Friday, June 27, 2008

What to Buy? Part 1: Beginners

I have wrestled with the question of what to recommend to beginners all season, and i have an answer.

For people with a great deal of disposable income, the "right" thing to get today is an HD camcorder with an 8GB memory stick, and a 1TB hard disk dedicated to video. This represents perhaps a $1200 investment in your new hobby. Plus the purchase of very new equipment in a rapidly changing world. This is a lot of money on brand new technologies, and there is a reasonable chance that you won't use it much or well.

If you are just getting interested in digital video today, I would actually recommend not going for the full $1200+ investment; for as little as $250-$350 you can get a really decent SD camcorder that uses $4 MiniDV cassettes. This can get you started and teach you a lot about digital video. A camcorder like this is probably great:

If you are a little more convinced you're going to become a hobbiest, I think it's okay to get an SD camcorder that records to memory sticks too (or plugs right into the computer to dump off the video), but also get that 1TB drive. (The Flip camcorder comes to mind on the low end -- small memory stick cameras are actually quite expensive!) So this represents about a $600 kind of investment, and if you end up not being that into video, you won't be sorry having a big hard disk and that you didn't spend too much on a camcorder.

But I like MiniDV. It looks great, it's plenty of resolution for the money. It's self- archived (so if your hard disk melts down, you've got a pretty robust back up). And it necessitates a kind of organization that will be an asset when you move onto the hard disk. I think beginners should spend as little as possible when starting out, and MiniDV is really good.

NOTE: When I say "dump the video into the computer" I'm referring to a capture process where you play the video on the camcorder and record it in an editing program as a media file. What is important to know is that different applications (iMovie '08, iMovie HD, Final Cut Pro/Express, Premiere, etc.) have different native formats for video and sometimes create files that either (a) won't play in other applications, (b) won't play on other computers, (c) compress or process the original data in some way that is destructive and loses info. I'm still working out the details about what I think is best here, and it is one more reason to stick with MiniDV for the time-being.

This, btw, is the position I take in The Little Digital Video Book: it's for beginners and MiniDV offers the right price point for them. If you're more advanced, there is a lot of good info in the book, but the curriculum on MiniDV in the book would need to be slightly modified for you. We'll use this blog for those ammendments.

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