Camcorder for presentation videos?

solstice98March 24, 2009

I'm about to purchase a digital camcorder at work. My budget is small ($550 tops!) so I can't even look at professional quality machines. Mostly I'll be using it for short clips (3-5 minutes) to insert into Power Point presentations for safety, customer service and performance standards training.

I've never shopped for a camcorder before and don't really know what I need to look for.

- High def? Why not, right?

- Flash memory instead of hard drive? Seems like a good idea.

- Face recognition for better definition? Again, why wouldn't I want that? But do I need it? I don't know.

- Since I'll be shooting almost entirely inside, I'm concerned because so many reviews say a particular camcorder's performance in low light is terrible. But I haven't found one in this price range that says it has great low light capability! Am I doomed to dragging my subjects out into the bright Florida sunlight?

- How significant is battery life? It sounds like it's terrible for most of them so will I want to purchase extra battery packs? Are there other options to increasing battery life?

Anyone have any advice they can share about this? Specific recommendations are welcome, of course.

Thanks in advance for your help!


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*heavy sigh* I used to have a nice business doing video work for companies like yours, til a bunch of people in various IT departments etc started saying they could put something together using iMovie/windows movie maker etc.

Be prepared for lots of late nights and unpaid overtime. It's harder than you think.

At the very least you need a decent, separate microphone, either a radio mike (most versatile) or hand-held. Otherwise you will discover your audience is mostly hearing air conditioning and the phone in the office next door, especially with quietly-spoken people.

You will also discover you need lighting. The easiest way to do this is to buy one of those cheap halogen worklights at home depot or walmart, and bounce the light off a back wall or ceiling. DO NOT put it under any sort of fire detector/sprinkler sort of thing.

Then you will discover you need a tripod. Still camera tripods don't work very well, because you can't easily pan with them, and they don't tell you if you're level or not.

Even if you find a camera for the price you're looking at, I would seriously go back to whoever, and tell them it can't be done for the money. (You will want a second battery by the way)

You will also need software for editing, and creating movies so they will run in Powerpoint. Embedding movies into powerpoint is not always as easy as you would think, especially when you are transferring the show to other computers. There IS free or semi-free software for editing etc but it will drive you literally *insane* if you are trying to do anything more than something very basic.

People get spoiled by the plethora of quality images they are surrounded with, especially now digital effects look so natural. Don't be fooled, most of that 'simple' stuff has a lot of people behind the scenes working on it. Yes there are spotty teenagers working out of their mom's basement willing to undercut the pros and sometimes turn out quite good stuff, but they are willing to work for pizza. Then when everyone gets used to paying pizza prices, something goes wrong/kid has to do an extra shift at McDonalds/his mom grounds him, and there goes your deadline. Then people bemoan they can't find anyone decent, having killed off all the businesses who used to do it.

There are also the legal ramifications. Yes, I know that you HAVE to use "eye of the tiger" at every sales presentation, but you know what? It's ILLEGAL to use material that is still under copyright (and most recorded stuff is, you can't assume otherwise) and if you think that doesn't apply to you, just run it past your legal department, especially if you work for a large company. The copyright police LOVE to go after big companies and they usually walk away with some big dollars.

Like I say, don't get suckered into doing hours of unpaid overtime, even if you think this'll be your big break into show business (and you never know, then you'll be bemoaning people ripping off your hard-earned, too.) It's way more work than people think, and if you really don't take any of the steps I've suggested to make things look better (and you can do a lot with a cheap camera if you do it right) people will then complain things don't look or sound right.

Then someone in marketing thinks some video should be on the website, and you get roped into that too. Then the big boss sees it, and thinks it's shite. Then your head rolls, on top of all that unpaid overtime.

Bitter much? LOL.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 7:07PM
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pjb999 hit every nail right on the head with one blow!!! I had the exact issues when I worked in a sales support organization years ago. That's why I finally run my own business. How many times did I stay at the office during a snowstorm when everyone else went home to do last minute tweaks or redo's? I think you may be in a situation where you don't have a choice? What I mean is folks have already requested you do this?

One camera I found to really be helpful for web as well as presentation work, was a Sony digital. The first one I purchased saved everything to a floppy disk. It saved them in .JPG, BMP and other formats which made them easy to incorporate into presentations, just click and drag. It also had video and sound in .MPG format. The camera really was a time saver and produced great "business first class" web content and sales presentations. I have since bought a new one "Sony Model DSC-H50 Cybershot(it's a hobby now) that is really dynamic. It automatically focuses (10x zoom), adjusts to existing lighting, sound and video in all the formats. The new one uses a flash card. I purchased a 16meg flash card (about $110.00 ea.)and it was great so I bought another as a spare. There is no doubt, an extra battery is advisable and they don't cost much (around $50.00). The whole ball of wax- camera, 2 batteries, 2 flash cards, fire wire came to $500.00 (camera alone was $370.00 through and you can click and drag everything. Of course you will need a camera case and tripod. None of this will eliminate the overtime, own time and increased demands pjb999 describes. And you probably already know that whatever you come up with, someone will show up at the last minute with tweaks they consider a must and there ya go, you'll be working double time on your own time to get it done. You can't say no because it's either an authority figure or, someone in the group who will try to portray you as "not a team player" or " not adaptive to a fast paced and changing environment". The "Irisman" in my handle is indicative of my hobby, albeit much less stressful than when it was a job!!! It is fun work.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 10:15PM
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Personally I like tape still, because it can be damaged and you will still get some parts out of it, even if it means pulling the cassette apart and sticking the tape into another case. Hard drives and memory cards can die without warning.

Whatever it is, you will want Firewire/ieee1394 output, that's how you'll load footage into computer for editing. Which will need to be a fairly decent computer.

As for low light, things will look bad under low light. That said, most dv cameras these days do ok in office conditions (if you don't mind people looking pallid or green) and if you put them outside they will squint.

HD sounds fine but if you embed an HD movie into a presentation, it's a lot more work for the computer to play back and it will likely be choppy. Sometimes less is more.

Would you get someone who works in a pharmacy to perform surgery on you? Of course not, so use that analogy on your bosses. If they want a professional result, hire a professional. At the very least you need decent/pro gear. $500 is not a budget, it's a joke.

Another possibility might be to shoot your own stuff, following some of my suggestions, then pay a pro to edit/put it together. I did that often and was usually able to get a silk purse from the sow's ear I was given, and the person who came from the company to sit with me during the editing loved it, because they got a day off 'real work' and lunch and real espresso thrown in.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 3:14PM
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Thanks for the comments and advice (even the slightly snipey ones). I understand your concerns and your desire to see work go to professionals. I'm an occupational safety professional and hate to see safety responsibilities at a company get shoved off onto the HR or Maint departments. I get it.

But I think you misunderstood what I'm going to do with this. It's not for customers or presentations to the board of directors. This isn't work that would have ever gone to a professional; we are a charitable organization that turns every bit of profit from one side of our business into job training and placement services (at no cost to the participants or prospective employers) for disabled and disadvantaged people. We simply don't spend money that doesn't have to be spent. The videos I'll be taking will be going into safety training presentations and will show things as basic as how to attach a pallet jack to a battery charger. How to put on latex gloves before cleaning a restroom. What a warehouse looks like and how you have to walk in the marked aisles to avoid lift trucks. Lots of talk, then a short visual. These things are pretty basic, unless you've never had a job before. I don't need professional quality video to demo them to a new employee. Any visual will stick with them better than just words.

I do appreciate the help, but what I've got in the budget is what I've got. To me it's not a joke, it's an opportunity to make the training I do just a little bit more effective.

Perhaps I just posted this on the wrong forum.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 9:26AM
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I'm sorry you feel offended by my answer, it was based on the original information you provided and your soliciting any advice on the subject along with my personal experiences. From your question, it appeared to me you were asking for advice on taking on a project such as this as well as advice on what would be a good camera to do so.

Other than the embedded sarcasm from my personal experiences, I hope you found the actual information about the camera useful.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 6:06PM
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I did find it useful and as I said I did appreciate and understand the comments.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 9:56PM
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Gee I hope you're not referring to me as 'snipey' I put quite a lot of time into giving you useful information AS WELL as some caveats, unless you are donating your time (and even if you are) you may not want to devote all the extra time this sort of project eventually escalates into.

I have some experience of nonprofits also, they can be hotbeds of political intrigue and empire building, with the people at the lower ends at the mercy of these mandarins.

So I apologise if you read the tone as 'snipey' but I also gave you quite a bit of my time when there were NO responses, to a more or less impossible question. YOU asked for suggestions. As a professional who did this for many years I gave you an answer worth several thousand dollars in itself, based on the limited information you supplied.

I really do think you will have to spend more, at least for some lighting, or it really will not work. In order for what you've asked to be visible to the viewer, you will probably need some lighting. And a tripod. You mentioned getting people outside, which suggests one day you will need sound.

Don't forget you need to be able to edit the footage down, even one shot, get it into a computer, encode it to a readable get it into the PPT show, etc. That could well run into some additional costs. If you have a laptop computer, you MAY have a firewire port, otherwise you will need to have one added to a desktop. Typically, organisation type desktops don't have them.

If I tell someone on the electrical forum I want to wire a house for $500, even if I have reasons why I want to spend that much, (charity or whatever) no doubt someone WILL tell me it can't be done for the money.

If you know so much and are so confident about what you need, why are you asking us? Your best bet is to go to Wal-Mart or wherever, and buy the cheapest thing you can find. There's little point in asking, if you are not going to listen.

Sorry if you think it's 'snipey' - I have been through it many, many times before and I gave you my considered and valuable advice freely.

Please check back in and let us know how it works out for you, I'd like to know.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2009 at 4:09PM
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