Using the video equipment to record your team’s game or practice (or the band’s rehearsal) has become significantly easier in recent years and continues to show marked improvement in quality of the recordings all the while becoming less expensive and more adaptable. These rapid changes in video recording and playback technology continue to keep everyone on their toes, often delaying purchasing new equipment knowing that the next best thing is just around the corner.
What has not become easier is determining which recording format, media and features are needed to allow your purchase to retain its value while providing you with years of fully-usable, high-quality recordings. And unlike most inexpensive baseball caps these days, one size does not fit all. The good news is that most cameras offer enough features to cover the majority of a school’s needs. Determining the primary and secondary needs for this equipment (although not an easy task to begin with) will allow you to better identify which camera (or cameras) to purchase.
Every performance or team-based program (sports, drama, music, forensics, debate) can benefit from recording and reviewing their practices/rehearsals as well as games, performances/competitions. Seeing what others see or hear, being able to identify opportunities for correction or improvement, and getting a view from a different perspective brings an enhanced level of learning (and teaching) to these educationally based programs.
Looking at how you might share this equipment across multiple activities makes the challenge of selecting one camera much more difficult; however, given the reduced costs of most special-feature cameras, sharing the total cost between several programs (with a contribution based on financial resources and estimates of total use) may allow you to purchase several cameras, thereby expanding the possibilities for everyone.
Unless you have a special purpose for your video (cinema-quality presentation, especially small files for email attachment, transfer to still photos, etc.), the two most common video formats will work for you. Known as 1080 and 720, both referring to the clarity of the images recorded with the higher number indicating a sharper image, these formats allow for quality use in most presentations. Playback in 1080 will work very well for HD display (or projection) while 720 is the best for smaller device displays (websites, tablets, etc.). Both allow for reasonably sized files for archiving and sharing while giving you the detail (depending upon the view used) to see what’s important to you in the video. And all types of editing software (from the easy ones like iMovie and GoPro Studio to the complex ones like Adobe After Effect and Pro Tools) accept these formats, directly saving you any time or cost associated with translations.
Gone are the days of inserting tapes of various sizes into a recorder the size of a breadbox to record a complete game or performance. With the cameras now recording in digital, not only has the physical size of the camera become more compact, but the media used to store the images has as well. And while a camera with a large internal hard drive may initially appear to have more storage, one that uses Secure Digital (SD) cards is a better choice. The cards allow you to stay current with improving storage technology (more space, better image quality), have essentially unlimited recording space, and be able to retrieve your images without the camera using an SD reader instead of a download from your unit.
Here is where the choices become long and potentially confusing; however, once again, determining your uses and needs will help you find your way through the offerings. Cameras fall into two basic categories: video-recorders (smaller versions of the old VHS camcorders) and special purpose cameras (ones that are small enough and tough enough to be attached to helmets, drones, goal posts). Unless the majority of your needs fall in the ‘special use’ category, your first camera should be a video-recorder and then a second one could be for those other uses.
The four desired features for video recorders are a digital display (2.5” or larger would be appropriate) so that you can see what you are recording without pulling the camera viewfinder to your eye, a fairly low f-stop to record in low light situations, an optical zoom range from wide (28mm or so) to telephoto (150mm or higher), and image stabilization (to record a smooth, jerk-free image). Other features you might find beneficial would include being BlueTooth or WiFi compatible (for using a smart device for control), HDMI output and easy access to the battery and the SD card. Make sure your device records in the formats you need and comes with a battery charger (to which you should buy an additional battery right from the start).
If you go for an additional special purpose camera, the possibilities are almost endless, but the tried and true, hard to beat, waterproof, weatherproof, easy-to-operate line of such cameras comes from GoPro. Their new offerings of Session cameras (as well as their competitors’ versions) allow you to put a camera just about anywhere and record great video or time-lapse, controlling the camera from your smart-phone or tablet. There are wonderful teaching moments from seeing the quarterback’s view from a helmet cam or an actor’s view from on stage.
Taking the time to consider your video-recording needs as a school community will help you more easily find your way through the complexity of equipment offerings currently on the market. That investment in time and the inclusion of all who might benefit from and contribute to this acquisition will allow you to purchase the best possible video-recorder and reap the benefits for years to come, even as technology continues to march forward.
Steffen Parker has worked with computers since the mid-70s and has been a Macintosh user since its introduction in 1984. Serving as an IT support person for the Vermont Principals’ Association and the Information Support Specialist for Vermont’s Lamoille North Supervisory Union, Parker supports computer use for adults working in education, administration, finance and publication including the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee where he also serves as the Performing Arts representative.