Domestic dilemma

Billie is painting, Olly is at a friend’s house for tea, Juliet is waiting in an interminable queue at Watford General Hospital to see her consultant (our third baby is due 1st May) and I am shopping for a Mini DV Camcorder. My friend Paul, who knows more about it than I do, says I should look for the these features: dv in and out, manual focus, mic-in plug, adjustable white balance/exposure, decent manual zoom and avoid the e-wizardry that seems common now (Bluetooth, email, MPEG). I like the look of this Sony DCR-PC101 and Apple are featuring this Canon MV5i. I want a really small camera and I don’t want to spend more than about ?1000 ($1500). What do you recommend?

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  1. Well, you’ve probably been through this already with your friend, but here are a few extra questions to ask yourself. I guess they all address the step after “make a shortlist of cameras that have the required features.” Paul’s list sound pretty good BTW.

    1) Paul says get manual focus and manual zoom. Are you the kind of person who will use this? (Some people are, some people aren’t.) If you are, then having them on the spec sheet is not enough, you need to get candidate models and try them out to see which implementation works well for you.

    2) Different people have different hands, you need to get your grubby mitts on the cameras to find out how heavy they feel, if the controls fall easily to your fingers. Is the weight easy to hold? What about when you stretch a finger to push a button, does the camera remain steady in your hand? If the camera fits your hand you’ll use it more, enjoy it more and get better footage than one with other qualities that doesn’t fit your hand.

    3) Size. You say you want a really small camera. Why? How many features are you prepared to sacrifice for size? (In particular, manual zoom and focus are often hard to find on small cameras.) This reiterates question 1. Which features are essential for you? (DV In/Out for example should be essential for everyone really in this day and age, but maybe not everyone will use manual zoom.)

    An anecdote about features : I bought a digital camera, it had to be compatible with the lenses i already owned and I only had so much money. Pretty much this narrowed the choice down to a field of one. So I bought that one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a spotmeter and I’ve relied on a spotmeter for my working technique for 10 years. So, whilst every other part of the camera is fine, if I ever have the spare money I will buy a new one, just to get that spotmeter. Arrrgh is the phrase that springs to mind…

    An anecdote about size. In the still world, some people like me have a Nikon 35-70 lens. Some people ardently prefer the F100 to the F5, partly because it is smaller. It is easier to hold in a small hand and it is slightly lighter and easier to carry. Myself, I bought an F5. My hands are not so small and the F5 fits perfectly, which means I use it more and get better results (see question 2). Finally, with regards to carrying, I rarely carry the F5 and lens alone, there is almost always a set of other tranklements I need to carry as well. All of a sudden slight variances in camera size don’t make much difference to the amount I am carrying.

    4) Battery life (vs battery weight and cost): you’ll need to find good independent reviews to work this one out. Basic unit question : how much recording time do I get out of one battery? Nothing worse than being out at the park when the battery dies. Of course, if you can charge spare batteries separately and they are not too big and heavy this might offset better battery perfromance in another model.

    5) Accessories? This question is more relevant when buying an interchangeable lens device, as there the accessory often costs as much as the main unit. In your case this is probably not so important, but accessories that do spring to mind are : spare batteries, chargers, microphones, interface kits and cable. Questions : do they make what you need? How much does it cost? Can you use someone else’s instead?

    Between the two you mentioned, it’s hard to make a choice without going to the shop. They are pretty much the same size and shape, Canon and Sony are both generally quality pieces. It’s going to come down to your personal preference I suspect.

  2. The other thing is do shop around as prices seem to vary hugely – I bought mine at some shop in East London and saved a few hundred quid over the Jessops price. Having said that I suspect that unless it’s actually faulty they won’t change it if it doesn’t suit you whereas John Lewis etc probably would.

  3. Just looked at the Sony you’ve chosen and I suspect you’d be very happy with it (as I know you’re a bit of a Sony afficianado). The only thing I would say is to try it out as it’s one of the upright models and I suspect is harder to hold still than the horizontal types like this one. (Haven’t checked the specs on this so this isn’t a recommendation.)

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