Digital Video Camera for making computer training videos -- What do I need?

I’ve got two questions here. One’s factual, so I’ll start it out here. The second one’s opinion, so I presume this will eventually get moved to IMHO. Assuming it doesn’t just sink like a stone.

I want to do some training videos for software I sell. I’m set on the software side, but not having kids, I don’t own a video camera. I see all sorts of options out there. The videos I’m making will be screen captures and “news desk” sorts of things done in front of a green-screen or something similar. I don’t have tv-quality acting or speaking talents, so I’ll need to be able to capture multiple takes, preferably away from the computer. Final output will be in two forms: some sort of downloadable file from my web site, and a (video) DVD included in the package. I’d like these to look at least semi-professional, so I want something more than webcam quality.

But I have a very, very low camera budget, preferably well under $1000.

So–what are the minimum acceptable specs for a video camera whose eventual output is DVD? Does it have to be digital, or is analog source better? What’s the minumum resolution, framerate, and other criteria I don’t know to ask about?

Second, for the opinion side – any recommendations? I’m pretty insistent that the connection be FireWire instead of USB2, just for the smoothness issue (anyone who’s going to tell me that they’re equivalent speeds–try it first). Otherwise, have folks done this? What did you use? Did you like it?

Video production takes a camera to shoot it, editing software to put it together, burning software to put it on dvd and the knowledge of how to do it all. You are very unlikely to achieve this inexpensively.

May I recommend contacting a school or someone learning how to do it via cragslist and have them do your project for a fee. You will ilkely get better results and everyone will win all the way around.

In my experience the techical purchase will be the least of your worries; the knowledge of good video production (lighting, editing, audio, storytelling) are what will doom your project.

Do YOU have to be in it? If it’s for software training, sometimes you can just record what’s happening on the computer itself and provide audio narration. The camera becomes moot if you take that approach.

If you want a camera, any digital camcorder should do. Even a $200 MiniDV camcorder would give you far better quality than even the best webcam, and FireWire is trivially easy to find. Your resolution would be limited to 480i, which will look fine on standard TVs but ugly on HDTVs.

If you want better quality, there are high-definition camcorders out there capable of recording a couple hours of video and they can be found for under or around $1000. Even the lowest HD definition (720p, or 1280x720) is above what DVDs can store (480i, or usually 720x480), so that should be more than enough quality.

Unless you’re willing to invest thousands of dollars more to get studio/professional-level equipment, this should be fine. The remainder of the quality would depend on your lighting setup, your skill with the camera, your microphone, etc.

Here are a few cheap HD camcorders. (They’re CNet’s suggestions, not mine)

I’m with Reply on the sreenshot only approach, depending on what exactly it is you’re trying to convey.

Since you’re up front about not being a professional speaker/actor, I’m not sure you are going to be able to achieve the sort of professional results that would warrant using the green screened news desk style approach. I have made a few basic training videos using CamStudio and have been generally happy with the results (sound of my voice notwithstanding).

If I were going to produce a commercial product, I would probably try to do as much of the “walkthrough” training with on-screen recordings and use Flash animation for the rest, but obviously different types of instruction warrant different styles, and there may very well be a goodreason why you want to use the live approach.

Most software tutorial videos I’ve seen are captures of the monitor as you use it, with narration recorded either during or afterward. It’s easy enough to find software that does this for you. Some show highlight where your mouse pointer is and when it clicks.

Some examples here. (Some links go straight to video clips)

An example of this kind of software can be found here, but I’m sure there are many others available.

Don’t get too worked up over my appearing in the video – we’re talking a few seconds at most, and I’ll get an actor if I need it. Besides, I’m so ruggedly handsome that members of both genders swoon when they see me.

I’ve got experience (and software) for the back end: compositing, editing, that sort of thing, but in past projects I’ve always been given the source video in post-camera form. I have no idea what created it.

Anyway, thanks for all the comments. It sounds like I need a low-end HD camera. Anyone got any recommendations? (And mods, we’re opinion now, so feel free to toss me over to CS).