This is part two of my video series demonstrating how to use manual controls on Sanyo Xacti camcorders. I used the CG10 model, which I own, but this should work for the newer HD models, too, such as the CG21, CG20 and CG100.
In this video I show how you can assign a particular control to a direction on the control joystick. For instance, you can assign manual focus to the right positions of the joystick, so when you push it to the right you can access the focus controls. This is much more convenient than having to dig into the menus to change the focus.
Unfortunately, these adjustments are only available when you’re not shooting — you can’t change aperture, shutter, focus, ISO or exposure control while recording. In practice I haven’t found this to be a significant constraint, since I rarely am taking long shots. If I’m going to shoot something like a lecture or performance then I might either be able to set the focus and exposure for the whole the event, or I’ll use autoexposure so the camera can respond to changing lighting conditions, with minimal impact on the image quality.
One of the most impressive features of my Sanyo VPC-CG10 camcorder has been its audio recording quality. But sometimes you don’t realize how good something is until you have a chance to compare it. This weekend I made an inadvertent comparison and I came away all the more pleased with the CG10′s audio performance.
On Friday night I brought my Sony NEX-5 with me to see the legendary rock band Killing Joke at a very small club here in Chicago. My primary purpose for brining the camera was to take pictures. But when the intro music started I decided it would be nice to at least shoot some video of their entrance. When I reviewed the footage the next day I found that the sound with the band playing was distorted beyond repair.
Now, I wasn’t really surprised that the audio was so distorted. While it’s a great camera, the NEX-5 doesn’t have pro audio features like manual levels, any sort of level meter or a headphone out. The camera uses auto-gain (AGC) exclusively, and under normal conditions it works well. But Killing Joke is a loud band, and I was pretty close to the stage. Apparently that was just too much sound pressure for the NEX to properly deal with.
However, I’ve used the little Sanyo at a lot of different concerts, both indoor and outdoor, and it’s been able to handle loud amplified music like a champ. The Sanyo also doesn’t have any manual audio controls or meter, but somehow its combination of microphones and AGC is able to outperform the much more expensive Sony. Searching around the internets I’ve heard similar complaints from people using the NEX cameras, as well as other video dSLRs from Canon and Nikon. And, really, that makes sense. The NEXs and other dSLRs were designed as still cameras with video as an afterthought. Even tough the Sanyo Xacti is a very inexpensive video camera, that is its primary function. Nevertheless, I am glad that it does so well.
So my lesson here is that if I want to have just one camera to shoot some concert video the Sanyo CG10 is the best candidate. If I want to get better quality video using the NEX-5, then I should consider using dual sound, bringing along my Zoom H2 to record audio. Dual sound is slightly more complicated, mostly because it requires bringing more gear and having to futz with it all.
One option that many recommend now is the newest Zoom recorder, the H1, which is even smaller than my H2. Folks using dSLRs sometimes get adapters to mount it to the camera’s flash hot shoe. The NEX-5 has no such shoe, so a different mounting method would need to be found.
I will probably just use the Sanyo CG10 for impromptu concert recording. I’ll use the NEX-5 when I’ve got time to set up and do a more thorough job, such as when recording gigs put on by friends.
I’m always complaining about how most consumer-level camcorders don’t feature microphone inputs, or even decent mics. My Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 has pretty good mics for camcorder of it’s size and price. But because the mics are on the camera and there’s no input to add an external mic, they’re still inappropriate for interviews or any sort of shoot where you need to record voices clearly because the mics will be too far away.
Now Zoom has upped the ante by adding HD to create the Q3HD, featuring full 1080p HD video. I’m surprised that the Q3HD still lacks a microphone input, however it does add a line input. In its promotional literature Zoom says that the input is good for recording multiple microphones using a mixer “for sophisticated recordings.” While this is certainly useful, I question whether someone using a tiny hand-held camcorder wants to drag around a mixer and multiple mics just to get better sound. Being able to just plug in a single lavaliere mic would be much more practical.
Like most Flip-style camcorders the Q3HD has no optical zoom, and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of manual control over the video. So, in essence it’s a Flip camcorder with vastly improved audio. I think it would be vastly more useful if Zoom were to combine something like a Sanyo Xacti style camcorder, that has an optical zoom, with the enhanced audio recording of their “handy recorders.” That would really make for a DIY videographer’s dream pocket camcorder.
The Q3HD is supposed to be available by the end of the year for $299. My guess is that the street price will be a good bit lower than that. However, I’d gladly pay $300 or a bit more for my dream of an Xacti + Q3HD.
There’s a common idea amongst serious photographers that it’s a good idea to always have a camera on you, because you never know when you’ll see the stuff of a great picture. Seeing as how it’s often impractical to always have an SLR or other larger camera with you, many photogs adopted smaller point-and-shoot cameras they could easily toss into a bag or even keep in a pocket. In the digital age these are often called “serious compacts,” because they offer enough control for the experienced photographer without being enormous.
While these ideas seem to be quite common in still photography I don’t often hear them repeated in video circles. It could be that photos and video often are thought of differently, or perhaps serious videographers look upon video shot in the moment to be too much like bad home videos to be taken seriously. Or maybe it’s because it’s a very recent occurrence that there are video cameras that are as small as compact still cameras.
Not exactly pocket-sized.
Home video camcorders are about thirty years old now, but for the first ten years of their existence they were big shoulder-mounted affairs. In the 1990s the birth of 8mm, VHS-C and then miniDV led to so-called “palmcorders.” Yet, they were still a little bigger than most film SLR cameras. That is to say, one might take it on vacation to record special moments, but only a dedicated few would take one on a walk through the park or to a party.
In the early 2000s there were several miniDV camcorders shrunk down to about the size of a couple of paperback books. While this seems to have encouraged more folks to carry camcorders with them, the relative delicacy of their complex tape mechanisms and the need to carry blank tapes still served as discouragement from keeping one in your bag all the time.
By 2005 the ability to record video crept into most point-and-shoot digital cameras. At this point I think a lot of average folks started to take more video, primarily because it was simple and built into the camera they were hauling around anyway. But the quality of the video still was lacking compared to a decent dedicated camcorder, often with much poorer sound. So while many more videographers played around with their digicam’s video function, it doesn’t seem like they were taken too seriously.
Now we’re finally at the point where there are good camcorders that will fit in your pocket. Whether it’s a Flip cam, a Sanyo Xacti like I use, a point-and-shoot digital camera with HD video or even an iPhone 4 it’s possible to shoot quite credible video using a device only slightly bigger than a miniDV videocassette. Thus begins the era wherein serious videographers can indulge in taking “video notes” of daily life and events in the way still photographers have been doing for decades.
I’ve realized that’s the real value to small camcorders, having the ability to easily shoot video without a lot of planning and schlepping. As a result I think I’ve shot more video with my Xacti VPC-CG10 in the last year than I shot with my miniDV camcorders over the previous nine years. The miniDV camcorders, as relatively small and easy to use as they were, still required more forethought and planning, along with carrying an extra bag for the camera and tapes.
What I’ve really enjoyed is shooting short “slice-of-life” videos that last no more than a few minutes once edited down. Not coincidentally, this is the perfect length to share on the web. So I also think that having the ability now to share HD quality video so easily on the web contributes to the value of the pocket-sized camcorder, where before the venues to share such video widely were quite a bit more limited.
I’ve got quite a bit of video in the queue waiting to be edited. Luckily, sometimes I end up with a solid 3 minutes that requires minimal editing. As an aside, while I still lament the lack of a proper microphone input jack in most small camcorders, I continue to be amazed at the quality of the sound recording in my Xacti VPC-CG10. It truly rivals the quality of dedicated digital audio recorders like the Zoom H2. The Xacti doesn’t quite measure up at the low-end, and emphasizes the midrange a little more than I’d like. But a little equalization cleans that up pretty easily. I now notice that the new Sanyo VPC-PD2 that I wrote about yesterday sports some fairly serious looking microphones that I am curious to hear.
Here’s a short video I shot of the classic post-punk band Mission of Burma at the Wicker Park Fest street fair here in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. This was shot hand-held from the crowd in the street. There was no room for a tripod or monopod. The only reason I was able to grab the video was because I had the camera in my bag and could easily grab it. I’m able to hold the Xacti much more still than a Flip style camcorder because of it’s pistol-grip design and flip out screen which makes for a more stable two-handed grip.
The sun was starting to go down so I switched the CG10 into black and white mode which I think works better in low light. I accidentally underexposed it a little, as I’ve learned that the LCD screen isn’t the most accurate way to judge exposure, so I had to boost the gamma in post. This makes the video a little more contrasty in a way that I like and is more film-like, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
As I’ve blogged before, I’m having a blast using my Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 palm-sized HD camcorder. I’m starting to hear about other videographers who appreciate the CG10 not just for its cost, size and HD, but also for its manual control over exposure and focus.
I’m actually working on a blog post discussing how to put the Xacti camcorders’ manual controls to good use in just about any setting, and how that will make your video look just that much better than anything that comes from a Flip-style camcorder, or even a shiny new iPhone 4.