What to bring for a conference: Video camera or photo camera

In terms of quality the best thing to do for documentation is to bring your big SLR, your big HD video recorder, your big audio field recorder, microphones, tripods, etc. But when going to a conference on the other side of the world, carrying stuff around for 14 hours per day and moving between rooms every 30 minutes, this isn’t going to happen. So what to bring for documentation?

Its a long time ago since I gave up on doing pure audio recordings during conferences. I just never listen to the things I record, mainly because it is too painful to sort out what the different files are. It is just much easier with something visual that you can browse through. Hence if I want to record audio, I record a video to have some visuals to go along with it. The audio result is usually not very good, but having something is better than having nothing.

But I am always uncertain as to whether I should use a small photo camera or a small video recorder. This boils down to whether I want to have decent photos and poor video, or decent video and mediocre photos. Often I have chosen the first, bringing along my small photo camera (currently a Nikon Coolpix S7). This camera is extremely portable and fits nicely into a pocket. The photo quality is not great, but not too bad either. It doesn’t perform very well in low light, and the lens is not particularly wide, but the overall size is a clear winner. The problem, however, is that the video quality is so poor that it only rarely can shown to people later on. So during NIME 2010 in Sydney, I decided to bring my new small video camera (Sanyo Xacti HD-2000) and see how it works as a conference camera, both for pictures and videos.

Here is a quick wrap up of what I have found so far:

  • It starts super-fast
  • Video quality is (obviously) much, much better than the the Coolpix
  • Photo quality is (obviously) poorer than the Coolpix, but the total
    image quality (photo + video) is better
  • The shotgun grip is very useful for taking pictures, making it less obvious that I am running around with a camera
  • The zoom and low-light features are great for such a small device. Even in poorly lit auditoriums I manage to get a close up of the person talking without too much blurring
  • The size of the camera is quite a lot bigger. I do manage to put it in my pocket, but it is not particularly comfortable
  • It records HD video directly into MPEG-4 files with H.264 compression, so files can be play back instantly on all systems (compare this to all the mess working with AVCHD files!)
  • It is clearly larger than the Coolpix, so I usually put it back in my backpack when not in use

All in all I am quite happy about using the HD-2000 as a conference camera. We’ll see if I cange my mind over the next couple of days.

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Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.