Best compact budget camcorders for journalists?
I have spent many years working in video journalism and having run around the streets of London with a video camera on many shoots, I have strong opinions on what camera to use. The most important issue to consider is the weight of the camera. I have carried a huge shoulder mount camera around all day and it isn’t much fun. Add to that sound equipment and a tripod and you are carrying an awful lot of weight. Ideally you want to be able to carry all that you need for a shoot in just one backpack. So a compact professional camcorder is the ideal solution.
Sound is the second issue to consider. To get professional sound recording the camera you use must have XLR inputs. DSLR’s are great but for run and gun video work they are not ideal. Their lack of professional audio inputs makes them difficult to use in a hurry. Ease of use is another important consideration. To operate with speed the camera needs to be idiot proof with a battery life that is not going to run out in 45 minutes.
So what video camera should you choose? You can spend small fortune on a compact professional video camera. There are many great choices available. If however you are a little cash-strapped you might want to consider some these lower cost alternatives.
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JVC GY-HM180E / JVC GY-HM170UA
The JVC GY-HM180 is a great low cost video camera for video journalism. It is small and has stunning image quality. It has a 12x F1.2–3.5 optical zoom lens which you can increase to 24x zoom when filming in HD with the 4K sensor. This means you can zoom a long way for those press conference shoots.
Image quality is good too. The JVC GY-HM180 will shoot up to 4K ultra HD with a bit rate of 150mbps. It also films with a 4:2:2 colour space making ideal for broadcast work.
The JVC GY-HM180 has slots for two SDHC or SDXC cards. If you run out of space on one card the camera will continue the recording on the other. This is useful for those long shoots. However, you will need Class 10 cards when filming in 4K.
The camera records its video files to the Quicktime MOV and H264 formats so your chosen video editor should be able to handle them with ease.
There are two large control rings to adjust zoom and focus, and an IRIS dial for manual shooting. You can also assign functions to the nine user buttons. It includes the usual features like Histogram, Spot Meter Display, Focus Assist, ND Filter, Colour Viewfinder and a 3.5 inch LCD Display.
If you want to display your video to an external monitor you can attach it with the built in HDMI port or the more professional HD-SDI connector.
There is a built in stereo microphone but to get the best sound you should use the dual XLR handle that slots in on the top of the camera. This has a bracket to attach a directional microphone and the XLR inputs have phantom power and independent level controls. T
his camera sometimes gets a critical response for its poor performance in low light and its build quality, but at this price you won’t find a better semi-professional camcorder.
Price: $1550.00 £1250.00 €1400.00
The Canon Pro XA11 is one of Canon’s smallest professional compact HD camcorders. It has a maximum resolution of 1080p HD and has two SDHC or SDXC memory card slots for your video recordings. It also has a 20x zoom lens, which will give you excellent image quality and low light performance.
The Dynamic SuperRange optical image stabilisation does a good job of keeping the camera stable if you happen to have forgotten your tripod. The 1/2.84 inch HD CMOS Pro Imager sensor also gives a wide dynamic range and does a good job in low light conditions.
Canon’s Instant AF focusing system helps to enhance the auto focus speed and accuracy and decreases the time to lock in focus. This is helpful in low light conditions.
You use the 3 inch touch screen to access the camera’s menus and it can also use this to set the focus. The camera records to the AVCHD and H264 codecs and has a true 24p Cinema mode, a 30p mode, and a high 60p mode. AVCHD has a bit rate of 28mps and H264 has a bit rate of 35mps. H264 will give you nearly three hours recording time from a single 32gb flash card.
The Canon Pro XA11 has an external microphone terminal with a manual audio level control and a headphone terminal for you to monitor your sound. To get the best from your sound recordings you should use the dual XLR handle that comes with the camera. This includes phantom power and independent level controls for both XLR inputs. If you want to connect the camera to an external monitor, you can use the HDMI mini connector.
Price: $1399.00 £1135.00 €1270.00
The HXR-MC88 is Sony’s low cost semi-professional camcorder that has many features that will appeal to the beginner video journalist. It has a 12x optical zoom, which you can double to a 24x zoom with its Clear Image Zoom feature. This will keep full resolution with the help of Super Resolution Technology. The 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor and Sony’s Digital Extender can double this range up to a zoom of 48x. This is useful for those tricky press conferences.
HXR-MC88 features the Fast Hybrid Auto Focus (AF) System. This will ensure that you can capture fast-moving subjects with sharpness. The camera’s lens ring will give you smooth adjustments for focusing or zooming depending on which setting you select. The manual dial and buttons give you control over the control of the aperture and shutter speed.
There are two viewing options with the HXR-MC88. You can view your shots with the view finder or use the 3,5 inch LCD screen. You can use this to focus the camera and adjust other functions. This camera also has a set of ND filters if you need to control the amount of light hitting the image sensor.
The camera records to AVCHD 1080p format with a maximum resolution of 28mps. These files record to the dual media card slots that can hold two SDHC or SDXC memory cards. There is no 4K on this camera, so if you need that feature you best look at a higher camera model.
This camera comes with a dual XLR and handle, which attaches to the top of the camera. This will give you two professional XLR inputs that you can attach microphones. These inputs have phantom power and you can independently adjust their audio levels. There is also a top bracket on the handle to fit a directional microphone.
Price: $1300.00 £1055.00 €1180.00
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