So, for the first time in over 10 years, I’ve gotten myself a video camera.
Technically speaking, there’s been one built into my phone all along, but here’s the thing: I have to take great pains to make still photos from that same phone come out not looking like crap, and…it’s my phone. Yes, I use it to play music, surf the web, and catch the odd Pokemon or two. But…it’s a phone.
The camera above set me back $18, and weighs nearly nothing. I’m still having a hard time, on a gut level, accepting that the above is qualified to be called a camcorder. It records to SD cards that, depending on where you get them, may cost you more than the camera.
To understand my reluctance to say “this is a camcorder”, let’s take a stroll down memory lane, a road that begins in 1987 and, while it hasn’t really reached its end, was last driven on (metaphorically speaking) in 2009.
This is my original VHS camcorder, bought in April 1987 – yes, it just turned 30 years old. And, though a bit cranky with age and an amazing amount of wear and abuse, it still works. I last hauled it out of its padded camera bag to shoot Vectrex footage for the second Phosphor Dot Fossils DVD in 2009, because unlike the little miniDV camera sitting on top of it (bought in 2005), it had no problem syncing to the frame rate of the Vectrex X-Y monitor. It was a Real Camera. There was even a little character generator you could plug into it and clip onto it, and title stuff on the fly.
For good or ill, this camera is forever known as the Jump Cut City Camera. Nearly all of the 30+ hours of weird home movies I made with friends in the late ’80s and early ’90s were shot with this camera, which underwent some serious abuse as we experimented with stuff like “the ship is shaking” shots (which meant whoever held the camera had to shake the hell out of it, which had to go over really well with all of the moving mechanical parts inside).
The ship, it is shaking! (Trained professionals on closed course. Do not attempt.)
This camera was used heavily well into the 1990s, by which time Hi8 and early digital tape formats had already overtaken it. I remember shooting stuff with it in Green Bay in my off hours, as well as filming a horse video or two when it dutifully followed me back to Arkansas. It was a tough piece of kit.
The aforementioned miniDV camera, purchased in 2005, was a neat little thing – smaller tapes, smaller package, capable of shooting widescreen (though not true HD) or 4:3 in standard def, and could accept add-ons like fisheye lenses and a nice-but-battery-sucking light and so forth. It also shot still photos, had night vision…I was very, very fond of it. And then it broke down with a tape inside it that I’ve never been able to get out – go figure.
See, I’m used to a video camera being a monstrous thing, like this DVCpro camera at work circa early 2001. Equally adept at gathering footage and sound or as a melee weapon. I just have a hard time getting my head around the thought that this eighteen-buck gizmo…
…is an HD camcorder. I remember, while shooting Jump Cut City, many a time stopping the tape and double checking the camera carefully to make sure that the latest round of abuse to which we’d subjected it hadn’t caused any lasting harm. It did actually have to go into the shop once for a fix that cost $76.
That $76 would now buy me four more of these cameras. With no moving parts, there’d really be no way to kill the camera by shaking it; its greatest enemy would probably be electromagnetic rather than mechanical. If shaking or dropping it did kill it…buy another $18 camera, swap the SD card over, you’re done.
One of the reasons I got this was not for me to play with, but for E – he has expressed interest in getting into the world of Youtubing, and while I’m not ready for him to dive into those waters yet, there’s no reason he can’t experiment with shooting, lighting, production…you know, all the stuff that ceased to be marketable skills for me a few years ago when every station in Fort Smith decided that Fort Smith no longer needed news coverage.
My video production fixation kicked in at around the age of 12 or 13, when I was a kid who figured out you could hook two VCRs together and do rudimentary editing. I was editing video before I had a camera with which to shoot video. I was editing video before I was driving a car or dating.
(And by dating, I mean cutting myself in half and counting the rings. Do not attempt.)
That got me on a road that led to at least 20 years of steady work and quite a few lifelong friends.
E might be able to take those skills and go even further than I did. He does, after all, come from a distinguished line of photographers on both sides of his family tree.
“First photog on Mars” has a nice ring to it. Or, you know, whatever he winds up doing with that skill set.
I’ll invest $18 plus an SD card into that.