Video Cameras

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Inventory

QM/CogSci Equipment

There follows an inventory of the cameras currently available within the department and their location. The brand links take you to photographs of the cameras and serial numbers (where available).

Sony 2 x Sony DCR-PC107E PAL [1] handycams, both take tape, both in AHI lab

Sony newer model 2 x Sony DCR-HC51E [2] handycam, takes tape, 1 x in AHI lab 1 x on loan to Nela Brown

Canon 1 x Canon XM1 [3] (spec no longer available as was been replaced by the XM2 which records to card [4]). Larger professional video camera, external stereo mic, takes tape, AHI Lab

Other Equipment

JVC (on loan from Colombine) 1 x handy cam, tape based, personally owned by Colombine but available for use, in AHI lab

Sony Handycam labelled as property Department of Architecture University of Edinburgh (!) owner unknown but in AHI lab

Assessment

As an ethnographer using multiple cameras to gather data I have had the opportunity to test a number of cameras over the last three years and have some thoughts on the current camera stock available to MAT students and CogSci. I am documenting them here in case an opportunity comes up to apply for funds to improve the current situation. The department cameras are all now relatively old and technology has moved on significantly. They are also a lot larger than contemporary models and so harder to make unobtrusive in field recording. It was quite time consuming tracking down what we have as no one has central responsibility for our cameras.

Media format

All of the CogSci cameras are tape based. This is logistically difficult as it takes time to transfer data from the tapes and requires equipment which we do not have in the department. New tapes have to be purchased by each researcher and they are an expensive consumable which then has to be recaliemd through expenses, more time added to the process.

The same situation existing on the MAT documentary course when I took it in 2010 which required lengthy sessions in the Arts department using their tape machines to convert footage, which was often problematic and very time consuming. All MAT cameras have now been upgraded to operate from SD cards which is much more practical. The same SD card can be reused again and again, many can be put straight into the external slot on a Mac for easy data transfer. USB card readers are inexpensive and if one is purchased alongside an SD card for each camera bag, then every user has the ability to record and transfer data without the need to buy more consumables in advance.

Even with SD cards, different types of cameras in one session present problems. If the footage is to be analysed synchronously in a program like ELAN or composited in something like Final Cut, it all needs to be in the same format first. As an example, getting footage from four cameras for a 90 minute session into a consistent format took several processes (for example an MTS format has to be converted using external software like Compressor or Handbrake before it can be used in Final Cut) and nearly a week of sitting with films processing in the background as each conversion takes up to 3 hours to run.

Sound

Whilst the MAT cameras are great they have just one external microphone so all footage is mono. For my purposes this is not necessarily a problem but it may be for other researchers. An advantage of the handy cams is that whilst they have a lower quality built in mic, it is stereo and for the purposes of video analysis the sound quality is fine. The Canon video camera has a high quality external stereo mic, it has not been tested recently but purely on a spec basis this is the optimal solution for field recording.

However sometimes it is useful to have a wireless lavalier (lapel mic) for interviews or an alternative external sound source that is in a different place to the camera so we could make good use of some external sound equipment for use in the field. This use to be available on loan from the film department but they are no longer making this kit available to other departments.

Tripods

There do not appear to be any tripods other than the Velbon ones for the Motion Capture cameras. One taped up (presumably damaged) tripod without a head was the only thing that could be found.

Recommendations

  • Someone needs to take overall responsibility for this kit. There needs to be a maintained and up to date inventory, a locked storage space and a regulated access. Could this be a role for an EECS Technical Assistant?
  • New tapes need to be purchased and all of the existing cameras tested and evaluation for picture and sound quality
  • Tripods have not been assessed and this is another important requirement. Check that all have a hot shoe and all extensions work and are stable.

When funds are available, CogSci should invest in the following;

  • 2-3 identical handycams, each with an SD card and card reader.
  • one good higher quality camera with an SD card and card reader and ability to take 2 x external sound input (for lavelier, external stereo mics)
  • an external stereo mic for filming where better quality or differently located audio is required
  • 1-2 wireless lavalier mics (lapel mics) for interviews and close micing of participants
  • 2-3 lightweight tripods with carry-cases
  • good sturdy bags for easy transportation


Note: we need to retain the old cameras as they are legacy equipment which may be required to retrieve data from tapes recorded with them. Using a different camera can result in dropped frames due to incompatible codecs and poor quality conversion. Whilst a tape convertor, such as they have in the film department, could be used we don't have direct access to this ourselves and there could still be legacy issues if they update them.


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