Like all sentient communicators hoping to stay current, I’m venturing into video. And like millions of other video newbies, I started with the dummy-proof Flip. (At Amy Stewart’s suggestion – here she is showing off her Flip.) From camera to YouTube in under 15 minutes! (All displayed on my very own channel.) No editing software to install or worry about being incompatible with the camera. No worries, period. Unless you care about the sound quality.
Yep, that’s the big drawback about Flips. Not a problem if you’re up close in a quiet room but otherwise, a big problem.
And after 4+ years of gardenblogging I’m really ready to try something new, like good enough videos to just maybe attract sponsors. Kinda like those companies who sponsor public TV, only cheaper. Think “This video was brought to you by Eco-Friendly Company X”. More on that later, hopefully after I’ve actually have a sponsor.
The search for a better camcorder
For a technically challenged shopper, choosing a camcorder is surprisingly daunting. HD sounds good, but do I need it? And there are so many choices in video-saving media – internal memory, memory chips, or tape – that it was impossible for me to decide. Then there’s the decision about editing software – gotta be compatible – and accessories. So no simple review of the reviews would do the job. I even asked some professional videographer friends of mine and frankly, got no help. (Their preferences have nothing to do with my own needs, and they all want me to switch to a Mac – not gonna happen!) So after gobs of reading online, I decided what I needed was good, old-fashioned sales help.
Enter B&H Electronics, a mostly mail-order electronics company in operation since the ’70s. I remember shopping at their Manhattan store not long after they opened. One long phone call with a camcorder specialist resulted in my purchase of this Canon product for about $700, plus more for accessories like tripod, lavelier mike, case, adapters and extra batteries. (It adds up.)
The search for compatibility
Soon after it all arrived I discovered that the camera was not, in fact, compatible with Windows Moviemaker, which I’d told the “specialist” I wanted to use – because it’s free and reportedly, easy. A long discussion with the specialist’s boss later, I ordered Adobe Premier Elements, an editing program “guaranteed” to work with my Canon. Which it does, except that the Canon didn’t work with my computer. Yes, even the boss of the camcorder specialist didn’t ask what speed my processor is, and sold me a camera that, upon being connected with my computer, promptly and repeatedly caused it to CRASH. And it wasn’t just me causing it to crash – it was my hired computer expert trying to get the camcorder to talk to the computer and watching it crash time after time. (That’s what technologically anxious shoppers do – spend more money just to confirm that something doesn’t work and it’s not our fault.)
An honest salesman is hard to find
So back to the “expert” at B&H, who naturally, I suppose, offered up a slew of reasons for this failure that had nothing to do with his sales advice. The fault is Adobe! So following his orders, I spent the better part of 45 minutes on the phone with a very nice gentleman somewhere in India, who determined without a doubt that the problem was with the camera. (We had some time to kill waiting for uploads and what-not, during which we chatted genially about his prime minister, in town that night to be feted at the White House at the now-famously gate-crashed state dinner.)
Onward to the support staff at Canon, surprisingly located not far from me in Virginia. Their patient staffer diagnosed the problem in, oh, about 2 minutes – by simply asking me to read off my computer’s processing speed.
Back to B&H and the now shamey-faced (one hopes) sales manager who’d screwed up royally, who still denied any error but did at least facilitate a full refund (despite my shoddy repacking).
The cheaper, simpler alternative
So where to turn for sales advice when the big kahuna of mail-order companies had failed me so miserably? Canon! My experience with their support service had been so positive, I decided to call back and ask what camera they’d recommend, and their advice ended up saving me over $700! (They don’t sell anything directly, and their support staff doesn’t work on commission.) They suggested and I now have in my possession the Canon ZR960 miniDV camcorder for only $250. It records on old-fashioned tape and is compatible with everything – computers, editing software, the works.
Now to get trained
Have I mentioned that I’m mechanically and technologically challenged? And that’s not changing, so I’ve set out to get help figuring out how to make and edit videos. First, a smart teenager who’s been making videos for 6 years will be showing me the works. Then the real fun begins – I’ve enrolled in a Documentary Video Production course! Not cheap, but it looks like some serious fun. First, the teacher has over a dozen PBS documentaries to her credit, and runs this center for documentary film about a mile from my house. She’ll be sending us out to make videos in groups of three to document our little downtown. We’re meeting 6 Saturday mornings starting in late January, the exact time when this obsessed gardener needs a lifeline to sanity. Reports coming soon!