July 10, 2005

JEFF JARVIS wants advice on video-on-a-chip for blog newsgathering. I've had excellent results using this cheap Sony, which produces 640x480 30fps video, and can put about 15-20 minutes on a 512MB memory stick. (This newer model is probably better, but it's more expensive and doesn't take AA batteries). I demonstrated this to some folks from the Knoxville News-Sentinel last week and they were pretty impressed -- and put up on a projection screen at full resolution it still looks quite good. Knocked down to web-quality -- as here -- it's fine and more is overkill.

Another reason for using video-on-a-chip is that it's easier to deal with. Video from tape has to be captured at realtime speed; video from a chip can just be copied to a hard drive. And the lower capacity of the chips is actually something of an advantage as it forces you to be selective. Austin Bay shot some cool video on his recent trip to Iraq, Djibouti, and Afghanistan, but he's finding it a pain to sort through the 7 hours of tape and find what he wanted. A half dozen memory sticks might have been easier.

The thing that everyone ignores, but that is very important, is sound quality. Some cameras take an external microphone (my Toshiba does) but the quality of the builtin mike is key, because using an external microphone is a pain. Best advice: Get close to your subject! I'm very impressed with the high quality that my Sony's matchhead-sized builtin microphone produces, even against considerable background noise. Try to test that out with anything you buy.

Related thoughts on this subject here. Some earlier reflections here.

UPDATE: Reader Andrew Cohill emails:

I've discovered that my Canon A85 takes astoundingly good video clips, and I just bought a 512 meg card a couple of weeks ago so I could take video. And like you, I think the limited space forces you to focus on what is really important, rather than just turning on the camera and letting it fill up an hour of tape.

As you pointed out, the post processing is where this really pays off. I plug the A85 into my Mac, and iPhoto automatically grabs the video just like still shots and stores it, ready for viewing or sorting.

One click and I can export an editable version that goes straight into iMovie for titles, edting, etc.

Yes, Windows XP does the same thing, and the Canon cameras are excellent. The downside of the Canons -- and lots of other cameras -- is that they don't use AA batteries, meaning that if your rechargeables run out you're screwed until you can recharge 'em. It's nice to be able to pop in some alkaline AAs, available anywhere, in a pinch.

ERROR-CORRECTION UPDATE: Reader Mara Schiffren writes that I'm wrong, and that some of the Canons -- including the one mentioned above -- do accept AA batteries. She's right, I'm wrong. I had read the contrary somewhere a while back, and either it was always wrong, or Canon has changed. Anyway, I should have noticed. Sorry.