Cradle to Grave: Small Cameras, Big Surprises
Posted Apr 7, 2010

Of all life's events, perhaps the most joyous occasion is a wedding-especially if it happens to be the wedding of your 35-year-old son! We were thrilled when Jason (see my column on his budding filmmaking career in the June 2009 issue) called and told us that Angela had accepted the invitation to be his wife. We were even able to vicariously enter into that special moment because of the gift of video (see www.blip.tv/file/2223320) shot on the Canon 5D Mark II in order to surprise her. After we got all of the information as to the time and location for the wedding, I asked the really important question, "Who is going to videotape the wedding?" I knew it wouldn't be me, since they had graciously asked me to officiate. He shared that he had already thought of that and had asked two of his professional videographer friends to videotape the ceremony and he would do the editing.

The ceremony was held outdoors on Jan. 1, 2010, in Irvine, Calif. Even though there had been rain earlier that week, the weather on the day of the wedding was perfect-temperatures were in the mid-70s. I met Jason's videographer friends and was impressed with them and their cameras-both had Panasonic AG-HVX200As. Their plan was to be mobile during the ceremony with their cameras and use a third camera in a fixed position to get a wide shot of the ceremony and also record the audio from the mixer. I jokingly told them not to worry because I brought a fourth camera to the ceremony-a Flip UltraHD camcorder that my good friend, Melonie Jeska, insisted I borrow. For those not familiar with this camera, it's about the size of my iPhone and can record 2 hours of HD video on 8GB of internal memory. I asked my brother-in-law, Jack, to use the Flip camcorder during the ceremony; I told him to just have fun with it. This was his first experience using a camcorder, so he was hesitant at first. But I assured him that the ceremony was well-covered, and anything he captured would just be a bonus.

The ceremony started precisely at 4 o'clock, and everything went according to clockwork. We even finished 3 minutes ahead of schedule, giving the photographers plenty of time to finish their work before the sun went down. The feeling of euphoria that I was experiencing, however, wouldn't last very long. After the ceremony, as the guests were being ushered out, the lead videographer came over to me-his first words were, "I'm so sorry." He went on to explain that he had been daydreaming, and when he saw the bride's grandmother being escorted to her seat, he quickly grabbed his camera and started shooting. But in the haste to get his shot, he forgot to turn on the main camera! The only footage we had was the B-roll from the two handheld cameras and the video that Jason's Uncle Jack shot with the Flip UltraHD camcorder. As videographers, we often joke about the "Uncle Charlie" video taken at weddings; in this case, we were thrilled that we had the "Uncle Jack" video, because he was close to the front and captured video similar to what we would have expected to get with the main camera.

In order not to spoil Jason and Angela's special day, I chose to withhold this information from them until the next morning during brunch. I was impressed with Jason's mature response; he accepted the news and was grateful that he had at least the two cameras to work with. He worked with what he had, and his final product, in my opinion, showed his skill as an editor (see www.blip .tv/file/3143630).

The second thing I was impressed with, though, was the quality of the video from the Flip camera. When I first saw the little camera, I couldn't imagine that it could do a good job because it was basically a one-touch, point-and-shoot camera. But when we were finally able to look at the footage, we realized that the video quality was outstanding; without it we would have missed some critical shots (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=fE_45L9WEgw).

When I returned home, I did some research on the Flip camera. I discovered that Kodak had come out with a camera that was rated better than the Flip UltraHD. CNET's review called it "the best pocket camcorder we've reviewed to date, with superior image quality and the best features." To make a long story short, I'm now the proud owner of the Kodak Zi8 camcorder. It has several features that I really like. First, it not only does 720p (at 60fps or 30fps), but it also records at 1080p at 30fps. In addition to its versatile recording capabilities, it has image stabilization, face recognition, an input for an external mike, a macro lens switch, and the ability to use up to a 32GB SD/SDHC card-enough for 10 hours of HD video.

The amazing thing is that it weighs less than 4 oz. and measures 2.4" x 4.5" x .9". I can already see some unique uses for this camera-for example, using it much like the disposable still cameras placed at tables during a wedding reception. Because of its size, it's easy to put in my pocket and take with me wherever I go. Melonie Jeska takes hers with her in her purse, along with a small tripod!

One expression I grew up with was "big things often come in small packages." Cameras such as the Flip and the Kodak Zi8 also demonstrate that, because of today's technology, great video can be captured in very small (and inexpensive) cameras.

Alan Naumann (alan at memoryvision.tv) is co-author, with Melonie Jeska, of The Complete Guide to Video Biographies, a newly released, comprehensiove set of training materials for professional video producers. A featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2004–9 and a two-time EventDV 25 honoree, he is based in Minneapolis.