When I got a query from OnlineVideo.net’s editor Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen asking “what would you recommend for a camera and mobile light solution for future interviews?” I didn’t give an off-the-cuff answer. I researched, compared and shopped, and then several hours later respond with some recommendations. Since I knew Eric wasn’t the only one asking this question, I suggested that we turn it into an article and Eric agreed.
The premise is if I had a budget of $2,000 or $4,000, what would I buy? The table below shows my recommendations. Basically, if I didn’t have experience with the product, I did what I would do if I was shopping: check for reviews on authoritative sites like Camcorderinfo and VideoMaker, and browse user reviews at Amazon and B&H Photo and Video. The prices in the table are the lowest available on either Amazon or B&H.
Camera: Panasonic HDC-TM900, $999
Tripod: Dolica AX620B100 62-Inch Proline Tripod and Ball Head, $40
Shotgun Microphone: Audio Technica ATR-6550 Video Camera Condenser Shotgun Microphone, $50
On-camera Lights: Bescor LED-60K 60W LED Compact Light & Battery Kit, 85
Case: Kata D-Light Capsule-181 DL Case (Black), $70
Camera: Panasonic HMC 150
Tripod: Manfrotto 501HDV, 547BK Video Tripod System Kit
Shotgun Microphone: Azden SGM-1X Shotgun Microphone
On-camera Lights: Litepanels Micro LED On-Camera Light
Case: Kata OMB-72 One Man Band on Board Bag, Extra Small
I considered a number of factors in my camcorder decision. From a specification standpoint, buying an SD camera at this point makes no sense, and if you’re shooting short form interviews, you want a camera that stores video on an SD card so you can easily get the video to your computer. This eliminates DV, HDV and hard disk based camcorders. You want decent on-board audio, which eliminates DSLRs.
In the under $3,000 price range there isn’t a lot of variety. The Panasonic AG-HMC150, which I own and really like, is long in the tooth for a camcorder (about 2.5 years old), but produces good picture quality and offers excellent audio connectivity, a waveform monitor, a vectorscope for white balancing and exposure control, and all the other bells and whistles of prosumer camcorder.
You can read my review of the unit). Don’t take my word for it, however, as the unit averages about 4.5 stars out of five at B&H Photo with 165 reviews, and 4.5 stars out of five with 27 reviews on Amazon. My only concern about recommending this model is that it feels like Panasonic should be about ready to replace it. It’s also a football sized unit that screams serious video shooter, so it’s too big for most casual uses.
If the HMC150 isn’t for you, consider the Sony NEXVG10 ($1,998), which I haven’t tested, but rates well at B&H (4 stars, 45 reviews), which is a more professional audience than Amazon, where the camera had an average rating of 3 stars with 8 reviews. The high-level value proposition of this unit is a digital SLR in a camcorder body with detachable lenses. I personally feel that the blurry-background filmic look that digital SLRs are famous for is over-rated in many instances, and since these shots take longer to setup, they aren’t well suited for run-and-gun interviews.
In addition, this camcorder doesn’t have a motorized zoom, so you have to manually turn the lens to zoom in and out. This isn’t a big deal for interviews or other static shots, but it could be tough for live event shoots, especially under changing light conditions where you have to control exposure on-the-fly, as well. So it may not be a great general purpose camcorder. In addition, audio input is 3.5mm stereo mini, not XLR, which is another negative if you’ll be working with a variety of pro microphones or connecting to sound boards.
On the plus side, the NEXVG10 has two accessory shoes, so you can mount both lights and a separate microphone on the camera body. While it wouldn’t be my first choice at the high end, it’s a camera to consider, especially at $1,000 less than the HMC150.
At the low end, I own a two-year old Canon Vixia HF S10 that I use for family holidays and low profile work-related shoots, particularly if I’ll be traveling. This is a much smaller camcorder than the HMC150, which you can easily carry in a briefcase or backpack, and it shoots up to eight megapixel digital stills, so it can substitute for a digital still camera as well. On the other hand, audio connectivity is limited to 1/8-inch inch stereo input, low light performance is weak and manual controls are spare and all driven by menu controls, rather than on the camera body. So, I wasn’t about to recommend this without further research.
I checked with Camcorderinfo.com, my go-to site for in-depth camcorder reviews, to see how the Vixia stacked up currently, and the highest-rated camcorder in the class is the Panasonic HDC-TM900 ($999), which easily bested the newer Canon that replaced my Vixia. The camcorder averaged 4.5 stars at both B&H (out of 7 reviews) and Amazon (out of 11 reviews), which tells me that it should perform well. If I was buying a new camcorder in the $1,000 class, this is the one I would try.