Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Film Making Tips & Tricks - Basics: The Camera

So, you want to make a film but you don't have thousands of dollars to spend on a camera. No worries! Luckily we're living in a digital age where anyone that knows how to use a computer can make their own videos and put them online for the world to see - and that's resulted in a cornucopia of inexpensive and sometimes surprisingly good quality cameras.

A great place to start is looking at what you already have. Chances are that phone in your pocket takes video - a lot of phones can't offer you much quality, but the latest smartphones are putting out full HD video. The folks over at are just one group who have made some really beautiful short films shooting and editing all on an iPhone.

A really popular option right now if you're limited on funds is the Flip series of camcorders (or one of the many, many, many, many other options). Since it's release in '07, The Flip Ultra has been the best-selling camcorder on These little guys capture 16:9, 720p, high-def video in an easy to use mp4 digital file format, feature great low light sensitivity, image stabilization, a tripod mount and can easily fit in your pocket! Their simple, intuitive button interface and standard 2" LCD view-screen make it easy for anyone to pick one up and start shooting. Now I wouldn't recommend a Flip if you're planning on going out and filming a feature length, high paced action flick, but they're perfect for those that want to host their own video blog show, record their upcoming family Christmas or shoot a fun short film. The one thing I don't like about them, and I'm really hoping they add in future models, is an audio input jack for hooking up an external microphone. The Flips do have a fairly good quality built-in stereo mic, but try filming anything outside on a windy day and all you'll be hearing is snaps and crackles. That's a pretty easy set-back to get past though when you look at the retail pricing of $159-$239 for the Flip line-up.

Moving up from there you have your consumer camcorders - and there's just so many to choose from that I can't even begin to write about any one in particular. The features you're going to want will vary depending on what you want to do with your camera, so I think your best tactic would be to write a list of all the scenarios of what you'll be doing with your camera, then asking your local camera shop clerk for a model that would be able to handle what you need it for. If you're going to be using it a lot for travel, consider what the body is made of for durability and the size/weight so it doesn't take up too much room in your luggage. Or if you're going to be shooting your first movie with it, make sure you have an audio input and invest in a decent directional microphone - the built-in mics on most camcorders will disappoint you in the end. No matter what you're going to be doing with it though, I'd definitely recommend purchasing a second battery. There's nothing worse than finally setting up the perfect shot, only to find your one and only battery has died.

A good camera may give you a better chance of creating the next short film to take the internet by storm, but it's no guarantee. Find something you're comfortable using - if you don't plan on using all those settings detailed in the novel sized manual, go for something simpler. And if you're not sure what's right for you, ask around to find a camera you can borrow or rent one for a few days and play around with it.

Got your own camera tips? Leave us a comment!

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