Small Town Photojournalism

A Photo Blog by Matthew Jonas

Cheap Video Solution for Newspapers: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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© Matthew Jonas 2010

Web video is here to stay. And with the roll out of the new web platform I mentioned previously, we have been tasked with creating video content for all of our publications. I really want this to work out for us but I have made it clear to our editorial management that this will not be a “quantity versus quality” endeavor. Not every story will include video. I set our goals at 1 video per week, per paper. So basically I will probably end up cutting together 4 videos a week. It’s not going to be easy. But I like a challenge.

Speaking of challenges, the company actually purchased video cameras for the staff. In a time of furlough days, pay cuts and expense reductions it was a nice surprise. However, (let’s face it there is always a however) with the limited budget the equipment purchased was not the Canon XH-A1s and Sennheiser EW G3s that we would have liked. Instead we were given the Kodak Zi8 pocket video cameras and Audio-Technica wired lavaliere mics. The photo above shows the camera and mic along with my haggard Think Tank Photo Trim Changer.

Its not the camera that makes a great story, it’s the subject. The format is actually very user friendly. The camera’s size and features are a great match for working along side still photography and writing stories. However the camera is not without its limitations. Below is a quick list of things I have observed in the short time I have been trying to shoot video with the new gear.

Pros:

  • Stereo mic jack in. Some cameras at 4 times the price don’t support this feature.
  • Ability to set the audio levels before recording. (Screw you Canon for leaving this out of my 7D firmware!)
  • Small, unobtrusive design.
  • Lightweight.
  • Tapeless. Uses SDHC cards up to 32gig for recording.
  • Support for multiple video formats including 1080p at 30fps and the web friendly 720p at 30fps.
  • Inexpensive for the options provided.
  • Video quality is better than acceptable for web use.
  • Files will drop straight into iMovie without transcoding.

Cons:

  • Video is highly compressed. Artifacts show up under all lighting situations.
  • Image stabilization is weak. It’s an electronic stabilization instead of optical. You really need a stabilizer of some sort to steady the video.
  • On board mono-mic pick up pattern is wide. The sound from the cameras mic is almost unusable in most cases and is susceptible to wind noise.
  • Auto exposure is the only option. Camera has a hard time in most back lit scenes.
  • The rolling shutter causes a “Jello” effect in motion shots. Panning or following along with a subject is nauseating.
  • No onscreen audio meters.
  • No headphone out to monitor what sound has been recorded.
  • Minimum focus distance for non-macro shots is around 3.5 feet. It’s difficult to shoot a tightly framed interview.
  • The bottom of the camera is not flat. If you want to sit it on a table you will need a small tripod.
  • The wired lav mic that we are supplied with is mono. This means that in post production I have to split the audio tracks, delete the wasted track and duplicate the interview track so that it will play back in stereo. This is a huge pain in the ass.
  • 20 feet of cable during interviews is annoying and gets tangled up in storage. When I go to shoot an interview I end up untangling cable for the first few minutes. Looks really professional.

With that being said, I think there are a lot of possibilities to tell stories using video. I probably will want to lug around a tripod for extended shooting and I will most likely want to invest in some wireless mics to eliminate the 20 feet of cable issue. For now I am hoping to produce a couple of videos a week just to get into the habit.

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