Monday, October 1, 2007

The Tapless Camera and the Portable Production House

A couple of weeks ago New York Times tech reporter David Pogue wrote an article called "Beware the Tapeless Camcorder". This article got a fair amount of attention from the community that this blog serves, being linked to by FreshDV, Digital Camcorder News and Video Guys to name a few.

Pogue makes a lot of good points, mainly that tape is an instant archive where flash/hard drive formats are more compressed, harder to edit, and have to be burned to a disc, making them less convenient than first thought. While true, I also have to contend that tapeless has its place just like any other format, it's just a matter of selecting your tools for a specific task.

Where I see tapeless most useful is when your output needs to be quick, handy, and portable. I like the idea of having a camera small enough to carry in a pocket (ready at a moment's notice), able to record to cheap SD cards, and ready to edit on a laptop. Granted you're going to have to deal with MPEG-2 or MPEG-4, but if you're just cutting and need little effect work--who cares? I see this being very useful for a run-and-gun shoot/edit/upload scenario when time is of the essence and you have to carry all your gear on your back.

There are all kinds of these camcorders, but only one that I've found with a mic input. This is disappointing, as a mic input and headphone jack (invaluable in an interview situation) used to be standard equipment on even the cheapest of camcorders. Now it seems to be luxury, with only the in-camera mic to depend on. And you just can't. I hate distant, echoing sound from someone on camera, and recording double-system is just too much to ask--a mic input is not.

Time will most likely heal these wounds. The formats will get better, or software will emerge that can better handle them. Cameras will improve and you will get better and better video recorded in a solid state format (Panasonic's P2 cards are evidence of this now) at an affordable price. Every piece of tech can't be everything to everybody. For some somebody's however, it can be just what you need.

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