Video camera recommendations

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In December 2011 the following question was posted on the ALT- Members JISCMail forum (see <a href=""></a> )

Can anyone recommend a video camera for the following job?
I need to supply teaching assistants with cameras so they can record short segments of lessons in primary school classrooms.
The cameras need to be easy to use, battery operated, easy to transfer the video from, and must have good sound recording capabilities. Ideally the classroom teacher will not wear a mic.
The suggestion is to use Flips, but I wonder whether there is a better alternative?

It generated quite a number of replies which are compiled (in a very rough way) below. Beneath the compilation there are links to all the cameras mentioned.

I don't know if someone has pointed this out already but the real problems in making these recommendations is the fluidity/volatility of the market - i.e. rapid product turnover. Audio quality can often be a poor relation to video quality with these devices, which is a shame as nothing ruins a "budget" video more than bad sound as it turns out - it's the curse of the sound engineer - no-one ever recognises their work unless it's bad!

For what it's worth I've noticed that the audio quality on Sony cameras is often better than Canons or Panasonics at the same price range but unfortunately you just need to try them. Unfortunately all manufacturers unilaterally decided several years ago that "consumers2 don't need to be able to plug in external microphones any more either.....

JISC Digital Media did a side-by-side comparison of the Kodak Zi8, Sony Z5 and Flip last year: :-)

In my experience, the quality of the sound is much more important than the quality of the pictures. Any small camera (including iPhones that we have used here) will be good enough for close capture such as one-to-one interviews. But once the speaker is more than a few feet away the room echo and background noise degrade the sound quality considerably. I have good hearing and can put up with it, but students of mine with hearing problems have explained that they cannot make out what is being said on videos recorded in classrooms with the built in camera audio.

So use an external mike - a lapel mic is best (or a radio mic if you can afford it). But then you need a camera with external audio input. An alternative to this that I have used successfully is to record the sound separately. Thus use a cheap camera to get the visuals and any digital audio recorder to record the speaker close up. You will still get some echo, but much less than recording with the camera mic. Of course the downsides are that you have to remember to set both going and that you then have to edit in the sound in post production. I have found this very easy in the digital editing suite. Synching to one frame is good enough for lip synch and finding a spot to synch to is easy, even with out the clapboard! Digital timing is very good and sound and picture stay in synch even for an hour long video.

The iPad video is good but:

1. It downloads the video sideways if you use it the wrong way (I was trying to edit the video in Camtasia. There is a work around using the Media Technician or free software MPEGStreamclip). The mike is on the screen side of the iPad so it won’t do for a large room.

We're using Sony HXR-Mc50E.

Sound is pretty good, download easy.

Http:// camcorders/hxrc50e/overview

Having been involved in Audio Visual Production for more years than I care to remember, this very same problem has existed from time immemorial.

Sadly, the problem with recording good audio on any video camera is pretty much the same, and particularly difficult with the majority of low cost portables.

Microphones on video cameras tend to be condenser type, and therefore attempt to capture as much sound as possible .. amplifying what audio is present in order to capture 'something'. This usually means that low level voices or audio sources end up with that annoying 'hiss' over the recording. The other major issue that occurs tends to be that audio recording has no directional control, and therefore becomes an inaudible mess of everything in the room. Without individual radio mics on the key speaker, the odds of a good quality recording are very much reduced (particularly if children are involved).

More expensive cameras usually have filtering, mic gain controls, and with more expensive cameras, zoom controlled mic capability to adjust audio quality.

The best option to look at would be a video camera with an external mic input source. This will allow the use of variable mic types depending on the job in hand, and for potentially better control of what audio is recorded.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but this tends to be something you need to throw money at to purchase good camera and mic equipment, and ultimately get a good outcome.

I'd certainly recommend Flips for that situation ‹ your criteria pretty much sum up what it does.

The recording qualities are better than you might expect. I can send you some links to examples if you like.

Does the Zi8 have a flash hotshoe? If so that could be used to mount the mic on, allowing the user to keep a hand free (I’ve used same technique to connect wireless receiver for more expensive model while someone on stage wore transmitter mic).

An example of a quick video with the kodak Zi8 and a simple external mic is here:

Whilst the inbuilt mic isn’t bad, if you have a noisy environment such as in this case at a conference foyer, then external is really pretty essential.

Absolutely...sound is the crucial issue. We have used Kodak Zi8s because they have an external mic input and that solves the problem, though it does mean two hands rather than one! The alternative is to use an audio recorder as well and sync up afterwards, can work, but more fiddling that you’d want. Using more standard camcorders does help, but increasingly these lack decent mic inputs although in many cases the onboard mic isn’t too bad, still a problem in noisy environments such as a classroom.

The problem is sound. Anything over 6 ft away a flip is not much use. I have tried Zooms twice the price not much difference. In fact sound is a real issue with all these flash drive vids if not used at rteally close range (unless anyone else knows different?) Also unhelpfully most cameras have no external input so you can't even hook up a boundary or radio mic. I have resorted recently to a using old tech DV tape as 1) you can actually edit your footage using moviemaker or imovie without having to compress huge files generated by flips and HD cams. 2) Firewire works. 3) the onboard mic's of even the cheapest tape cams are a lot better than flips etc.

Not very helpful I am afraid but that is my experience. With video camera's small is not always beautiful?

I have been very happy with a Sony Bloggie to replace my beloved Flip

I know of some acting students who've been trying out the iPad but can't comment on the sound quality. As an alternative to the Flip, Toshiba has the Camileo range which looks fairly similar. I've recommended a couple of these via the Disabled Students Allowance recently and I'm hoping that the students will get back to me with feedback.

I also tested the Olympus LS20M a couple of weeks ago. It's a combined voice recorder/camcorder. The quality of the audio was fantastic but the zoom function for the camcorder was a bit restrictive and the battery life was awful. The camera placement also means that it might be more practical for tabletop use rather than as a handheld (you can buy a mini-tripos to fit it to.

Another vote for the Kodak. Portable and easy to use. We've created mini kits, more information on our blog:

Just to say I'd planned to put together a spec list for some new kit to do exactly the same thing in the next week. I've ruled out Flip as the sound quality isn't good enough for our purposes, so my own preference is for an external mic, though simplicity is an absolute must, so can see the point of not wanting mic. One other comment I'd make is that having a usb connection rather than firewire will make it more flexible - our standard staff computers don't have a firewire card, and I'd guess many other institutions will be in a similar position. If anyone has a scoring matrix or recommendations they'd like to share I'd love to see it - otherwise I'll hopefully post back my own conclusions if I get a bit of quiet time next week once the students go.

When I looked into this type of camera last year, I chose the Kodak Zi8 as it combined good image quality with much better audio than the competition in its price range (and the option of an external mike). I I have not made as much use of it as I expected, but basic editing seemed simple enough (my first attempt at video editing) with the software provided. The products have moved on since then (the Zi8 has been superseded and Flip is no more), but I should certainly take a look at what Kodak has to offer.

I have recently started using a Zoom Q3 HD camera. The sound recording quality on it is superb. There is a trade off here in terms of the video recording features, but adds to its simplicity to use.

Integrated USB for easy transfer.

Not sure if this would be of any help It's a document I prepared for trainee teachers recording lessons some time ago. It doesn't recommend a wide range of cameras but tries to explain the key types of gear needed.

I can certainly speak up for Flip cameras if placed reasonable close to the speaker. I even had some of my Flip footage broadcast on Korean TV !

We recommend the Sanyo Xacti range: that can serve as a very serviceable digital camera. Additional batteries may be required for lessons over 60minutes

One further post on the simple video and sound equipment issues. I've just come across this comparative review of 6 mics for use with the iPhone for video by Scott Skibell. I guess they would work with any other video camera with a mic socket. The mics vary from the cheapest at about £20 to £500 and you can get some idea of the quality even via the YouTube sound.</a>

I’ve followed the discussion and am also looking for a camcorder that will work well with a Mac. The Sony we currently use has a lot of integration issues with iMovie which although it’s quite a good camera, makes it a bit useless when it comes to processing the footage. Any suggestions please?

The Flip isn't made anymore, and I say good riddance. They came up with a great idea which caught the public's imagination and then proceeded to do nothing with it while other manufacturers made better and better equivalents. One that I was particularly impressed with was the Kodak Zi8, which had a bigger screen, a macro lens, removeable recording media, a variety of HD formats, a better digital zoom, a flexible USB connector and, most importantly, an external microphone socket -- and which cost less than the Flip. You might want to give this short video a look:</a>

Sadly the Zi8 is no longer being manufactured (though you might just be able to find one on the Internet). Kodak has a replacement model which costs a bit more, the Zi10.

I think that pocket camcorders are a brilliant tool for the sort of application you're talking about. The key to using them well is to understand their limitations and work around them. We have an advice guide which addresses these that I encourage you to have a look at:</a>

One important point: you say you must have good sound, but you do not want the teaching assistants to wear a mic. The bottom line is this: you have to do the latter to get the former. The built-in mic on any video camera (not just the pocket models) is inevitably very poor quality. Even more importantly, to get a good picture you want the camera some distance from the speaker but to get good sound you want it as close as possible.

An external mic doesn't have to be a big problem -- or a big expense. In the comparison video I'm wearing a cheap lapel mic that I got from Maplin for about £14 and the results are perfectly acceptable. It comes on a 4 metre cable, so there's minimal restriction on the speaker's movements.

I'm assuming here that the only person you're hoping to get good sound for is the teaching assistant. If you want good sound for the entire classroom, prepare to be disappointed. That is very difficult to achieve with a dedicated sound person and an assortment of mics, let alone the one-mic approach we're talking about. The best you can realistically hope for is to get good sound for the teaching assistant, OK sound for anyone standing next to them and somewhat audible sound for the rest of the room.

I hope you find this info helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions -- JISC Digital media exists to (amongst other things) provide free advice to the HE and FE sectors.

I enjoyed the threads on audio recording and small flip-style video cameras, thanks. As with others I would recommend the Kodak Zi8 simply for the audio input. Kodak is not doing well, so maybe its better to buy these sooner rather than later. Incidentally, we use sennheiser lapel-clip style radio mics, they work very well.

I have for some time now been looking for a more sophisticated camera for recording lectures and students working in groups, maybe there is some recommendation out there.

The thing which really gets me is an on-body switch for zooming in or out; I hate having to operate those. Once I did use a friend's camera (now a discontinued product, and not even obtainable on ebay) which had a zoom control ring on the lens - really nice to use.

Is anyone aware of such a thing in a mid range camera, please? And what's mid range? Say, costing up to £600.

Other specs are usual for a mid range camera, eg sufficient zoom range to frame someone speaking from say 10m away, separate mic input etc.

Cameras and specifications:

Kodak Zi8 (possibly discontinued)</a>

Sony Pro HVR-Z5 (possibly replaced by Z7, though still freely available)</a>

Sony HXR-Mc50E</a>

Sony Bloggie range</a>:

- MHS-FS3</a>

- MHS-FS2</a>

- MHS-FS1</a>

- MHS-TS20K</a>

- MHS-PM5K</a>

- MHS-PM5</a>

- MHS-CM5</a>

Olympus LS20M</a>

Zoom Q3 HD camera</a>

Sanyo Xacti range</a> :

- VPC-CS1</a>

- VPC-SH1</a>

- VPC-CG100</a>

- VPC-GH1</a>

- VPC-CG20</a>

- VPC-CA100</a>

- VPC-PD1</a>

- VPC-GH3</a>

- VPC-CG21</a>

- VPC-HD2000A</a>

- VPC-FH1A</a>

Examples and recommended set-ups:

JISC comparison of Kodak Zi8, Sony Z5 and Flip -</a>

Example of Kodak Zi8 with an external mic -</a>

Use an external mic to minimise background noise - a lapel mic is best or a radio mic if you can afford it). But then you need a camera with external audio input. An alternative to this is to use a cheap camera to get the visuals and any digital audio recorder to record the speaker close up. You will still get some echo, but much less than recording with the camera mic.

Kodak Zi8 is recommended simply for the audio input. Kodak is not doing well, so maybe it’s better to buy these sooner rather than later. Sennheiser lapel-clip style radio mics work very well.

The Kodak Zi8 has a bigger screen than the Flip cameras, a macro lens, removable recording media, a variety of HD formats, a better digital zoom, a flexible USB connector and an external microphone socket.

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