In preparation for both the Charlie press junket and my impending fatherhood, I bought a new videocamera. I already had a Sony DV camera, but small as it is, I never end up bringing it along with me. It’s overkill for what I want, which is mostly posting little clips on the web for friends and family.
I ended up buying the Samsung SCX105L MPEG4 Sports Camcorder, which, as the name implies, records to digital mpeg4 files rather than standard DV tape. The camera itself holds 40 minutes or so, but can be expanded with Sony Memory Sticks.
It feels really good in the hand. It’s a little fatter than an iPod, with a rubberized coating. The screen is bright and sharp, and the menus are intuitive, even if the controller is a little wonky. (It’s two-way, up and down, which doesn’t really work with the slide-show interface for navigating between clips.)
The video quality is fine. I wouldn’t shoot a feature on it, but you could certainly use it for an experimental short. I can’t find anything in the documentation to say how many frames/fields per second it records, but it definitely has that somewhat-stroby, Saving Private Ryan feel to it.
Here’s a full-sized clip (QuickTime, 7.6MB) that shows the look.
The sound is not great. The microphone is tiny, and the speaker is usually right under where I keep my thumb.
It doesn’t work natively with iMovie. Instead, you have to put the camera into USB 2.0 mode, dig through some folders, and yank out the applicable clips. (I’ll probably build an Automator workflow to do that.) But you can then drag the clips into iMovie without any trouble.
Final Cut Express is more of a hassle. It wants to re-render the clips almost constantly. I’m sure there’s a way to pre-convert them to a more friendly format, but I haven’t really experimented with that yet.
So would I recommend the Samsung camera (or one of its tapeless compatriots)? Somewhat. The video is certainly better than you can get from a camera phone, which is the nearest real competitor. I strongly suspect Apple will come out with an equivalent product in the next year or so, with a better interface and better integration. But for now, it’s a promising idea that works surprisingly well.
To repeat: this is not the camera to buy to shoot your 18th century whaling epic. If you’re interested in using video for filmmaking, definitely check out Mike Curtis’s HD for Indies blog, which covers all the mid-range cameras and issues in abundant detail.