Face, meet palm.
I made a minor resolution for myself for 2012. As I get deeper into the world of content marketing, I promised myself I wouldn’t get bent out of shape when I noticed someone giving their clients advice that was inadaquate, ill-conceived or just plain stupid. For the record, I rarely keep my New Years Resolutions.
Along my voyage across the wide expanses of the Interwebs the other day, I came across a self-appointed video marketing “guru” on YouTube. (We’ll save the inane marketing terms like “guru,” “maven,” “savant,” and “visionary” for another rant, shall we?) In this short video rife with bullet points but little reasoning, said guru outlined the bare necessities one should have to create impactful videos for the Internet.
One thing in particular tripped my interest — he recommended a three-chip (or three-“CCD”) video camera as a must-have item. I’ve been doing videos for over ten years, and I’m here to tell you: that’s horse-plop. He was right on one thing, a good three-chip camera does reproduce great color and clarity, but it’s hardly an essential for a video novice looking to add video to their marketing efforts. If we were producing our own commercials that were going to air on broadcast TV, then it might be worth the investment. But we’re producing video for the Internet, and there’s so many other factors we have control over that affect the quality of the image.
Firstly, let’s consider the cost. Upon doing a basic search on Amazon for new HD-capable camcorders, the cheapest “capable” models I found were in the $600 range. Notice I said “capable,” which means I omitted those that write to more fickle storage modalities like MiniDV and Mini DVD. Avoid those at all costs. If you asked me to recommend a three-chip camera geared towards a “pro-sumer,” I may not be able to steer you into anything shy of a grand. Many at or below that threshold may have three chips, but they’re undersized which may lead to lesser performance in inadaquate lighting situations. When’s the last time you had a totally adaquate lighting situation, short of a sunny summer day?
So what does a three-chip camera give you that makes it worth the extra cost? Each chip is dedicated to reproducing a separate color, which does lend more accurate color in professional cameras. If I had the money, I would easily prefer a three-chip camera that would set me back a grand or two. Why don’t I have one? I’m not producing video that requires absolute color accuracy. I’m not producing TV commercials. I’m not creating digital movies for the big screen. My domain is YouTube, and this self-publishing world we live in is a fickle thing indeed. Some of your videos will be seen on computer screens. Some will be seen on TVs. Some will be seen on phones and tablets. Face it, your stuff is never going to look as pristine as you’d like it to, so why go to all the expense? I’d much rather do the homework and get two or three good, affordable cameras rather than sink my money into one “so-so” pseudo-pro camera. I’m leaving myself in a better position to cover any situation that way. I’m all about being thrifty, knowledgable and prepared, rather than broke and clueless.
I think the reason people like this recommend three-chip cameras is they don’t want to bother training people how to properly use the devices they can afford, or even know how to themselves. There are a few things you can do to better ensure color and clarity from lower-priced cameras. If your camera has a “white balance” setting, learn how it works and use it! This helps the camera know how to properly reproduce the colors in your environment instead of guessing. Even cheaper pocket cameras have these in their setup menus now. Most will have “presets” for different lighting conditions, like sunlight and flourescent lighting. Most will default to “auto.” If it’s capable, do a manual setting before each recording. If your camera can be manually white balanced, point it at something white (or hold a sheet of white paper in front of it) and do a balance. This can make a huge difference, especially in areas lit with CFL or flourescent lightbulbs. Cheaper cameras often have trouble deciphering the color palettes under these conditions.
If your camera doesn’t have a white balance setting, some editing programs may allow you to white balance your clips after the fact. Sony’s Movie Studio and Vegas Pro lines have a white balance plugin that allows you to select a white area from your picture via an “eyedropper” tool, enabling the software to rebalance the color correctly. There are other “color correction” plugins in these software packages that can also help you fine tune your color palette if necessary.
Lighting is another consideration. I see so many videos shot by content marketing “experts” that are such thoughless exercises in “point and shoot” laziness. No consideration is giving to composing a pleasing overall frame or putting the subject under adaquate lighting. If you’re shooting a video indoors, simply turning on the lights you can work via a wall switch is rarely adaquate. Those lights are meant to illuminate, not flatter. You don’t need a pricey lighting kit, which is yet another overzealous recommendation of the previously-mentioned marketing “guru.” Use what you have. Be creative! Have floor lamps or desk lamps? You can often use them to improvise some extra lighting, or even a three-point setup just like a pro. Just be sure to think about how you’re lighting your subject instead of simply flipping a switch.
Sometimes, we “pros” are more interested in strutting our stuff than being helpful. That’s why it always irks me when a pro tells someone they need pro-style gear to be effective. The only purpose that serves is to steer the small fishes out of the content marketing pond, when it could be so effective for them. All they need is some sound, tailored advice and some positive coaching on a few fundimentals that can help them acheive success. That can be the difference between “just doing it for the sake of doing it” and “standing out with thoughtful, engaging and effective content.” No, you don’t need to be a technical stickler to make eye-catching and engaging content. When you have a voice and the desire to create valuable content, the right tools and the know-how to punch through are enough to drive your success — even with a single chip.