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Sunday 1 April 2007

My photo/video blog kit

I thought I’d write a bit about the kit I use for making videos and blog entries.

My video kit

My video kit

1/ My old faithful Toshiba Satellite laptop. It has a built-in firewire port for transferring video from the camcorder. Plus plenty of power for editing with Sony Vegas Video software. I have a USB 2.0 harddrive enclose, so can capture onto a larger drive in that if necessary.

2/ Behringer UB802 audio mixer. This is a four-channel mains-powered mixer that I bought in 2006 to replace the ageing Tascam mini-studio (a 4-track cassette recorder with built-in mixer) that had served me well for almost twenty years. The UB802 has phantom power to drive a professional condenser studio microphone, EQ, FX send, headphone socket and tape in and out. To my ear, the quality is excellent and the price much lower than you might expect. I think I paid around £45 at Dawson’s. The Behringer XENYX 802 is an updated version.

3/ Behringer C-1 condenser microphone. For recording narration, podcasts and simple interviews at home. This is powered by the mixer. Although this is at the bottom of the Behringer range, it sounds really good and certainly is the best quality microphone I’ve owned so far. Cost: around £30.

Recently some condenser mics have launched that have a USB connection — so no need for a phantom power supply from the mixer. These are definitely worth considering if you’re recording to a PC. Though I do like having physical mixer knobs or faders to play with.

4 & 5/ This is a cheap PC microphone(4) that I use on location with my Olympus WS-200S voice recorder(5). If I’m shooting someone with the camera more than a couple of feet from them, I rig them up with the Olympus recorder and microphone. Back home, I sync up the sound from the Olympus with the video from the camcorder.

It isn’t broadcast quality, under certain rare circumstances the WMA compression creates an odd effect. But it’s perfectly adequate and always much better than the voice pick-up on the camcorder (which doesn’t have a socket for a plug-in microphone). Actually, I just saw a report on Newsnight and the sound pick-up on the reporter was worse than with my set-up. So maybe it IS ‘broadcast quality’?

6/ Canon Powershot A70. Bought in 2004, I carry this with me everywhere. As well as stills, I’ve shot lots of video with it. At highest resolution, video is 640×480 pixels at 15 frames per second. It’s compressed (not too heavily) in MJPEG format.

Recording is limited to 30 second bursts (or four minutes if you switch to 320×240 pixels, which I rarely use). Colour is vibrant, the camera locks exposure during recording and zooming isn’t possible. But that’s no bad thing. Audio is 8-bit mono, a bit feeble, but just about acceptable and the Olympus voice recorder can be used as above.

7/ Sony DCR-HC22E MiniDV camcorder. Positive features are the small size, good lens, exposure, colour and picture quality. It has an excellent optical image stabilizer (one of the most useful features to have on a camcorder I think), nice variable speed power zoom and manual control over focus, exposure and white balance.

Minus points are that the lens isn’t recessed deeply so often suffers from flare unless you add a hood (as I have in the photo), the microphone is highly sensitive to wind (solve this by taping some foam over it — I used some foam from a cheap pair of headphones), performance and colour in low-light is poor — worse than my old Hi8 camcorder. You have to carry around the annoying docking station if you need the firewire connection and the recording heads seem to clog up quite a bit.

If you want an S-Video connection to your TV, you’ll have to pay Sony about £35 for a special cable, as it isn’t included and has a unique connector plug for the camcorder (of course). Doubly annoying is the fact that, with the camcorder, Sony includes a similar cable for standard composite video and audio. So it would cost them a couple of pennies to put the S-video connectors on that too. In the UK, the cable costs about twice as much as it does in America. £35 is about one-tenth of the price of the whole camcorder. So watch out for hidden ‘find-out-after-you’ve-bought-it’ cons like this if you’re thinking of buying from sneaky profiteering Sony in future.

However the major annoyance has been that the LCD screen developed a fault after just two months. It goes green. This seems to happen when the weather is cold and damp and can continue for long periods until it rights itself. Interestingly, Sony digital still cameras had a similar problem. As I won this camcorder, I couldn’t really do anything about the fault. Must say, over the years, I’ve found all kinds of Sony equipment to be quite unreliable.

8/ A Slik monopod. I’ve had this for about 13 years. It extends to around five feet in length. Although it’s intended as a substitute for a tripod, my favourite way to use the monopod is as a means of raising the camera above the heads of a crowd. By grasping the bottom half and tilting the camcorder’s LCD screen down, you can shot from about nine feet in the air. If necessary, jam the end of the pod into your waistline or against your leg to steady it. Lower it slightly and, with your arm raised, you can operate the zoom.

I have got some good ‘crane’ shots by raising or lowering the monopod as I shoot (the optical image stabiliser on the camcorder helps). Look for a monopod that has a quick-release platform. This lets you remove or attach the camcorder in seconds. One thing that worries me about this particular monopod is that I think it looks a little like an automatic weapon. Which is not good in a country where the Police have been known to shoot dead innocent people who were only carrying a chair leg.

9/ A good tripod really will last you a lifetime. I’ve had this Slik 88 since 1979. I rarely use it outdoors these days (unless I’m out in the countryside), as it attracts too much attention. Indoors, a tripod is pretty much essential for interviews and any shot that needs to be rock-steady.

10/ Fuji Finepix S9600. My new baby and first ‘proper’ digital camera. By which I mean a real replacement for my 35mm SLR, which I’ve had for 27 years! The S9600 is 9 million pixels, with a fixed 28-300mm lens. Very pleased with it though, from a video point of view, the movie facility is disappointing. The MJPEG compression is way too much. I’ll write a lot more about this camera soon.

11/ Canon G30Hi: I got this in 2003, as a bargain basement buy. Unusually for a low-price camcorder, it has exposure and focus lock — which are two things I can’t manage without. Picture quality when recording is slightly poorer than Hi8 camcorders that I used in the early 1990’s. That’s progress, though they were more expensive models. It does a marvellous job of playing my old Video 8 and Hi8 tapes though (I think there are some good noise reduction circuits in there). I still use the G30Hi for shooting at night, as it gives better results than the Sony DCR-HC22E.


Filed under: Video-making — GS @ 1:17 am

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