Camcorders vs cameras for safari memories

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Feb 15th, 2009, 07:48 AM
  #1
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Camcorders vs cameras for safari memories

I got a camcorder for last year's safari, and am I ever glad that I did. If you're thinking about using a camcorder instead of or in addition to a camera, you might be interested in what I found.

First off, I am a (very) amateur photographer, and I wouldn't presume to speak to those who are serious about their photography. People who have taken the time to understand the nuances of excellent nature photography -- the ones who set up the shots well, who tune their cameras and lenses to each different situation -- are way outside my audience for this. I'm speaking primarily to those peoplw who, like me, want to have some great memories of their safari but don't take tons of equipment (and photographic knowledge) with them.

For my first several safaris, I took a point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix with 12x zoom, and the results were great, at least by my standards. The Lumix also has a video-type feature, and I found that the clips added an extra dimension of sound, motion, and atmosphere that still photos couldn't touch. So, I got a camcorder for last year's trip, and the results exceeded my wildest hopes.

I got Sony HDR-SR11, which is a Hi-Def camcorder that records directly to a hard disk that's in the camera. It's got 12x optical zoom, and you can take still photos as well as video. It took a while to figure out the editing part, but the results are amazing. I can create DVDs that are every bit as sharp (when shown on an HD television) as the video shown on the nature programs. The extra atmosphere from the sound -- the background noises of birds, the wind, the occasional comments from the guide) -- add a huge dimension. It has been a treat to spend some snowy winter days watching elephants meander to a water hole, or wild dog puppies playing.

I didn't realize it when getting the camcorder, but the screen captures from videos can be excellent. They're not as good as the best photos, but to give you an idea, I put about a dozen screen captures up on kodak gallery:

http://tinyurl.com/dm47dh

I also put some video clips up on YouTube, but I'm a bit hesitant to point you to them, because the video quality, and especially the audio quality, is terribly degraded compared to seeing the video on an HD TV:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ms7k3xcYT8 -- wild dogs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNLuZxPpWho -- elephants

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96olQLOvoxc -- lion, zebra

For these, I did nothing but point and shoot; the camera did everything else. For the next safari, I'll learn about the button I'm supposed to press when the sun is behind the beasts that I'm filming. I do have a wide-angle lens that's light and ultra-easy to screw on and off. I got it in expectation of this year's trip to the Mara for the migration and its herds.

One cautionary note: dealing with video requires a lot more computer power than dealing with photos. In addition to video editing software, I also upgraded my system memory and video card. Even so, it still takes overnight to make a 50-minute DVD. And it has taken awhile to become even slightly proficient with the editing software. On the other hand, I now can deal with editing some of the old home movies that we've recently had digitized, so that's a sort of collateral benefit.
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Feb 15th, 2009, 08:39 AM
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Thanks for posting this rizutto, I am a really novice photographer also and found this really interesting. I also have a Panasonic FZ50 which I just love, it worked fabulous on our last safari. And somewhere along the line, up at Machu Picchu I managed to get a video clip by mistake - which tigged a memory on my part that I even had video!

After reding this, I think I will get that book out and figure out how to do it for our safari in May.
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Feb 15th, 2009, 10:47 AM
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Although my first love and deepest love is for still photos, I pretty much agree with you. A video adds another dimension or two. Especially live sound.

I'm still using a Canon S2 or S5 for video. Anyone with a P&S like the S2 should try videos. Making videos doesn't make you into a better photographer. In fact, perhaps hinders you! The capability to zoom and pan can be over done. Keep it to a bare minimum, let the animals do the motion.

The 14 screen captures you put up are nice. Looks good as any camera for this size on the internet. I'm sure also make good 5x7 prints. I watched only a few seconds of your first youtube video, because I hate youtube quality. (BTW, you Nikon boys, have you seen this -Hitler- rant about the new D3x on youtube? So funny.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnwf2RShNV0 ).

Like you say, editing. Just like with 4,000 photos you need to pick the best 100, with video you need to trim 4 hours into 40 minutes. How do you edit with the PC? What program do you use that is compatible with the Sony video format? The Canon S2/S5 format, motion jpg in avi container, I can dump it into several programs for editing. My favorite for editing and turning into a DVD is Proshow Gold/Producer. Very easy/intuitive to use and with any editing effect you could want. You say your PC runs hours for a 50 minute DVD. Proshow makes a high quality DVD (not HD) in about 30 mins for me. The DVD is 9200Kbps, 720x480 lines of resolution, length - plays on DVD player for say 45 mins.

regards - tom


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Feb 15th, 2009, 11:28 AM
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For video editing, I think the MAC takes some beating, without having to buy additional software and certainly doesn't take as long to produce a DVD.

Great advice Don.
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Feb 15th, 2009, 12:08 PM
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Tom, for editing I use Sony Vegas Movie Studio, and I have found it fairly easy to use. I can put all of the footage that I shot into a single "project," then I can slice and dice pieces of the footage either on the timeline or in a separate clip editor. When I do the slicing/dicing, the entire footage is still available to me in the project, so I don't need to worry about screwing stuff up.

Matt, I wouldn't be at all surprised about the Mac doing things a whole lot better than a PC for the editing. What I'm not sure about is the availability of software. The Sony (and a few other HD camcorders) shoot the HD footage in something called AVCHD, and only a few editing programs can handle that format.

As for the time to process, that's an issue only for producing Hi Def DVDs -- but that's also where the quality comes bursting through. I can put a 50-minute video on a dual-layer DVD, 1440x1080, 15 Mbps, and it looks spectacular. It plays on either a Blu-Ray player or a Playstation 3. This is the version that takes overnight to produce -- it take 1/10th the time if I only need to make a less detailed version.
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Feb 15th, 2009, 03:26 PM
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rizzuto
many thanks for the post. i watched the dog video, it was great, and can imagine how much better it would be on a HD TV.
i am in the process of looking at HD video cameras for my first safari to Botswana in May.
I am hoping to spend less than $500, and preferable less than $400 ( as i also need to buy a new lens for my still camera). why did you choose the SONY- ( i am totally ignorant about video cameras).
you mentioned that you pretty much just point and shot the video, were there any features you think you would like to have.
how long does the battery last between charging, did you need more than one battery?
also a question about how you stabilized the camera, as there was no "shake"
thanks
amy

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Feb 15th, 2009, 03:34 PM
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Don

I dont shoot in HD yet, but the MAC is always light years ahead, so Id be very surprised if it couldn't handle it.
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Feb 15th, 2009, 03:56 PM
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I also got the Sony HDR-SR11 last year and used it on my safari in Tanzania... great camera, both for videos and stills. I have a Canon Rebel XT for still photography, but used the Sony for stills on occasion when I couldn't shift between cameras. The still shots look about as good on my computer as do the Canon shots. This is my third Sony video camera, so I guess I'm a bit partial to them. One feature that was really important to me was an eye-level viewfinder. I can follow the action better with that than using the fold-out screen. Also, it's easier to use in the bright sunlight. I can also reduce "camera shake" when I'm using the viewfinder.

I haven't started editing, yet, but got the same program as Rizzuto. I'm taking notes from him! If there was one feature that I wished the camera had, it would be a way to negate wind noise. It may be there, but I'm not finding it. I'll have to see if I can edit out the worst of it.

I would definitely recommend the Sony HDR-SR11. The battery lasts a fairly long time, but you'd want to get a second battery and off-camera charger. I found that B&H had a good package deal with extras that were actually useful. There is also a 40-gig version, the HDR-SR10 (the SR11 is 60-gig.) That will hold many hours of videos and stills.

If I could only take one type of camera on safari, it would be a video camera for the action and the sounds. Interestingly, the lines are blurring between still and video camera, with super point-and-shoot cameras that record videos and the video cameras that shoot 10mp stills, as do these Sonys.
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Feb 15th, 2009, 04:08 PM
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amy,

A terrific site for comparing camcorders is www.camcorderinfo.com. They have prices and detailed reviews of many different units.

I chose the Sony both because of the positive reviews and because it felt comfortable in my hands. One big differentiator for me was the eyepiece on the Sony. I also liked a Canon and a Panasonic model, but neither of them had an eyepiece (you shoot the video by opening and looking at the LED screen). I find that I generally prefer looking through the eyepiece, and also that using the eyepiece adds steadiness to the camera.

I carried 3 spare batteries (on the theory that I could take 2 with me on a drive while the other two were recharging), though I could have easily gotten by with just 2 spares. The amount of time you get with the battery depends on the battery size and how you use the camera -- the more you use the LED screen, the more juice you use. My cam, and all that I've seen in that price range, have anti-shake, which I believe is essential (especially on safari, where you will use zoom). I can't think of additional features I'd like; I really don't currently use all the features the cam offers.
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Feb 15th, 2009, 04:13 PM
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ShayTay, the wind noise is an issue. I taped a piece of foam over the mic, and that help somewhat. I learned that trick and got lots of other useful info from the forum at
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/forumdisplay.php?f=161

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Feb 15th, 2009, 09:20 PM
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We just came back from a long trip with both photos and videos. My husband has been trying to make a slide show using iDVD. But on play back, the pictures all seem to have lost quality and no one at Apple can seem to help us figure out why. Do you have any suggestions for maintaining that great quality when editing to iDVD?
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Feb 16th, 2009, 05:10 AM
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I agree that a camcorder is a great way to go. Editing can be a time comsuming effort but it is definitely worth it. We took both video and stills. Pleae visit http://bodem.smugmug.com/ to see our video and photos of our East Africa trip last July.
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Feb 16th, 2009, 05:51 AM
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Thanks for the link to the video & photos, lbodem -- some terrific stuff there.
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Feb 16th, 2009, 09:38 AM
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My husband does wonderful photos and I work the cam corder.

Despite great photos I always appreciate to watch the lion cubs playing, hear the lion roar or the noise mating lions make.

Photos are excellent. But video has definitely its advantages when it comes to sounds and movements.

We would not like to miss either of it.

I sometimes forget to shoot when interesting proceedings are going on. It's definitely a difference whether you watch without a lense in front of your face.

Regarding YOUTUBE: wonderful videos are helplessly damaged by YOUTUBE. But nonetheless appreciated!


SV

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Feb 16th, 2009, 03:52 PM
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Thanks for the tip, Rizzuto! I wondered if that would help, or if the foam would also cut out the other sounds I wanted.
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Feb 16th, 2009, 07:32 PM
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so you did not need to use a bean bag type thing that everyone is recommending for the still cameras to keep to support the camera ( i realize that the video cameras are alot smaller.
thanks for the tip about covering the mic with something to decrease wind noise, but can one take it on and off during use in case there are some sounds you really want to record.
thanks also for the website on the video cameras rizzuto. i have bookmarked it and will go over it tomorrow.
amy
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Feb 17th, 2009, 09:13 PM
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Eliminating mike wind noise is not easy. Depends on lot of factors. Foam by itself is usually not too good. However if it works for you. Here is a little video that discusses this in both the video and with words.
http://www.juicedlink.com/index_file...wind_noise.htm

regards - tom
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Feb 18th, 2009, 01:07 AM
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amy, I did not use a beanbag at all. In the open vehicles used in Botswana and elsewhere, I can't really imagine how it would be possible to use a beanbag -- there's not much to lean it on. However, I would reiterate that I found that having/using an eyepiece adds stability for me.

As Tom says, the foam in no way eliminates either wind noise or ambient noise. It does cut down, to some degree, the noise that the wind makes by deflecting or absorbing some of it before passing over the metal holes of the microphone.
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Aug 11th, 2010, 03:20 PM
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We are traveling with a family of 4 to a safari in South Africa. We're deciding on cameras, video cameras and binoculars. Our kids have point and shoot cameras and my husband has a Nikon 35mm camera with zoom. I'm thinking of buying a Sony video camera for me to use. How many pair of binoculars do we need - more than 2? I'm looking at the Nikon 7x35 and the Nikon 8x40 which are both in the $125 range. Any advice?
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