Where to Buy Cheap Video Camera and Gear- New and Used (B&H)

Unknowingly I was approved as a B&H affiliate last December (I should check e-mail more often). So here’s a banner below. For those of you that don’t know, affiliate programs allow bloggers and website owners to earn some small portion of your purchase if you visit the e-commerce site via the blogger’s coded link or banner. So bookmark this page!

A lot of people ask me what video equipment to buy, and where to get it. I default to BestBuy for impulse electronics, and often buy from Amazon.com. But my “heaven on Earth” is the NYC B&H store. I’ve mentioned it several times before (even before I had the old “affiliate” hidden agenda. 🙂

B&H is like FAO Schwartz for digital video, audio and camera nerds. They sell video cameras, digital accessories, sound gear and computers. Prices are amazing, and I’ve never had an issue with service or returns (bought my recent Canon HV20 there for a steal). I’ve been burned by NYC retailers before, but the place is run by Amish I think.

My original blog (revverberation.com) was littered with low-revenue text ads, but I’ve deliberately not junked this blog up with low-profit Google text ads. They’re an eyesore. But here’s an affiliate banner for B&H. I have no idea how much I make if you go there via this banner, but I thought I’d give it a try. I’m pimping, but I know I’m not steering you wrong.

So if you’re on the market for gear and you can find a better price at B&H, go there via this link and you’ll be helping me offset my Bluehost fee for this blog! Again- I wouldn’t send you there if I wasn’t really happy about my experience with B&H, and most of the prosumers (professional/consumers) I know buy all of their gear at B&H — whether they live in NYC or not. Double check Amazon.com because occasionally you’ll find a better price there, but the options on Amazon for video enthusiasts are limited.

The actual NYC store is a dreamland. Get there if you can. I drove past it recently with Mr. Safety and told him about the giant conveyor belts that shoot your product from the warehouse to the register and he thought I was teasing. When I shop there I hear circus music in my head and people’s heads transform to giant lollipops.

Best Video Cameras

Every few days someone asks me what video camera to buy. Unless I happen to be “in the market” I don’t track closely. But I do trust Consumer Reports, and just received an issue ranking the top camcorders.

Note: My guide to buying a video camera can be found here.

What Format: Mini DV, DVD, Hard Drive, Combination?

The Consumer Reports “best buy” is a Panasonic SDR-H18 but it’s $430 and is a hard-drive model. I prefer the MiniDV for two reasons — first you’re always near a store that sells those little digital 8 mm tapes if you run out of space. Second, if my computer and camera blows up, at least I have the tapes. That said, most equipment malfunctions are related to moving parts. I suppose a tape recorder has more than a hard drive. Still, I’ve been burned too many times by crashed hard drives and few tapes have let me down.

Sorry. Not sold on these models that burn DVDs. I suppose it’s easier, but some models (the Hitachi DZ-GX5020A) gets 18 minutes of the best quality. 18 minutes per DVD? Puleez.

Bottom Line

canon ZR800So for the typical amateur, I’d recommend sticking with a simple Mini-DV model. The three Consumer Reports winners are the Canon ZR800, the Panasonic PV-GS80 and the Sony DCR-HC28.

I like Canon. I use the Digital Rebel for still photos and the Canon HV20 for my videos. No problems with either of them. The Canon HV20 takes longer than I’d like to “boot up” and the audio is poor. But the images are quite nice for its $1,000 price. For most amateurs, however, a prosumer $1000 camera is total overkill (unless you want high definition and have plenty of money). Buttefly.

So I’d go with the Canon ZR800. It’s listed at Amazon.com for $209 even though Consumer Reports lists it as $255. I get a lot of my impulse buys from BestBuy, but they’re listing it at $254 (but watch the circulars if you don’t want to wait for shipping).

It’s not perfect. Read the C-Net report so you know of some limitations, and the Amazon user reviews are mixed. It got a mediocre review, but so did the Panasonic. I also use PCMag to compare cameras, but the Canon ZR800 wasn’t listed.

Behind the Scenes: “Pranking the Garbage Man- Part 2″


Some people have expressed interest in the “making of” my videos. So this post will describe the “behind the scenes” of how I made this short video titled “Pranking the Garbage Man- Part 2.” You should watch the video first, since this reveals key plot elements. Its prequel to this was titled “Prank the Garbageman.”

  • While driving to work yesterday, I was captivated by the new hydraulic lifts on the BFI trucks. Imagine the time and costs they’ve saved.
  • I followed our local garbageman to get some footage of the lifts in action. Unfortunately they spotted me, and got out the truck to find out what I was doing. When I explained it was for a YouTube video, the tattoo-laden guy demanded to see my paperwork. The nice guy, an African-American who never fails to smile and wave, wasn’t as concerned. But he did recall seeing me hiding in a garbage more than a year ago, and reminded me it wasn’t safe.
  • In respect to the smiler, I left them alone. But as I drove to work, I was bothered by the reaction of tattoo man. I don’t believe there’s a law against videotaping in public, and I became more determined to complete the video.
  • Luckily, I found a separate crew later. They’d have “plausible deniability” since I wouldn’t tell them what I was doing.
  • Finally when I got home last evening, I asked my wife to shoot her portion with me crawling into a garbage can. No trucks were on route at this point.
  • The editing was tricky. I had to overlay clips and sound to give a rough sense of continuity.
  • The confused reactions of my wife (wifeofnalts) were authentic because she had no idea of what she was doing. Finally I explained, then fed her some lines so I could insert those audio-clip reactions (“it’s the hydraulic kind!”) while the lift is presumably dumping me into the truck.
  • There are parts of it I still don’t think are quite right. Continuity errors since the trucks and locations were different. Ultimately I decided to give my “garbage can” camera a different look (black and white) because it was visually confusing.
  • Total time to shoot: About 12 minutes. Six minutes of footage. Edit time was about 1.5 hours.
  • Viral prediction: Maybe 100K view on YouTube.

Four Steps to Finding and Buying Your Dream Digital-Video Camera (Butterfly)

(Click to see video about this post)

Each day someone asks me what digital camera to buy. Each day, I promise myself I’ll write a blog entry that reviews my favorites. For most of my 300 plus online videos I’ve used a Panasonic PV-GS120. I now use a Canon HV20. I researched them both vigorously.

My system for finding a good camera has 4 stages:

First, ask yourself what you’re after. If you need to update your digital still camera and don’t mind lower resolution video, you may want to get a combination (still and video) device like the Digital Canon A630-A640. If you want high quality HDTV, you’re looking at the Canon HV20 as the lowest-cost entry (or some Panasonic prosumer choices that are elegant but a bit bulky). I loved the Panasonic but I wasn’t about to carry a camera that made me look like a pro.

If you’re like most people, you’re somewhere in the middle and want a decent $300-$600 digital video camera.

Next, see what experts like. I start with independent, credible aggregators like ConsumerReports (which often lags on reporting electronics), ZDNet and PCMag‘s “editor’s choices.”

  1. pcmag.jpgConsumerReports is my most trusted source, but I’ve found it lags on electronic reviews (sometimes by a ridiculous period: This link is to a thorough review available by subscription only. But it’s dated November 2004). The website will provide thorough buyer’s guides and thorough comparison charts (some require membership). The non-profit has started to provide more real-time reports on certain electronic categories. Here’s the digital camera reviews & buying guide.
  2. PCMag is my overall favorite source, but it’s tricky to navigate. I hone in on a few models that share high rankings (and then compare its editor choices with those of other sources). For instance, here’s the PCMag editor’s choice on digital video cameras (and here’s the reviews for digital still cameras). They’re in love with Sony, but I’ve never been a fan since I made the horrible mistake of buying digital still cams by Sony. Be careful as you navigate PCMag, because one minute you’re reading an editorial review and the next you’ve stumbled into some low-rent site hawking cheap electronics. The lines between editorial and ads are as faded as my 8-year-old’s jeans.
  3. Then you can validate your models via ZDNet’s digital photo and video reviews. I can’t attest to the objectivity of this site, but it’s easy to use and fairly thorough. You’re never far from a price and a crappy vendor that will sell you the product for curiously low prices (if you don’t mind having it with no internal parts).
  4. CNet has its own digital video camera and camcorder reviews’ site. It’s okay.
  5. PCWorld has a dated but nice piece on miniDV camcorders.

Third, read the consumer reviews. Most online retailers like Amazon will invite consumers to rate the devices. Often you can find some rich reviews like those of ePinions before they “jumped the shark” and became a commerce site that stopped attracting good reviews. You need to be especially careful reading these and focus on patterns. NEVER let one review shape your opinion because they could be a disgruntled customer or a review placed by an employee of the manufacturer.

Finally, don’t under estimate where you buy. As much as I love buying from the web – especially Amazon.com or B&P – I tend to frequent Best Buy and Circuit City. Best Buy is low pressure, but Circuit City sometimes tries to upsell you. The prices are reasonable at both stores, and the weekly shopper has really good deals. The selections are streamlined, and the employees are (with some exception) fairly informed. I like asking the electronic employees what model they own, and which one they’d buy if they bought today. Most importantly, if you can stomach the overpriced guarantee programs then you know that you can return your camera if you have problems. Without having to get on the phone and ship things.

If you’ve recently researched $300-$600 digital video cameras, please post what you selected below. I haven’t been through that process in a while, but there’s a great demand for guidance here.

Butterfly: Using this tag word so people can find this post from a video I’ve done on this subject.

Update Sept. 29 2007: Blog post about Consumer Reports.  

What Digital Video Camera Should I Buy?

canon-elura-100-large.jpgWhat camera should I buy? I get that question a lot, even though I don’t tend to be “state of the art” with my equipment. But if I were on the market for a digital camcorder I’d get the Canon Elura 100 (no I don’t get paid to endorse). It’s less than $400 and here’s what makes it a decent choice. And an excellent gift (hint):

  1. I learned about it in Smart Money’s Sept. 2006 article titled “Home Movies.” Indie film star Edward Burns calls it a “no brainer,” and he reviewed cameras up to $800.
  2. This insanely detailed review at CamCorderInfo.com compared it to other brands in the same price range, and it came out well.
  3. CNet gave it a “very good” at 7.2, and readers gave it a 7.6.
  4. Consumer Report (which is usually a last resort since they’re often way outdated on electronics) gave it a 55- which is in the “good” range but closer to “very good” than “fair.” It marked “very good” on picture quality, but “fair” on audio quality. Consumer Reports gave the Elura 85 a better mark (71) but it’s closer to $500.
  5. Epinions (consumer reviews) gave it a 4/5 rating. Watch out for the “hissing” sounds the mike picks up from the tape motion. It’s an issue I’ve seen pop up in many reviews, but it’s primarily an issue when you’re shooting in low sound. I don’t go anywhere where low sound exists.
  6. I researched endlessly my Canon Rebel XT still camera and I’m really happy with it. So Canon wins points.

Unfortunately PCMag hasn’t reviewed it yet, which is surprising. I put a lot of weight in their reviews.

I usually got to BestBuy for impulse. But they’re not in stock, and they’re not cheaper. Plus I hate the pressure to buy the warantees. Amazon has it on sale… here’s the link (I do get an affiliate fee for anyone buying it through this link, but in my experience nobody uses affiliate links).

Buy Canon Elura 100 at Amazon

Best Tiny Video Cameras for Sports and Action

Just yesterday we were looking for a good helmet cam. Today I picked up my copy of PCPhoto and discovered author Kim Castleberry has done the homework. These are my words below, but I’m sourcing Kim’s article.

1) The Samsung SC-X210L is the high-end camcorder that is really fun to hold (rubber exterior and very elegant). Every time I go to BestBuy I stare at it. It has image stabilizer and the ability to play MP3s and video with high-quality MPEG4. Price is $599. If the good folks at Samsung want to send me a “demo” for review, help yourself. You’ll never get it back.
2) Viosport Adventure Cam 3: This one needs to be plugged into a camcorder and will require a battery pack and wires. But it’s the kind of camera you’d get if you already had a great camcorder and wanted a nice lense to mount on your head when you sky dive. $329. Can’t really see a big market for these.
3) ATC-1000 Action Camera: My favorite because it’s cheap ($119) and integrated (no other pieces needed). It records lower resolution but here are some examples of it. You can buy it for as low as $80 at Amazon.com.
4) Digital Blue Tony Hawk HelmetCam: It’s a wireless device with a 12-foot range, video editing software and 32MB that can record up to 40 minutes of low resolution video and sound. Seems more like a toy for kids than a camera. $99.