Video recording equipment

I’ve been asked a few times last year about what equipment I use to record the NY Alt.NET meetings, most recently from Bill Campbell (@bill44077). So I thought I’ll share what I use and how I use them here for all to see (and googled).

Equipment

First and foremost you need a decent video camera. Note I say ‘decent’, because there is no need to spend extra money on the latest prosumer HD camera when the video does not need to be consumed at that high resolution. The features that you would need from the camera for recording user group meetings are:

  • Low-light performance – All of our meetings are hosted indoor and most will be under dimmed lighting with projector displaying slides. Good low-light capability will ensure the presenter will still be recognizable in the shadow and the video will not be too grainy.
  • Decent built-in microphone – Stereo mic is a plus but since the camera will probably be setup 20-30 feet from the presenter, what you really need is sensitive mic that can capture good audio source from a distance.
  • External microphone input – If the built-in microphone is not up to the task, there are a few inexpensive external microphones that you can get to boost the quality. I’ve used Azden SMX-10 with good result. Another one, which is a little more expensive but probably better, is the Rode VideoMic.

The video camera I am using is the Panasonic PV-GS250 that another NY Alt.NET organizer, Mark Pollack, donated for our use. It is a miniDV tape camera with reasonable low-light capability, good built-in mic and has mic input. The equivalent of a new camera will probably be something like the Canon HV30 or HV40. One thing to keep in mind is that miniDV tape will only record 60 minutes on standard quality (SP mode) and all of our meetings run longer than that. This means either tape change in the middle of the presentation and potentially lost a few seconds of content, or record in LP mode which will allow 90 minutes to be recorded. I favor recording in SP mode and change tape as quickly as possible. Sometimes I’ll give a sign to the presenter to pause while I change tape but generally I prefer not to interrupt the flow of the presentation. Of course if you purchase a camera with solid-state memory/hard disk storage than this will not be an issue.

I’ve already mentioned external microphone that attaches to the camera. A more advanced setup will be to use wireless lapel mic for the presenter and feed the audio into the camera via the external mic input. However, if your group meeting involves taking question from the audience then the lapel mic will not pick up the audio from the audience. In this situation, either abandon the lapel mic and use camera built-in mic only, or record audio from both lapel mic and the built-in mic on the camera on separate tracks and mix them in during the post-production step. I have not attempted this setup and will not recommend it to anyone without a lot of experimentation first.

Why the emphasis on audio? Because people will tolerate bad video than audio. A video in grainy 15 fps Standard-Def with clear audio is infinitely better receive than pristine HD video with audio that pops, muffle, or just generally crap.

Two more pieces of equipment you will need are a tripod, and a long electrical extension cord. I have a heavy-duty tripod with ball head (similar to this one) I use for photography, which is perfect for video recording also. But any decent tripod will do as long as it allows the camera to be raised to about eye-level when you are standing. The room in Microsoft building in NY that NY Alt.NET meets only has electrical outlet near the front of the wall and the podium. This means a 20 feet electrical extension cord is a must. I use this 25 feet extension cord because it is well protected against rough usage and more importantly, the bright orange color means less likely for someone to trip over it!

Optional

To make it easier for me to transport all these equipment around I have on order the Pelican case to keep the camera and all its cable, external mic, 10+ tapes, and hopefully the extension cord, all in a single box. I’ve used a large version of the Pelican case for my DSLR and lenses, and I love how it keeps every thing organized and protected.

If your camera has headphone output jack, you may want to take along a set of headphone to verify the audio is working, especially if using an external mic.

Another piece of equipment you may need to invest is some form of large data storage for all the video files that you will capture. I’ve written about that and the backup strategy I employ to safeguard my data in an earlier post.

Processing

All these equipment take care of the capturing stage of the meeting. Now that you have the video footage the process of cutting, splicing, assembling begin. There are a number of free or inexpensive video editing software out there. Depending on your platform of choice, the common picks are Windows Movie Maker or iMovie on the Mac. I use iMovie since the iMovie ’09 version and it is so easy to learn and use. Even someone like me who has zero prior video editing experience was able to put together something that looks respectable.

I generally split the footage of a meeting into 20-30 minutes chunk. This is to make it manageable for uploading time but more importantly, to increase the probability that people will view them. Personally I am less likely to watch an hour long video than a twenty minutes one.

The length also plays into which video hosting service you want to use. YouTube will probably be the first place people picks for hosting video but I believe there is a 10 minutes limit on YouTube unless you request an exemption, somehow. I use Vimeo which has no such restriction (in Standard Def) and has provided excellent service so far. Whichever service you pick, make sure to find out the optimal video settings for that particular service so you can tailor the exporting/rendering of your video to that service. This will ensure the smaller file size while providing the optimal video/audio quality.

Optional

A fast internet connection. I mean a really fast one like Verizon FiOS. When I had Comcast, my upload bandwidth is about 8Mbps which means it generally takes between one or two hour to upload a 30 minutes video. Now with FiOS’s 25Mbps upload link, the upload now only takes 10-20 minutes! And with iMovie inability to render movie in the background, this is a huge time saver!

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