Image of a Panasonic HC-770 HD camcorder
Your choice of camera and accessories is key to the success of your project

Taking care to make the right technology choices

It can’t be stressed highly enough that a great deal of thought should go into the process of choosing a set of equipment that suits your needs and your budget. While it’s possible to spend a great deal of money on the latest specification video camera or camcorder and accessories, the chances are that if you’re embarking on a fairly modest project this won’t be necessary. Today’s video equipment is very good indeed, and may well be perfect for your needs.

Remember to keep your objective in focus

Of course, even before you make steps to acquire your first items of equipment, you really ought to stop and think about what it is you’re setting out to do. Perhaps your intention is quite simply to capture the memories of elderly members of your family while you still have the chance (how many of us have left it too late?) and prepare lasting artefects that can be enjoyed by future generations of your family. On the other hand, you might be a member of a local community history group whose project is to collect the reminiscences of elderly members in your neighbourhood. Then again, you might directing a funded research project whose aim is to collect video recordings of a professional technical standard. The equipment you acquire is determined by what you aim to achieve and how much money you have to spend.

The task of recording oral history interviews on video cannot be fulfilled until you have acquired a basic set of equipment.

At the very least, you’ll need four types of video equipment and accessories. These are as follows:

  • a video camera or camcorder
  • a good, sturdy tripod
  • a microphone
  • a pair of headphones

If you aim to record interviews to a standard that people will enjoy watching, you need to budget for a good product in each of these four categories. Why? Let’s consider each of them in turn:

Video Camera or Camcorder

Whatever your aim, your work will always benefit from sharp, well-resolved pictures and sound, so your camcorder should be very good indeed. Remember that today’s viewers are accustomed to viewing high-resolution TV and films so anything that doesn’t match these standards will immediately suffer. And the resolution of video pictures on TV and on film is improving all the time. You can’t afford to record precious material designed to stand the test of time on inferior-quality equipment. Buy the best specification camera or camcorder you can afford.

Image of Velbon Videomate 638 Tripod
Low cost Velbon Videomate 638 is a good beginners’ tripod choice


Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the importance of the tripod. There are those who attempt to interview their subject by hand-holding a camera or camcorder. You’ll never achieve a recording that fulfils its aim because a hand-held camera recording will be wobbly, at times out of focus and unpleasant to view. You’ll also get a tired arm and hand after a couple of minutes.

A tripod provides the camera with a stable platform which, in turn, produces consistently framed output. The working tripod will consist of two components – the head and the legs.

The pan and tilt head enables the camera to be mounted firmly and facilitating panning moves (side to side) and tilting moves (up and down).

This is mounted onto the tripod legs which, when spread, form the operating platform for the camera. Don’t skimp on choice of tripod.

Image of Rode NTG-1 Directional Condenser "Shotgun" Microphone Kit
Rode NTG-1 Directional Condenser “Shotgun” Microphone Kit


The microphone picks up the sound waves coming from the interviewee and converts them into an electrical signal which, when input to the camcorder, is combined with the picture source and written to file on the camera’s internal flash disc or memory card. Always use an external microphone. Never rely on the built-in microphone found on the camera.

A specialised external microphone can be placed close to the interviewee resulting in much clearer, better defined sound.

A camera-top microphone will not provide you with the quality you record when capturing the spoken word – especially if your interviewee is speaking more quietly than you had hoped.

Image of Sony MDR-ZX310 On-Ear Headphones
Sony MDR-ZX310 – low cost, good quality On-Ear Headphones


Another absolutely essential piece of equipment is a pair of headphones, without which you have no ability to monitor the sound that is generated by the microphone and passed to the camera or camcorder for recording.

If there’s a slight connect fault – producing a buzz on the audio track, for instance – you’ll never know about it until it’s too late. Headphones allow you to prevent problems later and to experience the sound as it is generated. At the very least, use a cheap set of ear-buds of the sort provided with today’s smartphones.

These are god quality by default simply because they’re designed for high-quality music reproduction. No excuses!

The importance of choosing a camera or camcorder with microphone input and headphone output

This is a matter often overlooked by users and potential users of digital video cameras and camcorders; people ask us why we feel it so necessary that the device has both a mic input and a headphone output. For reasons partly explained above, your recording cannot depend on the camera’s inferior built-in mic and you risk much if you don’t have the ability to monitor the incoming sound as it is being recorded.

Be aware that a large number of camcorders possess both of these facilities, so it’s important to read the manufacturer’s specifications carefully to check whether these features are included. Please think very carefully when choosing a video camera; you’ll be severely compromising your efforts if you don’t have these.

Choose the best your money can buy

With video technology now changing at a faster rate than ever before, it’s not easy to make suggestions regarding equipment that might fit suit your aims. However, the good news is that the cost of buying video gear capable of recording to a very high quality (equivalent to that which we commonly see on TV) has never been lower. You can get a lot of quality for not a lot of money – in relative terms, at least.