What Camera Should I Buy: Holidays 2011

What digital camera should I buy? It’s a question I get a lot, so I’ve identified some favorites with the help of Consumer Reports.

If you’re gonna buy one, follow the links, eh? They’re affiliate links so I get a small percent and you pay the same price you’d pay going on Amazon directly. ūüôā

Best digital camera december 2011
  1. Looking for a low-priced but highly rated slim camera? The Panasonic DMC-FH25K tops the ratings on Amazon. It’s $146 bucks.
  2. Looking for a mid-priced advanced feature “point and shoot”? The Canon Powershot G12 tops the list. It’s a steal at $379 with top ratings by Consumer Reports and high consumer ratings on Amazon.
  3. Looking for a smaller, lighter camera that still allows you to change the lense? That’s either the Sony SLT-A55VL¬†($799) or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 (also $799) that I own. It takes great pictures and video, and I like the depth of field with the lense.
  4. Finally, looking for an SLR with more advanced features? Check the Canon EOS 60D ($1119) or Nikon D7000¬†($1499). These are obviously for advanced users as they’re not cheap. If you feel like buying me a Christmas present either one would be fabulous.

Then there’s this option if you’re in debt like me, and are feeling¬†nostalgic.

Is a $1,000 Video Camera Worth It?

These bright tropical birds would probably look like ghetto pigeons on your camera.

I almost always argue on the side of budget, and frequently write about how to get professional looks on amateur equipment. In the pursuit of “balance” (and to make another futile attempt at affiliate links), here are some reasons to spend more on a video camera. You don’t always get what you pay (very often you pay too much, or can get a deal on last year’s falling star). But here are some features that you don’t always see in the $300-$500 range.

  1. Image sensor (provides quality of image under various lighting conditions)
  2. Manual controls (customize lense ring to do white balance instead of focus)
  3. Rich touch-screen display and menu options
  4. Optical image stabilization
  5. Color peaking
  6. External audio/mic input
  7. HD video onto hard drive (internal memory) or memory cards
So for most people, these things aren’t worth the x2 and x3 premium. But if you’re more than a hobbiest, these cameras can offer quality that surpasses the average amateur vid. Here’s B&H photos picks on three higher-end video cameras, and the Sony ($1298)¬†appears to lead the pack based on higher photo file size and internal memory. But the Canon Vixia is $1099 (and I’ve been using Canon for most of my YouTube stint). The Panasonic is under $1000, and the company seems to have recaptured its place in video equipment. B&H usually beats other retailers on price, and my “invisible hand” suggests these are competitive if not the lowest prices. But check.
Read the features below, and watch the video if you want to feel worse about your camera. Then click my damned affiliate links. Ghees. Or use comments to “rationalize” and convince us (and yourself) that your camera is good enough. Whatev.

1) Sony HDR-CX700V Camcorder


  • 96 GB of internal memory (plus cards)
  • 12 MP still frame photography
  • Surround sound audio built in
  • Geotag of photos
  • Built in USB cable for charging and file sharing

2) Canon VIXIA HF S30 Flash Memory Camcorder

  • 32 GB internal memory and dual SD card slots
  • Color bars for reference
  • Zebra patterns
  • Remote controllers
  • 8 MP photos
  • Built in flash and LED light

3) Panasonic HDC-TM900 High Definition Camcorder

  • 32 GB internal memory and card slots
  • 3 3.05 MP sensors (3 chips, one for each primary color)
  • 5.1 surround sound
  • 14 MP photos
  • 3D videos (snore)

Lie-Detecting Video Camera

Hassan Ugail took this photo of himself on camera and laptop. Is that vain?

A lie-detecting video camera may be out in a year, and allegedly works 2/3 of the time.

Cool stuff via Crave:¬†Hassan Ugail of Bradford University worked with colleagues at Aberystwyth University and the U.K. Border Agency to develop a camera that picks up on changes in blood flow and expression in a subject’s face when lying.

The system picks up subtle clues such as swollen blood vessels around the eyes, as well as emotional signs linked to lying such as eye movements and heavy breathing. The system combines a commercial video camera (seems any decent one should work), a thermal camera, and most importantly, algorithms to process the data that run on a laptop.

What if You Stumbled Into a Podium and Bullhorn?

So you’re walking down the street and you happen upon a bull horn and a podium. On a nice black & brass plate it says, “say something nice.” Do you know what you’d say?

If you stumbled across this podium and megaphone, what would you say? Well say it to someone already.

This is what makes ImprovEverywhere less edgy but far more wonderful than Candid Camera, Pranked or Punk’d. It comes from a really kind place… there aren’t victims. Sure we get to giggle at the reactions of strangers, but it’s never cruel.

The joke is on everyone and nobody.¬†I think this is a heart-warming example of how a candid camera can give us interesting and positive ¬†insights into how humans behave in curious positions. Improv is a wonderful skill, and Charlie Todd and his gang are¬†quietly¬†teaching it to us all. See the “back story” on the ImprovEverywhere website here.

Candidly almost none of the volunteer statesman and women are terribly provocative. I was expecting them to be more interesting or inspiring, and that’s a good lesson… Maybe we all need to have an inspiring “nice thing” as what public-relations folks call a “standby statement.” I’ll go with “just be yourself” as a contrast to “just do it.” You? And hey- they were brave enough to take the mic, and the reactions are charming.

I also feel like this video is a timely allegory in a time where every politician (and many video creators) have their 15 minutes to say something nice (or not).

So what’s your nice thing? Don’t type it below. Tell it to a stranger. They may need it more than you know.

10 Creative Budget DIY Production Effects, Tips & Tricks

How can we provide film-like effects and special effects using modestly priced gear? For instance:

    • What are the best ways to shoot video using a digital SLR camera, and make it look like cinema film?
    • What $2 item in your kitchen provides a perfect way to keep your camera still in a car?
    • How can a pet’s home let you shoot underwater, using your existing camera without an expensive add-on?
    • When can a painter’s tool get you a crane/jib shot?
    • How can you make a person vanish or defy gravity by crawling on a wall?
    • What’s the easiest way to clone yourself in a video?
Keep your hard-earned money, and try some of these free or low-budget hacks, tricks and effects

Today we’ll look at some of these do-it-yourself (DIY) poor-man techniques, and see example¬†videos are provided (most links advance to the effect’s precise moment in the video to save you time). Tomorrow I’ll provide a collection of 10 free websites and tutorials about creating a film/cinematic look using a fairly inexpensive digital camera.

But first… a quick tip on selecting a killer $500-$1000 videocamera that will produce footage you could barely get from a $5,000 to $10,000 just years ago. The solution for film-like quality in your videos is¬†a cost-effective ($500-$1000) HDSLR video camera. Click here to see three pro ~$1000 compared (Sony vs Panasonic vs Canon).

Your HD-SLR can give you near-film quality with some of these tips.

Many YouTubers and quasi-professional video creators are using traditional SLR cameras as their primary videocamera. Sxephil, for instance, was using a Canon 5D when he showed how he establishes his home studio. Now that the video quality rivals many high-end video cameras, we’re able to enjoy the beautiful effect that decent SLR lenses provide — like that depth-of-field look you see in WheezyWaiter and MysteryGuitarMan videos. Let’s call these HDSLRs.

With help from a variety of sources (Videomaker, Amazon, B&H, PCMag, Cnet and the cameras used by top YouTubers) I’ve compiled some of the winners on this Amazon videocamera store, and it’s an affiliate program that makes me almost nothing except when stalkerofnalts told me he was buying expensive new gear, and let me generate Amazon affiliate links for his products). At least I can provide people with this link when they ask for my advice.

Now back to the poor-man effects. There’s a lot more to professional-looking video than a decent camera, and some of the most important factors are lighting, camera movements, audio and a really good lense. That being said, the latest issue of Videomaker (Sept. 2011) has an article by Kyle Cassidy titled “Home Grown Video Gear.” The same author wrote a nice piece last year titled “Making Your Video Look More Like Film.” The top-three tips are thanks to Kyle.

Now the Top-10 Creative Budget DIY (do it yourself) Production Tips and Tricks to Create Film-Like Special Effects

A bag of rice makes a nice car tripod

1. Very Steady Car Tripod Using Bag of Rice: I do a lot of video vlogs, and I find a bunched-up shirt works as well as any fancy device. It keeps the camera from sliding and falling over, and it’s also easy to adjust (just scrunch more shirt under the front to tilt the camera up). Kyle’s technique is even better. A bag of rice! Isn’t that brilliant? It’s easy to adjust, can work well on the window to keep your camera steady on a zoom, and it might even buffer some of the shake from the car.

Brilliant. A fish tank as underwater camera case.

2. Underwater Housing With Partially-Immersed Fish Tank:¬†Turn your existing camera into an underwater one without the fancy, cost-prohibitive custom-housings. Simply use a small fish tank that’s partially immersed in the water. Now you’ve got the ability to adjust the camera (focus, zoom, turn on and off) and it stays dry. Brilliant! Kyle suggests covering it with a towel to avoid flashes, and I’d recommend putting it on top of something like that rice bag below it. Then if a careless move causes the tank to go under, you’ve got the camera away before the tank fills.

3. Jib or Crane Shot Using Telescoping Painter’s Pole. I’ve used a pool net to produce a camera-in-sky and sweeping horizontal “crane” effect (see a 5-year-old flying Charlie in Super Baby). Brushing the camera above and through branches provides a breezy feel. I also mounted the video camera on a flag pole for Google Maps Butt crack¬†(approaching 1 million views). I even attached a Flipcam to¬†a bunch of helium balloons (see video, and behind-the-scenes). This would have been a lot easier once I purchased my super-light car-key hidden camera, but the quality is rather poor. But Kyle suggests a telescoping painter’s pole, which range from $5 to $90 for a telescoping one (see Home Depot). I just picked up this inexpensive telescoping pole from Amazon for $20 and change¬†(free shipping since I’m on Prime). While on a motorcycle, we got some nice footage using a tripod as a crane.

The web is packed with homemade dolly devices. Smooth is key.

4. Hello, Do-It-Yourself Dolly: A gently moving horizontal-slide of a camera (slider, dolly) can create a powerful effect (see example), especially when there are objects near and far to show perspective. While drooling over the $800 Cinevate Atlas 10 FLT, I went about searching for homemade Dolly tracks. I once bought a steadicam that worked pretty well, and was constructed with weights and plumbing equipment. Courtesy of LifeHacker, I found a guy with a how-to video on Veoh where J.G. Pasterjack created a dolly with skateboard wheels, and it can run on a flat surface or along a 2-by-4 board.¬†Knowing I’d burn too much time and probably screw it up, I asked to be on his waiting list. He’s since created¬†MoveYourCameraCheap.com, and is having trouble keeping up with demand on eBay.

5. Disappear or Defy Gravity With Wall-Decorated Floor: Your floor makes a good wall, can give the effect that people, objects or pets are climbing on the wall. See “lovey” the kitten crawling up a door, which was laid on the ground. This 2006 “Gravity Wall” video with my kids is a bit more obvious. To disappear, a) mount a camera perfectly still on a tripod or surface, b) simply shoot the background/setting alone and be sure lighting doesn’t change noticeably, c) videotape yourself (or person/object you wish to vanish), then d) use a “dissolve” effect when editing between the two clips (which diminishes subtle changes in the video).¬†For instance, I provided a shock ending that made it look like a garbage truck ran over me inside a garbage can — seen in this fairly popolar “Garbage Can Prank” video. ¬†I used it in one of my first kid videos (Katie turned invisible in this video shot maybe 5 years ago and uploaded in April) and more recently in this Dr. Who sponsored video, with some added glow via Iggy35.

A poster or inexpensive table cloth works as a green screen

6. Poor-Man’s Green Screen:¬†Green screen allows you to replace a plain green background with a video or photo of your choosing. There are two ways to create a cheap green screen. First, you can use green posters or a dollar-store plastic table cloth. Second, you can use a painted wall that’s close to green. Most video-editing software with “green screen” functionality can “knock out” a background even if it’s not pure green. You just want to: a) ensure that you’re not wearing any colors that are close, b) light the wall separately to avoid shadows, and c) avoid wrinkles or seams that will invariably catch shadows. I have a cloth green screen, but that’s because I use green-screen to make it appear that I fall down steps. Cloth is critical to that effect.

7. Clone Yourself With Matte Effect: The Matte effect, where you overlay a portion of one video over another, is somewhat painstaking. But it can give you the ability to hire the cheapest support cast you’ll find: yourself. Here I cloned myself by shooting two scenes of myself and overlaying the clean Nalts over a video of my clone surfacing from mud. It’s something that requires a higher-end editing tool like Final Cut Express… but worth it.

8. Get Nutty and Grosse: If you’re not inclined to use special-effect software, here are some how-to homemade special effects that require little knowledge or effort (MightyCouch). The knife-tossing how-to is especially good, and you can even simulate the knife landing precariously by tying it into a string and pulling it away… then playing that clip backwards. Here’s a how-to video that shows more¬†gory¬†special effect tricks, including a bloody explosion using a condom full of fake blood.

9. Sundry Techniques for Leveling Camera, Hiding Wires & Creating Soft Effect:¬†Kipkay is a prolific video creator that shares many of his production tricks and hacks, and this rapid fire “volume one” video is loaded with clever Magiver-like techniques. KipKay’s second Howcast video provides some less sexy but handy tips — such as using bread clips to mark cables.

10. Set your HDSLR to Resemble Film: Lastly and most importantly, there are a load of ways to get your HDSLR to give you a film-like quality… there’s even a book devoted to the subject (DSLR Cinema), which is on my wishlist. I’ve embedded a fantastic instructional video by Drumat5280¬†who has other videos like “DSLR settings.” He jokes that he’s an expert because he and his wife watch videos weekly. The important items include avoiding zoom, setting your camera to highest resolution (1080i) or higher, mic carefully, and set camera to 24 frames per second (which creates the film look and smaller file size). He encourages you to use a “shallow depth of field” which encourages viewer to focus on that which your camera focuses.¬†¬†VideoUniversity has a nice piece on little nuggets like avoiding auto-white balance and any setting that is called an “enhancement” (which is almost as bad as the cursed “digital zooms,” which pixelate the video by cropping only a portion of the screen). And Techwaffle has a how-to video that shows you how to auto-focus and use your computer to control your camera (at least with the Canon 5D).

What’d a miss? Any tips you’ve learned and are willing to share? Even little things help — like how to use a laptop as a¬†tele-prompt¬†(something discussed in the valuable Videomaker forum).¬†Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention Film Riot, a Revision3 show that is loaded with amateur-ready tips that produce very cool and otherwise-costly effects. Check it out.

Helicam: Epic Footage Using RC Helicopter & Canon 7D Camera

Here's the camera, courtesy of Joe Simon Visuals Flickr account. The camera is nearly 2 pounds out of the box.

Eat your hearts out dollys, pushes, tracks and follows. Check out this beautiful footage taken from a Canon 7D attached to a remote-controlled helicopter. The footage is so still and¬†majestic, and the song and subject bring this to life… thanks for CBS News’ Viral Video post for alerting us to this.¬†See the full-sized clip by selecting the Vimeo logo, or visiting this link to Mutiny Bikes, Heli Test #1.¬†

Heli Test #1 from Mutiny Bikes on Vimeo.



Tips for Filmmakers and Video Production

Nice piece in indie wire featuring Edwards Burn, where he talks about the beauty of low-cost production. No booms, lights, or film. Just a Canon 5D and a small budget. And the ideas? Crowdsourced.

P.S. My birthday is May 12 in case you wanted to buy me a Canon 5D. It’s less than $3500. If all of my susbcribers chipped in, it’d be a fraction of a penny. If all of my active viewers chipped in it would be just $35 each. If all of the readers of WillVideoForFood chipped in, it’d only be $3500 each.

what digital camera does edward eddy burns use
Edwards Burn uses a consumer SLR still camera to film his low-budget movies

Value Not Viral

A couple weeks ago I was at General Mills speaking to marketers along side the Pillsbury Doughboy. Come to think of it, it was a lady who marketed the little fella’s crescent rolls.¬†But I prefer the first way I recalled it, so roll with me.

Somehow along the way I stopped using “entertaining” and “educational,” and started using the term “value.” It seemed to be a core tenant of good brand videos online, and a far cry from most advertising. When we have the option to watch (or not) valuable content will always trump advertising. There are a handful of Crescent videos that show how to cook home made meals using the rolls. Hey let’s teach people a skill they see as valuable (which favors our product), instead of beating forever the “reach, frequency, single minded proposition” drum.

The idea of value (for viewers and the brand) kinda stuck. Just this weekend I shot some video for MSNBC Small Business that asks businesses to think less about “going viral” and more about how to create value. While conventional wisdom says “value” is entertainment (cute, funny, twisted, surprising, bazaar, outrageous, dancing, babies, music), a lot of companies are going the simple “how to” route, and search-engine optimizing their video content to answer customer questions.

Go looking for a cake recipe and you’ll probably find a video that was produced for Betty Crocker. It’s content supported by ad dollars and it’s smart. Yesterday I went searching for a replacement for my digital SLR that died from a son-induced tripod spill, and I would have been thrilled to find an objective shopping guide. If it was produced by Canon, Olympus or Panasonic/Lumix I might have been skeptical. But if a manufacturer did produce it objectively it would have meant a lot to me.

In keeping with the “value” over “viral” theme, check out Revision3’s Jim Louderback identifying 7 opportunities you might have overlooked about online video. He talks about tapping YouTube stars (I was quite influenced in my camera purchase by the choices of my favorite YouTube personalities) and about the power of how-to. His seventh has an acronym “OTT,” which I believes he means as “over the top.”

Hey that reminds me. I have a digital camera blog I forgot about.

Barbie Sees You When You’re Sleeping (FBI Alert)

The FBI issued an alert for “Barbie Video Girl” (see Barbiecam on Amazon), according to MyFoxPhoenix. Barbie has a camera on her chest (right above her size Ds) and a small LCD on her back. The controversy (see NBC) concerns how pedophiles might use the camera. Mattel isn’t planning on changing her. Would you?

Speaking of video equipment, I launched a new blog about digital video camcorders and cameras. It’s called “ShootLikePro” and will focus on decent gear for enthusiasts without big budgets or time for manuals. Click for a visit. It’s an interim blog unless people interact and I don’t get bored. I was researching options and figured I’d share my learnings so far.

Click to see my spinoff blog (experiment) focusing on video/photography production without breaking budget

NYU Professor Mounts Camera on Back of Head

No doubt tired of the student’s “kick me I’m a unibrow” signs put on his ass,
an NYU professor had a camera mounted surgically to the back of his head.
No, really. I’m not kidding. If I made this up, I’d have made it less weird.

unibrow professor gets third eye
Students at NYU say they'll miss sneaking up on the professor to pull down his pants and push him over.

Wafaa Bilal, a professor at New York University, had the camera mounted on the back of his skull, and is recording everything he’s already seen. It’s actually taking single images for 24-7, and I’m sure the resulting collage will be interesting — assuming he edits out sleeping. I’m not sure there’s a large global audience for a tight shot of Bilal’s pillow.

Professor, Bilal, if you’re watching… I will trade you a free guest lecture (author of Beyond Viral) just for the opportunity to see this contraption… and maybe giggle a bit. If we do a collab video, I think it’s best if you play the straight.

If you don’t reply, I might just stalk you down when I’m in NYC on Wednesday, and hold a copy of the book to the back of your head (or moon you). Then I’ll dive into the bushes if you turn around… and giggle quietly about the image of you reviewing the jpegs the next day.

He see's you when you're following him... so be good for goodness sakes.