Video Equipment

As with photography, there is video equipment to suit all budgets. However, choosing a good camcorder can be as daunting as selecting a good camera. So what are the most important things to look for, besides a price tag that fits your budget?

Fortunately, lighting is not a problem when filming dragonflies in the height of the summer, so low light capabilities (which often only feature in high end devices) need not be such a consideration if this is your sole requirement for the product. In order to stay in keeping with the latest technology, select a widescreen 16:9 capable device, with a fold out display to match. Be careful that the device has a true 16:9 capability; this can usually be identified by the height x width ratio of the fold out screen.

Next, and most importantly it must have a macro capability. Be careful here, what you really need is what some camcorder manufacturers refer to as ‘Tele Macro’. In other words, the ability to get in close on a small subject from a distance (paradoxically speaking). Otherwise you may need to be inches from your subject to get the desired result.

The next criteria to opt for is the ability to manually focus; ideally with a ring feature on the front of the lens. Unfortunately this only tends to come with the more expensive devices. Perhaps the most important of all criteria is the number of CCDs. These are the digital light receptors that are used to convert the optical information arriving through the lens into a digital format. Camcorders with a single CCD often lack clarity when looking at a lot of mixed colours and small on-screen detail. A 3 CCD camcorder will deliver considerably better results.

You will need to determine which media to record onto. Do you go for Flash memory, hard disk, DVD or Mini DV? Personally I would always opt for Mini DV as it records in a raw ostensibly uncompressed format. This means the maximum quality is preserved until you come to edit and output to a DVD production, during which a layer of negligible image degradation occurs during the compression process. Many of the other formats compress ‘on the fly’ during the filming process, and then re-apply additional compression following editing and DVD production; something which in my opinion is far from ideal. However for most people this minor gripe is often outweighed by the convenience of not using tape based media.

Ideally, you should look for a camcorder capable of HDV (High Definition Video) recording, and choose a specification that offers you the best resolution available within your budget. I shoot all my footage in 1080i HDV, and the quality is exceptional. Sadly when compressed to put it on this web-site it cannot be appreciated in its full glory. HDV shot footage not only captures a huge amount more detail than its DV counterpart, it also enables you to 'crop' down the footage when producing a standard DV video production. This is especially useful if you were unable to get that close to your subject.

My preferred product is the Sony FX1-E, which was (until recently) Sony’s top end consumer camcorder. This has outstanding quality, with a full assortment of manual options. However I have had to purchase two additional Ranox Macro lenses to screw on the front in order to deliver those really close shots (i.e. to within 6 inches of the subject) in the few cases when it is possible. These Macro attachments are regularly found advertised on Ebay, and range from £50 to £300 per set. I was fortunate enough to pick up some secondhand high end lenses for £150. I would try to avoid the really cheap ones, as they are likely to give you a great deal of barrel distortion or chromatic aberration.

There are of course many more things to consider than what is discussed in this short page, but hopefully this provides you with some food for thought when choosing the right device.