Zen Gardening

The last time I bought a video camera was in 1999. It was to document our first trip to America, a two centre run round Boston and New York. It was an amazing trip, and one that I won’t forget any time soon. New York in those edgy, pre-millenial days was some place to be, and the red moon I captured rising over 666 Broadway seemed to sum up the weird feeling perfectly. I’d promised that I would cut those shots down to a short film in time for the New Year. Needless to say, those tapes are still in my store at home, untouched in ten years. It’s always going to be a thing to do when I have more time. And don’t get me started about the Australia footage that’s sitting in boxes beside it.

I love that camera. It’s a Sony MiniDV, and it cost us a fortune at the time – getting on for a grand. I blanch at the thought of spending that much dosh even now. But it’s earned it’s keep. It’s been to the States, Oz, Africa and Europe, and still gets used as a back-up camera for interview shoots. It’s small enough to tuck unobtrusively into a corner, and works brilliantly for cutaways and closeups. It’s got a decent lens and a good optical zoom. And the big battery I bought for it still gives nearly 4 hours recording time. And of course, plugged into the Mac it still does the business as a transfer dock for the Super 8 transfers I get done for films like Code Grey and the upcoming Time Out.

But of course it’s been ten years. So I’ve been humming and harring about getting a new camera. Clare’s Panasonic shoots HD video, and that’s fine, but it’s not MY camera. And much as I believe in the “what’s yours is mine” ethos, there are some boundaries that it’s uncomfortable to cross. I don’t touch her laptop, for example. It would be like going through her knicker drawer. There needs to be some respect for privacy. The Panny is hers, and she’s doing great work with it. And video is my field, after all.

I have therefore been mooning around Currys and Comet, eyeing up the camcorders, astonished by the drop in size and price. £350 would seem to get a hand-filling, sexy little number with a decent hard drive that would stow in a bag nicely.

But at the same time… they’re still consumer machines. And I’ve had my head turned by Dom’s lovely Sony cam, a professional piece of kit that he uses for paid gigs. If I ever needed it, he would let me borrow it without question. So really, I have no need of another video camera. The arguments go round and in my head, distilling down to the simple phrase, “Don’t need. WANT.”

Then I came across an Amazon link for the Kodak Zx1, an example of the “good enough” school of basic pick up and play vidcams that have none of the frills or functionality that I was used to. But it shoots HD video to an SD card, runs off a couple of rechargable AA batteries, has stills capability, and is small enough to go in a pocket. It’s the same size as my first-gen iPod. It was on sale.

£50.

Readership, I bought one. I very nearly bought two.

The picture quality is redonkulously good for something of this form factor. It’s fixed lens is sharp and clear. It won’t do macro, and barely has a zoom worth talking about, but so what? It’s the complete opposite to the kind of thing I wanted, and all the better for it. It will be used this summer for a short film mixing HD video and Super 8, and in the meantime for filmlets and squibs that I can shoot, cut and upload while an idea’s still fresh. I’m excited all over again.

Here’s the first fruit of my labours. Clare wanted documentary proof that I’d done the mowing on a day off. So that’s what I did.

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Rob

Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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