Let’s talk about what kind of camera I use to film these Puppet Kaos episodes.
The camera I’ve been using is a Canon ELURA 100. This is a Mini-DV camera. For those of you unfamiliar with video cameras, this means the video information you captured through the lenses is recorded onto a Mini-DV tape, as opposed to a digital-8 tape, VHS tape, or a DVD.
========== Why get a video camera? ==========
Before I purchased this camera, I was filming puppets using a digital camera that also take videos. While some of these cameras actually give you decent video quality, it’s often not very suitable for filming puppets. One reason is that puppets tend to be smaller than what you would normally film (actors) and you need to do more close-ups. And the digital cameras just don’t handle this as well as video cameras. The second reason is that it’s hard to see what you are filming: In video puppetry, you want to be able to see what you are performing, so you know if the puppet is facing the camera, if it’s out of the frame, or if your hands are showing. Normally you don’t have a LCD panel that you can turn around to look at on digital cameras. Third, the video footages can take up a lot of space on the memory card and they can fill up pretty quickly. A tape, on the other hand, give you a lot more storage. Besides, there’s a reason why video cameras exist… so you can film videos, of course.
========== Why I chose this camera ==========
I was looking at cameras that’s cheap enough that it’s normally used for home videos, but not so cheap that it’s a piece of toy that give you lousy images. So I was looking at cameras at around $300 range. (I happened to have gotten a good deal because of a sale that was going on.) I chose this one over other similar cameras of the same grade because it has
1) a 1/5″ CCD: A charge-coupled device (CCD) is the chip that basically senses the light information and then change them into digital signals. Theoretically, the bigger the CCD, the better the image. This particular camera has a bigger CCD than cameras of the same grade.
2) a microphone jack: This would give me the option of recording the audio using an external microphone rather than the built-in microphone. I haven’t really tried out this feature yet, but I’d like it to be there so I can use it someday.
3) the brand: Although my friend recommended SONY, I was confident that Canon, a company that’s been manufacturing cameras for a long time, would produce a camera that gives good images.
========== What I Liked about the Camera ==========
1) Good colors in good lighting: This camera can produce good colors when you have enough lights. If you look at the episodes Obscure UCLA Facts You Didn’t Know, which is filmed outdoors in natural sunlight, and Episode 8: Nobody’s Watching, which is filmed indoors but lit much better than the first 7 episodes, you see that the colors came out a lot better.
2) Very lightweight: It’s definitely very compact. It was pretty easy and light to carry.
3) Manual white balance available: I like to have this feature because sometimes the lighting I use are household lamps that’s yellow instead of white.
4) Manual focus available: This didn’t necessarily help me that much but sometimes I do set the focus manually so it’s a good feature to have.
5) Overall, it just does whatever you expect a digital camera to do: And that’s good. You don’t want technical problems to get in the way.
========== Features that I have not utilized but might try someday ==========
1) 16:9 widescreen: This camera allows you to easily switch between widescreen 16:9 and the regular 4:3 ratio. So far I’ve been using 4:3 to conform to Youtube and podcast standards but filming in widescreen is definitely something I might attempt in the future.
2) external microphone jack: Although I haven’t really used this jack, it just might be useful someday.
3) analog to digital conversion: This means you can play a VHS tape, route the video and audio signals through the camcorder and capture the result digitally. I might use this feature to archive some old LCC tapes later.
========== Some minor annoyance about this camera ==========
1) It does not perform so well in low light: In episodes that weren’t lit so well (episodes 1-7), the videos come out more blurry and grainy. That just means I need to light things better.
2) Tape drive noise: I was reading reviews about this camera and a few users complained that the tape drive was too loud. Back then, I used to record all the voices first and then play them back during filming for lip-sync. That was why I didn’t care that much about noises. However, these days I record the voices live using the built-in microphone. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the noise is indeed louder than on some other camcorders. If this is a concern, this camera is not for you. For me, it’s not ideal but it’s tolerable. That’s the trade-off you get for very small cameras: the microphone is very close to the tape drive.
3) Firewire jack placement: They placed the firewire jack near the battery, which is next to the LCD screen. This means, if you are capturing the video, the LCD screen has to be open (and on). This drains the battery over time but as long as you have power cord plugged in, you are fine.
4) No infrared night vision mode: I was looking for this but didn’t find it. Either the camera doesn’t have it, or it’s hard to find. I’m not sure. I don’t think I’ll be using it much anyway.
So, those are my thoughts after filming with this same cameras for a few months. If you are shopping for a camera, there are many camera reviews that you can find online that’s written by people that’s more knowledgeable about cameras and the technical aspects. But here, I offer my thoughts after using the camera, especially focused on the particular (and perculiar) stuff that I’m filming. Hope it’s been helpful.