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Camcorders vs cameras for safari memories

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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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