A couple of good questions surfaced yesterday during Kay Teehan’s (soon to be archived) EdTechConnect webinar: What camera should I buy? How do I connect my camera to a computer?
I will offer a few answers below, but I hope some of you will also add your thoughts and experiences. Though this might not be very high in the order of thinking skills, it is a fundamental link in the chain for many types of digital stories.
Let’s split the camera question in two and answer the connection question with each type of camera.
Digital still cameras have some sort of little flash memory card that acts as the “film.” You can usually access these through a USB cable to the computer. The card then may show up like a thumb drive or even trigger a program on the computer that will offer to download and store the pictures. Since camera cables can be proprietary and easily forgotten or lost, I carry a card reader in my camera bag and invested in multi card readers for the media labs in my former schools in order to be able to turn any of the many styles of memory cards into thumb drives and easily download their contents. Still cameras can also take passable movies, though usually limited to thirty seconds. These can be downloaded and imported into your editing software just like the stills. I find that I am more likely to have the still camera handy than the DV camcorder when my granddaughter is performing. Download AddieCounts.MOV
I don’t know if there are analog camcorders (8 millimeter, VHS, Compact VHS) on the store shelves anymore, but avoid them if there are. Stick with digital and mini-DV tape. You will have to decide on what balance to strike between quality and price.
I feel that any DV camcorder with a digital out port is good enough for digital storytelling in a school. Three chip cameras are only worth the investment if your work will end up on the cable channel or you can really notice the difference. In addition to a variety of brands and models that we bought for our media labs in my former district, I saw a vast array of family camcorders come through the door. I can’t say I ever saw one whose quality I would label as inferior. DV camcorders now come in basically two “flavors,” going on three: tape, DVD, and hard drive. Almost every Digital 8 and mini-DV tape camcorder sold in the last five years or so have a tiny FireWire/iLink/IEEE 1394 port hiding behind a one of the little trap doors tucked here and there around the camera body.
You may have to look hard to find it. Some cameras come with the connecting cable and some don’t. PC users need a cable with the same small four pin connector at both ends. Mac users need one with four pins on the camera side and six on the computer side. These may look a little like USB cables, but they are not, so never force a cable into a port. Keep in mind that many DV camcorders also have still photo capability and have a USB port to export photos from its memory stick. A bit newer on the scene are camcorders that write to a mini-DVD. My limited experience with them had us putting the DVD into the computer (slot loading DVD owners should NOT unless it’s a full size DVD) and importing the video files from disk. The third and newest “flavor” on the scene actually has a hard drive built into the camera. I have absolutely no experience with these, but I am sure that they must connect via cable and just show up like any external hard drive.
Not to forget non-digital media, you can still scan any piece of paper or photograph. I encourage doing that at high resolutions for better video quality (see “Scanning Basics and Beyond” in the December archive). You can import VHS tape a couple of different ways. Many newer DV camcorders have “pass through” capability. You can connect the output from a VCR or laser disc player to the camera’s input jack and run the signal through the camera and out the FireWire/IEEE 1394 cable into a computer. Check your DV camcorder’s manual and/or menu screen to see if it has this capability. We also invested in media converters in my former labs more so for exporting the final project to VHS than importing original footage. All of our classrooms have VHS players and the export could be done in real time.
This is a perfect opportunity for many of you to share your experience with cameras and importing. Please leave a comment and let us know what you use and how.