Today I toured a million-dollar video production studio and once again have come to the conclusion that producing video can justifiably seem complicated to most people. Like sell-your-first-born-and-mortgage-the-house complicated. As I left the dark wonderland my head was spinning with the thought (and the cost) of it all. That is, until I remembered my own equipment–the stuff that costs a fraction as much and has landed me jobs at national magazines–and then I felt at ease, but still poor.

When getting into video production it’s important to remember that keeping things simple is okay. Every editor is different, but most just want high-quality clips that provide serviceable information and evergreen value to the website. I constantly talk to writers who are apprehensive about video, and usually by the end of the conversation they can’t wait to start experimenting on their own. The fact is, as a writer you may already have the intuitive skills you need to execute an editorial vision in video; all you’re probably lacking is the technical how-to.

Since video is much more complicated than audio slideshows, I feel it would be a disservice to just gloss over the big themes and ask you to figure stuff out on your own. So I’m breaking the topic up into three posts: cameras, editing programs, and accessories. In the future, I’ll explore different editorial concepts behind video direction, but I really feel that the main barrier for most people is the how-to element. If you have any direct questions please leave them in the comments sections below, or feel free to send me a direct email at timshisler [at] gmail [dot] com.

Video Cameras:

Type “buying a video camera” into Google and the resources are endless. Cameras range from a few hundred bucks to upwards of a hundred thousand dollars, and with multiple methods for actually recording video, every model is different. But don’t let that deter you: the options are empowering, and as a travel journalist finding the right camera is the most important avenue to success.

The first important thing to keep in mind is high definition cameras, otherwise known as HD, are now priced at less than a thousand dollars. Just a few years ago they were priced in the thousands and only large studios, or trust-fund babies could afford them. The reason you should purchase an HD model is because everything you shoot has value down the road, and if it’s not in HD, there is a good chance in five years you won’t be able to use it. (Note: Not that it won’t work, but non-HD quality will be noticed if it’s ever edited into HD footage.)

The second important factor in camera choice is how a particular camera records the footage you shoot.

Mini DV

The industry standard a few years back, these cameras use micro cassettes to record video. The upside is that your work is archived on the cassettes and you never run out of space on the camera. The downside, however, is you have to keep buying and lugging around multiple cassette tapes. This format has been more or less ditched by the newer cameras which record on flash-based media and internal hard drives. Based on new developments with Apple, and the decision to eliminate firewire ports from their computers, I would recommend refraining from purchasing one of these cameras unless they are the higher-end pro models.

Hard Disk Camcorders

Many of today’s cameras come with built in hard drives. With these cameras, you don’t need a memory card, or a tape, but just the camera itself. For instance, the Canon Vixia HF10 has a built in 16 gigabyte drive that can record roughly 4 hours of HD video. The hard drive means no loose tapes, but also means you will need a computer nearby to download the video should you run out of space. I’ve used the Canon in multiple situations and never had a problem with the hard drive filling up, but I’ve also been conscious about how much footage is on the camera at any given time.

Flash Memory

Just like point-and-shoot digital cameras, these cameras record to SD or compact flash cards. Since flash media now costs next to nothing, the cameras offer a good solution to travelers looking to travel light and leave the computer at home. I recently shot a video in Moab, Utah, with one of these cameras and the fact that I only carried around a handful of plastic cards meant I wasn’t weighed down and could keep up (or try to) with my talent.

When looking at video cameras the other important things to consider are:

· Can I manually adjust the picture?

· How long does the standard battery last?

· Is this small enough for me to use while traveling, yet large enough to feel comfortable in my hand?

For some specific recommendations, check out this article in November’s Conde Nast Traveler and CNET’s buyers guide. I’ve personally used the Canon Vixia HF10 and love it. If you are in the market for a new camera I would highly recommend giving it a spin. The other choice, the Sony HDR-CX12 is also a solid model, which some reviewers have preferred over the Canon. Either way, it is important to remember that when deciding on technology everyone has an opinion, and though it’s important to take them into account, the camera that fits best in your hand, offers the features you desire, and fits your price point is ultimately the best value.


  1. I thought it was a typo/word misuse, but since it’s been up all weekend, now I’m wondering if in this instance, “loosing one’s shirt” is meant in the context of loosening or opening one’s shirt, or perhaps unleashing one’s shirt as in “loosing the hounds.” I don’t know anymore.

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