosting service like YouTube it could be a good affordable way to capture video.

Are These Top of The Line, Bleeding Edge Camcorders?

Not necessarily. Some are current. Others camcorders are being closed out. That is why the price is someplace between $100 and $199, depending on when and where you purchase the device.

Retail vendors are going to charge more. On-line vendors will charge less but you have to factor in shipping.

Stick with known quality sellers. There is a whole line of shifty photography retail and on-line stores who will piece out what was sold by the manufacturer in one box. You want no part of those folks.

These are reliable vendors who have clearly stated return policies and shipping options.

  • Amazon
  • Adorama
  • B and H Photo
  • – harder to find good camcorders but they do have them from time to time.
  • TigerDirect

Retail is going to depend on where you live. Those of us near big cities are going to have stores like Costco, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club. Other folks just have Sears.

What I am noticing is the re-instatement of the 15% restocking fee at the retail level.  Or the 14 day only return policy. Or the slip of paper in the device begging you to return it to the vendor and not the nearby store.

Shop careful. Check YouTube for camcorder reviews, visit places like or Videomaker magazine for information.

Plug-A-Matic Buying Camcorder Guide – The Questions

When people ask me about buying a camcorder I will usually ask why do you want one?  I’m not stalling while I am thinking about the answer. It is a very important part of the buying experience.

Most people don’t want to buy a camcorder. They want a way to record events and memories.  A camcorder can help them so that. So can an iPad, Smartphone or digital still camera with a video mode.

You don’t need a camcorder but a camcorder might better serve your goals of recording quality video.

Here is the thing.

Casual users do not want to know about specs, f-stops, lighting, file formats or conversion software.

That is okay.

It just makes it very hard to for me to recommend a camcorder.  It is not like a linear process of buying a television and plugging it in.

You as a camcorder buyer will have to learn how to do new stuff.  Stuff you really didn’t plan on learning.

How much you will have to learn will be up to you. If you go cheap and use basic software that is going to require an investment of x-amount of time.

So before I lay this out here are the questions:

  • Why do you want a camcorder?
  • What is it you want to record?
  • How much can you spend on not just the camcorder but on memory cards, batteries, a tripod, maybe external lighting, software and other stuff?
  • What is your return on investment?
 I have a dozen more questions and for each answer I could ask three more.

Stew on this a while.

It could save you money and future frustrations.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Plug-A-Matic Buying A Family Camcorder

Tag, you are it; you are the person in your family designated to record video. You have in-laws to the left of you and moving children to the right of you growing fast.  You don’t mind pushing the button but really don’t want to get involved in a time sink

I don’t know how to break it to you but working with video does take up time. With planning and a good workflow you can reduce the amount of time spent getting video out of the camcorder to your pesky and persistent viewers.

Parental Family and Event Camcorder Kit

Here is what I think are essential for family and event recordings:
  • Optical zoom, at least 10x but more is better if you can afford it. If you are recording dances, games, vacations or activities you need optical, not digital zoom.
  • A tripod if you use optical zoom. Yes, there are image and optical stabilization in camcorders but if you are holding the device by hand you can never remove all of the shakes. A tripod or at least a monopod can keep it steady.
  • Extra batteries cuz the suckers that come with more consumer camcorder run out in about 45 minutes to an hour. 
  • External lights for home recording – Your living room lamp isn’t up to the job.
  • External hard drive or DVD transfer for recordings for back up.
  • A video editing program you are comfortable using. 

Now I haven't said a word about high definition, sensor size, ergonomics or memory cards. I want to but the population I'm trying to reach are in linear thinking mode. "Tell me what to get so I can do what I want."

Except that many of the things we need to do now days isn't linear. There are choices, sub-choices and results from those choices.

There I go again.  I’m supposed to remove options, not add to them.

Workflow via Software

  • You have a camcorder that allows you to optically zoom in and out and has decent audio.
  • You want a DVD or video to give to another person. That can be on a disc, memory card or uploaded to a web service.
  • Corel Digital Studio 2010 or Corel Video Studio Express is designed to help novice users create a DVD or stylized video.

You connect the camcorder to your computer (using the power cord, do not transfer anything on battery power) and use the software to transfer the videos from the camcorder to the computer.

The Under $250 Camcorders with 10x or More of Optical Zoom:

Canon - Vixia HF R20 8GB Flash Memory Camcorder with 20x optical zoom
JVC GZHM30BUS HD Flash Memory Camcorder with 40x optical zoom
Samsung - HMX-Q10 HD Flash Memory Camcorder with 10x optical zoom

Beyond Theory

I have to be honest. This seems like the plan. Except that there can be hitches along the way.

You might have an older computer that doesn’t accept new video file formats.

You might not have enough space on your hard drive to store video. You can get an external drive but that is another expense.

If you are a Mac user you cannot use the PC software that comes with some camcorders. You will have to check the Apple web site to make sure the camcorder is compatible with your version of iMovie.

If you are a PC user and can’t get the software from your device to your computer you might have to copy and paste files from one location to another.

The software might be too basic. Or not basic enough.

Similar Software for Parental Users

Roxio Video Lab – PC
Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum – PC
Toast Titanium 10 – Mac

You can do this for under $400. You can even do it under $300.  If you just want the camcorder $250 can buy you a decent optical zoom camcorder. 

This really is a matter of time allocation. If you don’t have the time or the desire to learn about computer video editing then you will need help from software designed to take over for you.

That doesn’t exempt you from knowing how to troubleshoot or find an alternate way of doing a task.  No camcorder can compensate for not knowing how to copy and paste or where the video is on your memory card.

Just saying…be ready to asked your kids for help if you need it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Vimeo Festival and Awards - Are You In?

I have been watching a promotional video about the Vimeo Festival and Awards thingy that is gonna happen in June 2012. There is a sentence that sticks in my head. "This is the age of access and we need to take advantage of it."

Yes. Now is our time. And make no mistake, various political, social and commercial entities want nothing more than to return to the time of the passive consumer.

I'm not saying you have to be active if you do not want to. There is nothing wrong with just consuming content.

I'm just particular about what I want to see and hear. It ain't necessarily on broadcast or cable television. It isn't just regurgitated content dispensed from Hulu or Amazon. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

But if you want to create and bypass the gatekeepers then what could it hurt to check out the action in New York in June? 

Just saying is all.

Now I'm not much for contests and stuff but there will be an award ceremony with cash money grants for those that need a little sugar to make future magic.

This is a promotional Vimeo video about the awards.
So if that has got you curious then head over to the Rules and get to studying. There is a lot you have to  understand before you can enter such as:

  1. You have have to be old enough to enter.
  2. There is an entry fee of $20 if you are one of the teeming masses. If you are a Vimeo Plus or Pro member it is $5 unless you live in Arizona, Maryland, North Dakota, and Vermont in which case Vimeo will kick back the entry fee.
  3. The video must conform to the video compression guidelines, so no .wmv, xvid or ogg vorbis.
  4. It must be an original work.
There you have it. New York is a rocking good time in the spring and summer so I'm thinking about counting extra pennies to check it out.

Could be fun.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Look at Ashampoo Video Styler

Curiosity got the best of me. I saw the commercial for this product and I had to check it out. Basically Ashampoo's Video Styler is an effects generator. You can plop in a video and apply certain video effects and then export the video to video web hosting sites or to the media of your choice.

Let me point out that 90% of video editing software programs has one of more effects that you can apply to a video. Even Windows Live Movie Maker has the ability to apply visual effects.

But, like I said, I was curious. I can see in certain limited situations where this might be handy for novice users or those that have software that doesn't make it easy to apply these types of effect.

This is version 1.01 or something like that so I'm taking that into account.

Here is what it can do:
  • Change aspect ratio of videos
  • A visual method of cropping videos
  • Simple adjusting of brightness contrast
  • Effects like old movies, video in television, Sepia or Black & White
  • Export to MP4 and other formats.
I'm testing it out the trial version at the moment. I found an old video in .wmv format and applied the old video in television effect. I actually was looking for an old television graphic for an idea I've been kicking around for a while. This would we perfect for me.

Applying the effect was easy enough. Exporting than file to an mp4 video took some time. The video was six minutes and the export took almost 50 minutes to render.

When I tried to open it in QuickTime Pro it couldn't open the video. In fact, I was taken to an Apple page with a list of add-on codecs I could use to open the video.

Except I have no idea what the codec was in the first place.

I'm going to try again in a day or so. I want to experiment with an .avi and standard .mov videos to see if that makes a difference.

Related Posts

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thinking About the Future Around the Bend

I was watching a video from Blunty3000 on the recording capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS. I have to tell you that is a sentence I did not anticipate writing. That is the thing about the future; you don't know what is coming around the bend.

There are currently:
  • Webcams
  • Still cameras that record HD Video
  • Camcorders that record to memory storage or had drives. Still waiting for somebody to pop an SSD hard drive into one of them
  • Phones/Smartphones and things that aren't phones that can make phone calls and record video
  • Tablets that can record video on the Apple and Android operating systems. I don't know much about the Windows tablets yet
  • Portable games that have video options
  • Screen capture software
  • The thing I don't know about or forgetting.
Much of this has evolved in the last two years or so. I've been trying to stick with looking at camcorders and their related issues.

That isn't practical anymore.

The person with a smartphone needs to know their options on moving videos from their phone to the Internet.. There are more options than just buying an app. There are stabilization problems that tablet folks have that regular camcorder users don't.

It is an exciting time but I'm sure how to proceed.

One of the things is to think about what is the core concepts. No matter what you record on you still need to compose a good shot. Lighting is still important. Saving money but not cheapening out on crappy products is vital. How do you tell a story without busting your data usage amount?

So that is what is blocking up posts. I either scrap what I'm doing or I create a new framework that can accommodate the core concepts that work across any recording device.

There would be that pesky problem of defining the core concepts that carry over from analog recording that certainly have a place in digital recording.

I'm in peculation mode. December is good for this kind of thing.

I guess I'm thinking out loud.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thinking About the 5x5 Videos of Simon Edmonds

I wanted to dive a little deeper into the 5x5 videos of Simon Edmonds. He was one of the participants in Vlomo2011.What he does is to record five scenes in five seconds. The result is a 25 second videos.

Simon has made a video a day for 2011. This is an example of his work:

It is deceptively simple. 
  • Each shot is five second long. 
  • There are five scenes in the video.
  • Record only the environmental sounds, no narration.
  • No zooms
  • No manipulations
  • Just what appears before the camera/recording device.
I'm not sure if he is telling a narrative story or do I bring my own story and match it to the images. Kinda cool either way.

Figuring Out How To Make A 5x5 Video

In reality, I suspect that Simon probably has to record for a bit more than fives seconds. On some recording devices you have to allow the device to get up to speed.

I can see using my Android Smartphone. By the time I get it set up and recording that is going to be much more than five seconds.


Well, for one this holding the camcorder steady is vital. If you are using a phone or tablet you are going to need to find a way to stabilize it so that the video is stable.

Be Quiet

No talking, heavy breathing or using any function that is going to be picked up by the device.

It Is All In the Edit

Whether you choose to do it in-camera or using edit software you still have to make decisions about when to start and stop a scene. 

So if you are looking for an idea or just want to practice your video skills give the 5x5 a try.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Imposter Getting Back in the Saddle

I have been absent for more days that I care to admit. Trying to give my hands and eyes a break. Then there is that thing called the mind; it called in some time off. It was long due. But there was something else. Something I could not name.

I was listening to Mur Lafferty's fine podcast called "I Should Be Writing." In the November 24th show she talked about the imposter syndrome. Mur is nobody's imposter. She is a published writer, audio producer and involved with all kinds of folks.

Yet she was talking about how this feeling creeps up in her that people will find out she is a fraud.

That icky voice that says you can't do what you have been doing AND dismisses other people that have told you that they have liked your work.

I write. I take photos. I am not doing as much video as I would like. I also have a day job and other responsibilities. I live in a 24 hour day and part of that time must be spent sleeping.

We gotta let go of that perfection hammer. How are we going to do good work if we criticizes ourselves for recording a small bit of video? Because the imposter syndrome can move from haranguing you about not being perfect to gnawing on that bone about trying to do anything at all.

It is a nasty sucker.

Yes, we want it to be good. Great. Perfect. Before any of that can be evaluated the work first must get done.  The icky voice, the litter hater, the devil on the shoulder has to be banished.

Not so easy to do but necessary.

If you are interested you could check out Dr. Pauline Rose Clance's web page about Impostor Phenomenon or you can check out XOJane - Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

I'm still tussling with mine but I won this round.

I wrote this post.

Friday, December 2, 2011

More Lessons Learned from VloMo 2011

Well November 30th has come and gone. I need to do some tag work and clean up on International Videoblogging Posting Month aka the VloMo 2011 Video Gallery on Saturday and then it is a done deal.

I've learned a lot about curating an online video exhibition. I am still processing the deeper lessons. You can't help but learn something with 600+ videos submitted and viewed.

This is what I can say for sure:

Informing Participants

I wish I did a better job of informing folks about VloMo outside of the Yahoo Videoblogging Group.

In hindsight, that worked to my advantage because my hand would be in a sling from cramping. The right number of people participated. Fortunately word of mouth help to let other folks know about VloMo.

Some of the participants thought that they had to do 30 seconds a day. It was a suggestion and it makes sense for time challenged people but folks could do what they wanted. Most videos cam in at under five minutes and many were two minutes or less.

It was an English language affair but it almost covered the globe. Seriously missing were participants from South America, Japan and Africa. And next year we need more women!

Back to the English thing. I'd like to point out that there is a difference between UK and US English. There were times where I could not understand. Other times I drew on my long history of watching BBC shows on PBS to help me get a grip. 

You do the the best you can.

Tagging Videos

I had to make quick subjective judgements about how to tag the videos. Some were easy, if I saw a cat in it that was one of the tags.

Other videos I had to be more careful. I did not want to tag with a spoiler that would alter the experience. It was a balance between informing the viewer about the contents of the video and editorializing, which I did not want to do.

Twitter Search

Twitter isn't that great for searching. Don't get me wrong. I deeply depended on it to keep track of participants and finding videos. It didn't necessarily update new listings when I did a saved search. What I had to do was type the keyword, search and then make sure I selected "All."

That got it most of the time. Except when Twitter search didn't work at all. Some people were using #vlomo11, some #2011 and some #NaNoVloMo. I had to use all of the terms not only on Twitter but YouTube, Vimeo and

Tumblr Quirks

Tumblr is great at allowing users to uploading video quickly. If you use an URL/web address from the major web hosts that cuts down on having to use embed codes.

It is not so great for other types of video web hosts that they do not have a working relationship with. Keek, Flickr and other web hosts URL were not acceptable to Tumblr. It did not matter if I used the embed code or the URL it would not display the video.

I could only link to the direct page of the participants. One of the downsides is that customizing is possible but limited. That is one of its strengths but if I wanted to tweak a bit I had to let it go. The service is designed for quick uploads.

Ok, that is what I've learned at the moment. Gotta go.