Live Streaming Equipment

The 5 Things to Look For When You Buy a Video Camera

This post talks about the features you should be looking for when you make a purchase of a new video camera. It's part of our series on live streaming equipment.

The task of finding your next camera can feel overwhelming. Whether you’re searching for one that costs $400 or $10,000, there seems to be a never-ending list of features and options to evaluate.

To guide you through your search, we’ve pulled together a list of “must-have” and “nice-to-have” features to consider when choosing the right camera for a high-quality live video stream.

"Must-Have" Features

HD Quality

High-definition video simply means that the video is of higher resolution and quality than standard-definition video. And in today’s world, HD quality is essential to any good video stream.  

Devices that can output and record a 1920x1080 or 1080x720 signal will make your picture clear and crisp.

If you’re on a tight budget, it’s easy to find an option for about $199. Your purchase will soon justify itself—the benefits of providing your community with a stream they actually want to watch will quickly outweigh the cost.

Clean HDMI or SDI Output

Not every camera is able to send a clean HD signal through their video output ports. There are various ways this can happen. The data that some cameras send out keeps the LCD display icons on the stream. Some cameras send a poorer quality signal and some don’t send any video output at all.

Screen_Shot_2015-12-30_at_4.37.59_PM.pngDuring your camera search, be sure to check your video output specs and look for one that promises to send a valid HDMI or SDI signal (see above).

In most cases, DSLR cameras (ones that are primarily photographic but can double as a video camera) are not capable of sending a clean signal to a streaming device, so it’s best to avoid these when considering your options.

"Nice-to-have" Features

Optical Zoom

There are two types of camera zooms: optical and digital.

Screen_Shot_2015-12-30_at_4.38.16_PM.pngOptical zoom means that the lens itself zooms in on your picture, without sacrificing any resolution quality. Digital zoom, however, is the ability for the camera (not the lens) to zoom in on the image that the lens has already captured in the frame, leaving you with a lower quality image the more you zoom in.

As you can probably figured out, optical zooming is preferred to digital zooming, as you won’t sacrifice any of the image quality.

In the example specs above, the zoom capability is “Optical: 10x”, meaning that the lens can zoom in 10 times closer from its shallowest field of view.

Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is a feature that reduces the likelihood that you will stream a blurry video. It works by automatically adjusting the camera lens to compensate for user-caused camera movement.

Though this feature isn’t crucial, if you’re planning to shoot on a fixed tripod it’s a wonderful asset that will reduce turbulence for on-the-go streamers (those using shoulder-mounted cameras or filming sporting events and on-the-fly interviews).

High Frame Rate

Frame rate measures the number of individual images that make up each second of a video clip. Finding a camera with a high frame rate is essential to a good viewing experience when filming moving objects.

Why? For sporting events and dynamic environments, a high frame rate means that the camera literally captures more individual frames, creating – quite literally – a more complete video.

30 fps (frames per second) is suitable for stationary shots, with limited subject movement. 60 fps is more ideal for events with a lot of activity and camera movement.

Now that you understand a bit more about what various camera features mean, you’re well prepared for your camera search. If you’d like to know which cameras we’ve tested and recommend, check out this list.

Final Thoughts + Further Reading

If you are looking for equipment for your AV setup and don't know where to get started, you might want to check out our Buyer's Guide to Live Video Streaming or our Equipment Guide for Live Streaming.

Here's some further reading you might find interesting:

The Best Live Streaming Equipment for Every Level

The Best Video Cameras for Live Streaming

What is a Video Switcher?

The Best Strategy For Buying Live Video Equipment

How to Add Lower Thirds on a Roland V1-HD

Decimator MD-HX: A Customer Review

Roland V-1HD Video Switcher: A Customer Review

The 5 Things to Look For When You Buy a Camera

Magnus VT-4000: A Customer Review

Image Source: Juno Namkoong Lee via Flickr

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