Equipment for Production and Editing

Digital Video Camcorder: This is the basic element. It will establish limits on the quality of your work that cannot be overcome later in the process. As an extreme example, professional equipment requires the ability to synchronize multiple video streams using SMTPE timecode and GenLock capabilities ($5000 and up). Below are the limits of consumer-grade camcorders in the order of their importance:

  1. Digital quality. In order to perform frame-by-frame editing later on, you need your camcorder to store uncompressed video that does not discard video information. MiniDV tapes are the most common way of recording this raw high-quality video. Another way is to record to a large external firewire hard drive (this is used in many commercial and news video applications). The popular inexpensive camcorders that record to DVD, memory stick/chip, or internal hard drive generally use a compression system such as MPEG2 (the DVD standard) that will look good enough for continuous playback but they discard too much of the raw video that editing is impractical. Unfortunately, miniDV camcorders have notoriously delicate mechanisms that are expensive and will require more delicate handling and more frequent repair. There should be a Firewire or USB port to transfer raw DV video from the camcorder to a computer for editing. You'll also need a special Firewire or USB cable to make the connection.
  2. Single or Triple CCD. The Charge-Coupled Diode or CCD is the "film" of the digital camera. A camera with a single CCD provides a very low-cost, but coarse way to capture the necessary three primary colors of Red, Green, and Blue (RGB). A Triple or 3-DDC provides separate recording sensors for red, green and blue light rather than bunching then all on one little circuit board. All professional-quality cameras used three CCDs. Most consumer-quality cameras uses single CCDs. If you plan to produce high-quality video, then there is no question that you need a 3-CCD camcorder. If you want to provide video that streams or is downloaded over the Web, the triple-CCD camera will provide raw video than compresses better than single-CCD imagery, making for smaller files with fewer distracting artifacts.
  3. Lens quality. While the optical quality of video lens is not a critical as that of a still camera, two features of the video lens are important to give you additional flexiblity in non-studio settings: the optical zoom and the lens aperture. A larger optical zoom like 10X will allow you to zoom in on distant objects like an zoo animal on a field trip without moving the camera closer. Keep in mind that camera "shake" is magnified, too, so the more you zoom, the more you need to use a tripod to stabilize the camera. A larger lens aperture allows you to shoot at lower light levels like dusk, sharper action shots like a running back about to catch a football, and greater depth of field when you want both the foreground and the background in focus. In a school TV studio, this flexibility is less important.
  4. Image stabilization. Children, especially, have a difficult time holding the camcorder as still as it needs to be for an acceptable shot. For those shots that don't lend themselves to a stable tripod, a camcorder with built-in image stabilization helps to reduce the normal camera shake of human hands.

Microphone: The absolute weakest part of every camcorder is the microphone. It's too far away from the subject, it picks up every extraneous noise, and it picks up the noise of the camera motor. A handheld microphone that plugs into the camcorder's 3.5mm miniplug port is the simplest solution. A lavalier mike that clips onto the subject's shirt is perfect to capture one subject speaking. A wireless lavalier mike is great for a moving person like a teacher, although that mike will not pick up student responses. Some wireless microphones produce radio static, so a wired connection will produce higher-quality audio.

  • Dynamic microphones don't need a battery and are relatively rugged.
  • Condenser mikes required batteries and are rather delicate. Make sure you have a battery-replacement budget and that the microphones are not dropped. The ATI-35S lavalier recommended on the right sidebar is a condenser mike.

Tripod: A tripod for school studio use should be rugged, steady, and may have casters to double as a rolling dolly. A portable tripod should be lighter but still easy to set up and use. The smoothness of the pan/tilt head operation is important for both studio and portable tripods. Some tripods have leveling bubbles to avoid shots with horizons and people standing not-quite-straight-up. To provide stability to a moving camera, consider the Steadicam (see links below).

Lights and/or Reflectors: A three-light system is the minimum lighting setup for a school studio. Portable shots can usually get by with a simple foam-core reflector. Just take a 2 ft X 2 ft piece of white foam core, score it in half, cutting down to the last piece of white cardboard. Fold in half for convenient carrying. A white bath towel or pillowcase also does a great job, although it's a bit more unwieldy.

External Hard Drive: Raw digital video takes up an enormous amount of hard drive space. A traditional camcorder's raw video stream takes up 4 MB per second. An hour's worth of raw video is 16 GB. A 160 GB hard drive could therefore hold a maximum of 10 hours of raw video. That's about the amount of video shot for a wedding using a two-camera team. A high definition camcorder outputs a stream of up to 325MB per second. Although this can be compressed to as little as 28 MB per second, a good estimate is that HD video will take about 100MB of hard drive space per second or 360MB per hour. At this stage of technology, editing large amounts of high definition video may not yet be practical for schools because of the huge amounts of storage required. For non-high-definition video, a portable hard drive of 250MB to 320MB seems to be sweet spot of price vs. capacity.
Mac and PC users may want to choose different kinds of portable hard drives. Mac computers usually come with a high- speed Firewire (IEEE 1394) port that is standard in the digital video world because it provides a relatively smooth, uninterrupted stream. Some on-location news cameramen write raw DV from the camera directly to the portable drive. With the exception of Sony, the manufacturers of Windows computers have seldom included Firewire as a standard option on their computers. Windows computers use the more common USB 2.0 standard for storing DV files. While USB 2.0 may not be as suitable for uninterrupted streaming, it works exceptionally well for transferring large files from computer to external drive. A slight drawback may be that you may not be able to edit DV files directly from the portable drive.

Editing Computer & Software: Any portable or desktop computer made in the last three years should be fine for editing basic digital video. Basic video editing software suitable for school use is now included on most computers. Apple computers have an edge in simple video editing with iMovie and the seamless integration of their iLife suite of programs that can provide background music, still images, and DVD projects. However, any teacher or student who wants to incorporate simple video editing in a short project should be able to use the simple software on their PC or Mac without much difficulty. High school students in a video production course may require more advanced video editing software such as Final Cut Studio (Mac), Adobe Premiere (Windows) and others. Professional quality software such as Shake for advanced users may be used in advanced video classes or special schools for the arts or technology.

Cables & Adapters: Expect to collect a bewildering array of cables and adapters from Staples, Radio Shack, Best Buy, Circuit City, or your local computer store. The most important cable will be the one that connects your camcorder to your computer. It will typically be a USB 2.0 or a Firewire 6-pin to 4-pin cable. These cables may be a bit difficult to find because they use a standard size plug on the computer end but a miniature plug on the camcorder end. You'll also need a microphone cable that connects with a 1/8" miniplug (or similar) to the camcorder. High quality microphones may have a large three-pin XLR connector that will require an adapter to connect to the camcorder. Your portable hard drive will also have a USB or Firewire cable and possibly a power adapter to keep track of. Many digital video producers carry a package of cables and adapters with them. For school use, there will need to be a management system to keep track of all the small parts like cables and adapters that are required for the basic fuctioning of all the separate pieces of the video production process. If you can wait for delivery and you are sure of what you want, Buy.com and other online stores usually have lower prices on cables and adapters than local stores.

Links:

 

I don’t know what to say. This is the first time I ever spoke into one of these things [a microphone]. ... Good night.
--Thomas Alva Edison, Speech at a National Electric Light Association, 1926

Digital Video Equipment

Digital video has created a high-quality standard for video because its digital images and files can be recorded, editing, copied, transmitted, and played back with no loss of quality. It is based on the same lossless idea of computer programs and files. No matter how many times you save, revise, copy, or transmit your word processing document, it's quality never degrades like a 6th generation xerox copy degrades.

DV Equipment is available in inexpensive consumer-grade models and in more expensive professional-grade models. Consumer-grade equipment is used in elementary, middle, and introductory high school classes, especially for portable assignments. Advanced classes or video studios use high-end consumer or entry-level professional equipment. The right-hand sidebar has links to award-winning, cost-effective camcorders in three-different qualities.

School Projects will also require lots of consumable items like miniDV tapes, DVD discs, and batteries for camcorders and microphones. Until you are experienced, plan on an ongoing supplies budget or require students to purchase their own consumable items.

camcorder image

Recommended Cost-Effective Equipment

Low-cost 3-CCD MiniDV camcorder:
Panasonic PV-GS320 3.1MP 3CCD MiniDV Camcorder with 10x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom

Low-cost HD MiniDV camcorder:
Canon VIXIA HV30 MiniDV High Definition Camcorder with 10x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom

Pro HD, 3CCD, SMPTE Timecode/Genlock camcorder:
Canon XHG1 1.67MP 3CCD High Definition Camcorder with 20x Optical Zoom

Wireless Lavalier Camcorder Mike:
Sony WCS999 Wireless Camcorder Mike

Wired Lavalier Microphone:
AUDIO TECHNICA ATR-35S Lavalier Condenser Mike

Basic Handheld Microphone:
Shure Pro Dynamic Mike System 8900WD with Cable, Adapter, and Table Tripod

Portable USB Hard Drive (PC):
Western Digital My Passport 320GB USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive

Portable Firewire Hard Drive (Mac):
Iomega Portable Hard Drive, FireWire 400/USB 2.0, 250GB - 33962

Video Lighting Kits:
Try seaching below for "video lighting kit," "photo reflector," "studio lighting," or any digital video product you'd like to explore.

video lighting kit