The digital camera can be small, agile, and is generally easier to keep handy at all times. They can often be found for little money, and are non-intrusive and great for doing informal interviews. Also, it’s pretty easy to publish digital camera footage without editing it.
The downside is in the quality department. The lenses are usually cheaper and the cameras often don’t have external microphone jacks (read why good audio is super important). That said, they’re simple, inexpensive, and great beginner cameras.
Though DV camcorders are generally more expensive, most give a much higher level of control over both picture and sound quality than digital cameras (especially at similar prices). A DV camcorder is often physically larger, and requires footage to be digitized (unless it’s a hybrid that records to memory card) and accessories add to the bulk (tapes, microphones, larger batteries, etc.).
Despite these disadvantages, if you need the improved image and sound quality, the trade-off is well worth it. Camcorders are great when you want higher production levels — just make sure you know how to properly light your shots and get great sound before you make a huge investment.
CELL PHONE VIDEO CAMERAS
Picture and audio quality typically diminishes as devices become smaller simply because their size makes it difficult to pack in decent recording equipment. Battery life and media length may be of concern, depending on the device as well. However, cell phones continue to be used strategically in social change work around the world, so don’t forget this small, but powerful, device!
Additionally, cell phone video can be recorded extremely discreetly, and may be useful in conducting quick interviews or documenting statements of support for the campaign, social issues or emergencies. Each phone is different, so make sure you test-run recording and uploading video to your computer (or directly to the internet) to ensure you don’t lose important footage once you film it.
OTHER TOOLS TO CONSIDER
Use a tripod whenever you can – they are great for doing fixed shots, they can make video shot on a less expensive device appear more professional. If you want to move the camera (panning side to side or tilting up and down), you’ll want a tripod with a fluid head — this will keep your movements from jittering. You can find consumer grade fluid-head tripods for under $100. Regular tripods can usually be found for cheap at garage sales or thrift stores.
Internal or external microphone?
Great sound can make or break a video. Sadly, most digital cameras and some low-end DV camcorders don’t have a microphone jack (it looks the same as an iPod headphone jack). However, if you do have a microphone input, you will get far better sound if you use an external microphone. Even a $30 Radio Shack microphone will get better sound than an internal microphone.
Lastly, if you are looking at buying a camcorder, CNET has a pretty good, updated guide on finding the perfect camera for your needs.
What’s Next? Camcorders