Mon, 22 Dec 2003

Choosing a compact digital video camera

Do you know the biggest digital camera on earth? According to the November 2003 issue of Popular Mechanics, it is the newly installed astronomical Digital camera that you can find at the Palomar Observatory's Oschin Telescope near San Diego, California. Called QUEST, it uses no fewer than 112 charge coupled devices (CCDs).

CCD is the component inside some scanners, still image digital cameras and digital video cameras that convert lights into digital data. It is not the only technology, but it is considered the better one.

Of course, we would not need such a gargantuan digital camera as QUEST to capture memorable moments in our life. Today, even a three-chip (3 CCDs) camcorder is considered too expensive for just capturing high quality video. What makes the three-chip camcorder more expensive-and preferred by professional videographers-is that each of the three colors (red, green and blue) is captured separately. This will give better results when the three image components are combined.

For the rest of us, the compact, single-chip (one-CCD) digital video (DV) camera is more than enough, given their state of the arts. They are capable of capturing high quality video that will pale the clips that we took with analog tapes a couple of years ago.

For small size, the MiniDV cameras are the right choice. They can even be put into a coat pocket because of their small size. They also have LCD viewer, so that we can reduce the possibility of filming the wrong people if our eyes are not sharp enough. In general, they will cost you between US$ 400 and US$ 800, and there are several good models from Canon, Panasonic and Sony to choose from.

What to look for when choosing a MiniDV camera? Most of them now have the zoom, panning, auto and manual focus, iris, automatic and manual white balance to compensate for the different kinds of lights-fluorescent, incandescent and mercury lights-inside a room so that white objects will still appear white in your video, automatic and manual gain control to ensure you will get the maximum voice clarity.

Most important of all, your DV camera should have an image stabilization function to minimize shaking-especially if you are still new in the trade. Check whether all of these functions are available. Check also whether the camera has the ability to compensate for strong light that comes from behind your subject, so that he or she does not appear as just a silhouette in your video clip.

And do not forget that you have to check the camera's ability in night shooting. Some cameras can perform better than the others in capturing video in inadequate light. Most DV cameras are also capable of capturing still images, although you would probably prefer using your digital camera for this purpose.

Also make sure that the MiniDV camera that you buy has a Firewire IEEE 1394, which will enable you to download video data into your PC or notebook. As to digital effect, just forget them. You had better do it on your computer screen using video editing software.

Finally, the more sophisticated a technology is, the more things you can control. In the case of digital video making, this makes the job complicated. So you need to read the manual and carefully learn all the controls that are available through the menus. And, as always is the case with a new gadget, you will need to experiment a lot before you can master it and produce the desired results. -- Zatni Arbi