Paul Colligan is dipping his toes into the video blogging waters, and asks what kind of camera he needs to get. Below is what I wrote as a comment to his post, which grew into kind of a long list, so I’m reposting it here, in no particular order.
Just about any digital camcorder that writes to MiniDV tape is what I’d recommend. I have a Sony DCR-HC40 – it’s tiny, and it works great. Make sure it has a Firewire port (also called IEEE1394 or i-Link) – Ignore whether it has a USB port or not, because you can’t pull video off of the tape over USB (even USB 2.0). And you’ll need a firewire card and cable for your PC. I paid $10 for a firewire card from NewEgg.com – don’t pay much more than that. And don’t pay more than $10 for a firewire cable. Retail outlets will try to rob you – get a cheaper cable from NewEgg or someplace like pchcables.com here in Portland/Hilllsboro (see my post on the outrageous price of cables). For a laptop, you could go with a PCMCIA firewire card if your laptop doesn’t already have a port.
With cables, be aware of the difference between 4-pin and 6-pin connectors. Most camcorders have the smaller 4-pin connector. Most firewire cards (and Macs) have the larger 6-pin connector (the two extra pins are for power, which doesn’t matter on a camcorder). Purchase your cable with the right ends.
I’d stay away from hard-drive based models – too new and too expensive. Ditto for DVD-based models – the media is expensive. When you think about it, MiniDV is a darn good deal for media. For $3, you get 60 minutes of 720×480 digital video, which works out to be around 30 GB or something per tape. I buy 6-packs of TDK tapes cheap at Costco.
Most camcorders have a “nightshot” mode, but that makes everything look like the Blair WItch Project, and is really only useful for dramatic effect. Like digital still cameras, more optical zoom is nice (20x is common), but digital zoom is basically useless. Image stabilization is another common feature, which is desireable, especially if you’re not going to use a tripod.
Speaking of tripods, I had a heck of a time finding one in the Portland area (west side). Magnolia HiFi and Video Only didn’t have any, and the ones at Best Buy were really expensive (I ended up getting a little $60 one). I later discovered that Fred Meyer has a great selection of tripods, all cheaper than Best Buy.
Ignore HD for now, unless you want to spend $1500+. For video podcasting, HD is not worth it yet, since you’re most likely going to be transcoding and distributing the files at a smaller resolution (like, say, 320×240 for the iPod).
I spent $500 on my camera new a few years ago, could have found it cheaper if I tried (I had some store credit, so it didn’t matter). You could find a good Canon or Sony MiniDV camcorder for less than $300.
Remember that in a pinch, your digital still camera can probably take decent video, especially if it’s less than a year old. I’m really impressed by the video I get out of my Canon SD700 IS. It doesn’t compare to my camcorder, but it’s very usable for video blogging, and even if the quality of your camera isn’t great, it can be better than not getting the video at all.
Get something with an external mic jack (powered, if possible), because the built-in mic on the camcorder isn’t great for interviews, etc., where you’ll want a lav mic or something you can get closer to the person speaking.
MiniDV tape quality doesn’t matter, since it’s all digital. Either the bytes are stored, or they’re not. There’s no picture quality difference between cheap and expensive tapes, like with analog (VHS, 8mm, etc.).
Oh, and camcorderinfo.com is the place to go for in depth reviews, etc. They’re super picky, so if they complain about the image quality or color, etc., just remember that they’re videophiles.
Update: Media wizard Jake Luddington has a post on 10 Tips for Buying a Digital Camcorder.