Buying the Right Camera For Video Blogging

by John on February 25, 2013

Dave StillThis week I’ll be traveling to Tucson, AZ to teach a group of researchers how to post video clips to their blog.  The blog is part of an interactive website that LNM produced for the University of Arizona to promote a large NSF grant to study the North American Monsoon System (Look for their first blog post later this week).

They requested that I put together an equipment package with everything they might need to create high-quality video for their blog.  After doing a lot of research on affordable options for video gear, I put together a shopping cart on Amazon for them that contains everything they need for just under $350.  Below I’ve listed the equipment I decided to go with and some tips to help you decide what gear might be right for you.


Today HD video cameras are smaller (and probably more affordable) than your cell phone.  If you’re lucky, you may even be able to record HD video on your cell phone, which is sufficient for a lot of bloggers.  However, if you do want a little more control over your picture you may want to invest in a camera.  In that case, there are a number of things you should consider when looking into options.

Picture Quality:  The majority of consumer-grade cameras will record at a resolution of either 720p or 1080p.  This refers to the number of pixels in the frame: 1280×720 or 1920×1080.  While 1080p does look nicer, video that large can take a long time to load online.  When I load videos onto Youtube or Vimeo, I usually make sure they aren’t any larger than 720p anyways so that people aren’t sitting around waiting for my video to load.  So if you are shooting material that will be primarily seen on a blog or on youtube, a camera that shoots at 720p may be sufficient.

Also be aware that not all cameras that shoot at the same resolution will have the same quality image.  Cheaper cameras record video at a lower data rate, which can cause loss of image quality.  Go through reviews on a site like Amazon or B & H and be wary if you see if a lot of people complaining about poor image quality.

Audio:  Audio is something people rarely think about when they shoot video for the first time, but recording quality audio will make a world of difference in your videos, and will make them seem much more professional.  This is why I highly recommend getting a camera with an external microphone input.   Using an external microphone will allow you to record quality audio even if you are shooting in a noisy room or outdoors.

Operating System:  Make sure that your camera will be compatible with whatever computer you will be loading the footage onto.  A lot of cameras are only compatible with PCs, so if you are using a Mac be especially careful of this.

Common Problems: Bad reviews are really useful on sites like Amazon and B & H, and can give you a good idea of what the limitations and common issues with any product may be.  Be wary of items that seem to have a lot of random, unfixable issues.

My Choice:  Zoom Q3HD Handy Video Recorder

Zoom is a company that is mostly known for their digital audio recorders, but recently they began incorporating HD video cameras into their products.  The picture quality on this particular camera is not top-notch, but should be sufficient for blogging.  The real selling point for me though was it’s audio capabilities.  The microphones on the unit are great for recording without an external mic, and this recorder also gives you the option to plug in an external mic if you are shooting out in the field – something other cameras in this price range lacked.   So there is a trade-off in video quality for audio quality, but in my opinion this is definitely worth it.

Additional Accessories:

In addition to the camera, I recommended a number of accessories to ensure that the researchers have everything they need while shooting in the field.

External Microphone:  There are a number of external microphones you can buy in the $15-$30 range.  I went with this one by Audio Technica, but there are a number of other comparable options that are probably just as good.  There’s a video review from Amazon here that shows the difference between recording with this external microphone and without it.

Accessory Package:  You can also purchase an accessory package specifically for the Zoom recorder which has a lot of really useful accessories such asa mini tripod, a carrying case, a windscreen, and an HDMI cable to connect your camera to a TV.

Memory Cards:  You will probably want to get a large memory card or two to ensure that you have enough recording space if you’re shooting out in the field.  I recommended a 32GB card to ensure that they have plenty of memory.

I hope these tips are helpful.  Check back at the Macrosystems Blog in a few days to see what a blog post recorded on the above equipment looks like.  As always feel free to leave any comments and other suggestions for affordable video equipment below.