I read lots of posts by guitar players and other performers who want to shoot video of themselves performing. They want decent quality video with decent or better audio, usually on a budget. And they usually don’t want to embark on a technical education project or take up a new hobby, they just want to point and shoot and play.
This market for Look At Me Play Guitar video cameras has attracted a range of products over the years from both camera makers and audio equipment manufacturers. Today we see Sony and Zoom slugging it out. My little comparison of the Zoom Q4 and Sony MV1 gets more comments than any other, I think.
What About a Camcorder?
But there’s another class of camera that gets overlooked a lot these days, one that might be the best choice for “Look At Me Play Guitar” video. The consumer camcorder will take video as good as the Q4 or MV1 and probably better, with the advantage of an optical zoom. The music camera usually has a wider angle lens, stereo directional mics, better specs in the audio department along with better handling of external sound sources. But while the wide angle lens brings the camera mounted mic closer to the source I have found that for my solo acoustic guitar videos the optical distortion spoils the picture. Still, other folks find the wide angle useable and for them the audio quality is a key feature.
If we’re going to use a consumer camcorder for LAMPG video we’re faced with a few question. Like, how bad or good is the audio on a low cost consumer camcorder? Which of the many camcorders out there should we consider? And how much should we expect to spend?
Canon Vixia HF Series
When I set out to identify the choice camcorder, the Canon Vixia HF series jumped out at me. It’s generally the top choice of reviewers and it’s a consistent popular seller, so there are lots of them in the used market. Even better, the performance seems to be consistent from the 2013 R4x models to the latest R7x line. Each model year includes three models, for instance the R500 basic unit, the R50 which adds onboard memory and WIFI, and the R52 with larger internal memory, WIFI, and a bigger battery. From looking at specs and reading reviews it seems that all the cameras from the 2013 R400 to the 2016 R72 shoot the same picture. Looking at the price is a very pleasant surprise. Even new these cameras are priced about the same as a Sony MV1, but on the used market they are as inexpensive as the the stripped down Zoom Q2n. With a little patience some really great deals show up in the Canon refurbished equipment listings.
I really really don’t need another camera, but my willpower is weak and the price of a used R500 on Ebay was too tempting. My camera cost about $140, came with a carrying bag and charger but no memory card or original packaging. I’ve seen a number of similar deals since I got mine, including both newer and higher end models, like the R62 or R70.
Some Clips for Comparison
Here’s a video showing various comparisons between the Sony and Canon. We’ve got cameras at the same location, cameras at the same framing, and same framing with an external mic feeding the Canon. Notice that the Canon does not support plug-in power on the mic input, so only dynamic mics or those with their own battery can be used. In this video I used a Zoom H1 recorder as a powered mic, by feeding the headphone output of the H1 into the Canon mic input.
How Did They Do?
I was a bit surprised by the difference in video quality I saw in these clips. The Canon uses face recognition to drive the autofocus and exposure adjustments while the Sony seems to set an exposure based on the average of the whole scene. Shooting in front of a black background resulted in some dreadful skin tones in the Sony clips.
On the other had I was not surprised by the visual distortion in the Sony images. These effects of the wide angle lens and close placement have kept my Sony MV1 in the drawer rather than out shooting video.
The Sony audio picked up my foot tapping which was not a problem with the Canon, but the Sony is delivering more low frequency information which makes for a richer guitar sound to my ear.
Both these cameras offer a lot of settings that might improve the quality of the audio and video. They both offer “low light” and “spotlight” settings as well as audio noise filters. If you’re considering either the Sony HDR-MV1 or any of the Canon Vixia HF series I really recommend finding the manual online and checking the features.
This entry was posted on Saturday, December 31st, 2016 at 4:44 pm and is filed under Comparisons, Video. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.