canon2-vixia-hf-m300Content is king when it comes to social media marketing.  To me, multimedia trumps the written word in social media effectiveness.  Your passion and essence can often get lost in a blog, but a great podcast or YouTube video can let it shine through.

That said, the tendency is to go out and buy the first and cheapest video camera you can find to get the job done.  Take a little time to consider what you’re getting before you make the leap.  You can do great things on a shoestring if you know what you’re looking for.

Given a choice, I’d always opt for a “camcorder” (the old traditional video camera design) versus one of those small, pocket-sized cameras like the Flip or the Sony Bloggie.  Yes, they may be slightly more expensive, but good things usually are.  Trust me, they’re worth it.  Why?

Better lens and sensor.  You may not ever think this, but the size of your lens and the electronic sensor in your camera matters a lot.  Teeny tiny lenses like you’d find on a cell phone or one of those Flip-style cameras pose certain disadvantages.  They let less light in, so they’re usually lousy in lower-light situations.  The smaller sensors are also usually too small to get a great HD picture, no matter what resolution they “record” in.  Not every 1080p capable camera actually sports a 1080p sensor — they just upscale the lower-resolution picture to 1080p.  That video’s going to look terrible.

Better zoom.  This is a big advantage if you plan to use your camcorder for more than just talking head shots.  If you want to do any sort of videos where you’re demonstrating a process or want to highlight something outside of normal camera reach, a zoom is a necessity.  Pocket HD cameras have, almost always, terrible zoom.  There are two kinds of zoom — optical and digital.  Digital is, almost always, terrible.  Don’t use it.  It cannibalizes your picture quality by approximating a zoom by cropping the picture.  Always go for an optical zoom if you can, even if it’s not very long.  It uses movable glass in the lens to do the heavy lifting, keeping your picture quality intact.  Obviously, the traditional style HD camcorders have more room on board for the lens movement needed for a longer reach.  This is a good thing.  (Note: if your camera has both optical and digital zoom and you have the ability to disable the digital zoom — do it.  Helps avoid the temptation to use it in the field.)

Better image stabilization.  You can have the steadiest hands in the world, and you’re still going to need good image stabilization.  There are, again, two kinds — digital and optical.  Optical is always better, and it’s something most pocket cameras don’t have.  Digital IS makes electronic compensations for shakiness by cannibalizing your picture of resolution and clarity, and even then it doesn’t always make it better.  If your camera has zoom, optical IS is especially important, as zooming in amplifies handheld shake.  My Canon Vixia HF M300 features great optical IS, plus a special powered IS that I can engage at long zoom lengths to provide rock-steady picture from a distance.  (And because it has a great sensor, I still get true 1080p picture even after all the stabilization kicks in!)

Better battery life.  When you make a camera slim, you leave less room for a battery.  That means charging more often and lasting less while you’re shooting.  Many traditional-style HD camcorders like the HF M300 feature batteries that clip onto the camera, and larger capacity batteries can be purchased to make long recording sessions a no-stress affair.

Better screens.  I’ve used many different modern low-cost cameras, and one thing that plagues most of these Flip-style cameras is their screen.  It’s usually fixed into the back of the camera, which makes framing shots in difficult situations all the more difficult.  I’ve had to use mirrors when placing Flip cameras in weird places.  They also make it more difficult to do video blogs.  Many traditional HD cameras have screens that flip out and rotate, making it easier to see the screen in tight situations.  They also make a video mirror when you turn the camera on yourself for video blogs.

Better sound.  On-board microphones suck.  They all do.  Rarely have I seen an exception.  However, if you’re stuck using the on-board mic, they’re usually better on traditional HD camcorders versus a pocket version.  On cameras that feature microphone jacks, the traditional HD camcorders are usually more user-friendly and adjustable than their pocket cousins.

Yes, there may be a good $100+ difference between a pocket camera and a traditional style HD camcorder like the Canon Vixia line.  It’s worth it.  Trust me.  You’re gaining versatility, quality and consistancy, in a model that will last a long time.  Plus, with the advent of flash card recording, traditional style HD camcorders are smaller than ever, many can still fit into a pocket, purse or small camera bag.  Size matters, so make a little bit more of an investment.  Your payoff will be worth the effort.