Videography for kayakers

I’m contemplating my first video camera in the VERY near future and would welcome any personal feedback from filmmaking kayakers.

I want to memorialize kayaking trips for personal satisfaction and to shoot some short educational videos for a Kayak Camping class I’m teaching this summer in St. Louis.

Here’s the basic requirements:

*Excellent image stabilization to accommodate on-the-water shooting and occasional handheld land-based photography.

*A viewfinder, because if I’m shooting on rough water, it’ll probably be through an Aquapac, which doesn’t have room for a flip-out LCD.

*At least a 10X optical zoom.

*(Ideally), inputs for an external mic/lights and output for 'phones.

*Price in the $1,000 to $1,500 range.

I’d considered the JVC Everio series, but they got bad reviews for image stabilization, and that’s a dealbreaker. Now looking at the Canon HV20.

My final question concerns format: mini-DV cassette (best image quality, but short record time and hassle with changing tapes on the water) or 60±gig hard drive (nonlinear, in-camera editing capability, but possibly more fragile)?

Any advice would be SO appreciated.

my experience
i have only a bit of personal experience as I usually veer towards still photos, but have been involved with a few paddling film projects as well. in my experience the canons seem to hold up the best and shoot good video even in challenging conditions. i’d go with mini-DV. it isn’t hard to switch tapes quickly, and they are easy to store.

Some things to think about

– Last Updated: Apr-10-08 5:21 PM EST –

Go with the mini DV tapes. Hard drive cameras compress the video into a MP2 format. The camera does not have a large computer in it so the compression is not very good. From what I have heard the in camera editors are so basic they are not of much use. You can not find a quality editor for MP2 files. Some camera makers have their own editing software but it is not very good. MP2 is a distribution format (DVD’s are in MP2) not an editing form.

With good editing software the MP2 must be converted and expanded to an editable format. Then recompressed back to a MP2 (DVD) format for distribution. Quality goes down with each step.

Find a good editing software you want to use such as Final Cut Express or iMovie for Mac or Pinnacle (which is now owned by Avid) for PC, than make sure the camera and format you get works with it. Things must work as a together as a team you will have nothing to show.

If you are Mac based check out this discussion board for Final Cut Express

Good luck and post a sample when it’s finished.

I shot paddling films
as well. Up until four months ago I have been using a Sony Handycam and a OS Helmetcam, here are a few shorts that I have posted if you are interested:

Last Christmas I treated myself to a Canon HV20 and I have been loving the upgrade.

If you do get the Canon, do yourself a favor and get yourself a high quality wideangle lens, I do 80% of my shooting through mine. Like most other cameras the built in mikes are horrible, get a shotgun mike that mounts on the shoe. Here is a link to a forum site that deals with the HV20, they have helped me out a great deal. Good luck filming. As far as editing programs, I use Vegas Platinum on my PC. Be prepared, the HD needs alot of ram.


I use a basic DV camcorder
Canon ZR500. I bought it for the following reasons:

  1. Canon’s reputation with optics (upheld–turn the ridiculous digital zoom OFF)
  2. image stabilization
  3. good battery life
  4. W I D E S C R E E N format

    I’ll lean toward the newer crop of hard-drive (not DVD) HD camcorders when I’m ready to replace this one in the next year or two. I like the idea of extended recording time on the hard drive and no fear of recording over something you’ve already shot.

    I think the DV tape thing is a PITA, especially when using Final Cut Express (time code breaks if you don’t record the tape continuously–so much for reviewing footage you just shot). I’ve also had issues with jammed tapes with my first DV camcorder (attributed to using tapes of different manufacture/lubrication, thus gumming up the drive, according to Canon…).

    That being said, the ZR500 has taken some knocks, works flawlessly, and provides pretty good image quality, even on my big screen.

    I saved myself a few bucks by resisting the urge to buy the model that included a digital still camera as I already have D-SLR for that purpose that blows away the quality you’ll get from any camcorder.

    At the end of every trip I put together a nice DVD for my paddling partners, complete with a screening at my house. It’s a lot of fun to relive the trips (but I wish one of my partners would do the same so I could see myself in the movies once in a while!).

    Here’s a link to my website where I posted some video of paddling through the Devils Island sea caves in the Apostle Islands last year:

    Have fun documenting your memories!


I also wonder whether you can take
videos that will approach the beauty and detail of what you can do with a still camera. I see tourists panning around with their video cameras, and I know what they’re getting. Mediocrity.

High quality still shots are really pretty easy. High quality video is something that most consumer video cameras just are not going to be able to provide. Watch Globe Trekker and see the difference between what they do with their ultra-professional cameras (backed up by editing) and what they do with consumer video cameras.

If you disagree, just give me a link to video done on-the-run with a consumer camera. I just got done reviewing such video, compared to the stills I was getting with my little Canon Elph. The videos are fun for the action component, but my stills are totally dominant for showing a real image of what was there.

Who’s going to spend $10K on a video camera just to shoot their vacation or kids’ soccer games? Consumer grade cams can provide acceptable results for general viewing, but they were never intended to be used for broadcast or cinematic presentations.

I think where a lot of folks fall down is in the editing mode–just look at all the crap that’s on YouTube. There are volumes upon volumes of raw unedited home movie footage out there sitting on the original tapes because people just haven’t taken the time to figure out how to move it to their computer, edit it into a presentable format, and share it in a media that’s accessible to family and friends. It’s too bad, really, because today’s software running on consumer-grade computers makes it pretty easy after one invests the time to overcome the learning curve.

Well, that’s what I mean. Still cameras
approach professional standards much more closely than consumer video cameras. That’s why I recommend that if people want to preserve high quality impressions of their river experiences, they stick to still camera photography.

Go HD!
You don’t need to spend 10k on a video camera to get great image quality anymore. The latest crop of HD CMOS based cameras look stunning. I have a sub-$1000 Canon HG-10 that shoots amazing 1080i video. It has a 40 gig hard drive which records 5hrs in the highest resolution. There is no need to go with mini-DV. You don’t have to take my word for it, go out and look at them for yourself!

Question remains, do one’s river, lake,
and ocean experiences routinely lend themselves to video? Even in my mostly whitewater circles, video is mostly used to capture laughable mistakes.

Even as an old, mostly-open-boater, I don’t have room or time for video. It doesn’t help me when I am paddling down the Dolores or the Kennebec, and SUDDENLY see a shot I want to save. Maybe in the distant future, when a tiny video camera is attached to my head, constantly saving everything it sees in high definition… Maybe at that time I will feel I can just goggle around, and edit out the results later on at home. But today, I could revert to my old Minolta Weathermatic 35, knowing that as long as the light is good, I will end up with excellent, sometimes outstanding pictures.

HV30 has better zoom control thingie …
… and Ewa-Marine would possibly a tougher and nicer waterproof bag/housing for it. And I’d skip anything without a mic input in case you wanted to get more serious with it when on land.

HD is very versatile – check out the stills people have posted from it:

image stabilization
I’ve shot a lot with a PD-150 and FCPRO. You would want to turn off your image stabilization while on the kayak. Most pros don’t use it because if you want to pan, you will get a lag in the pan until the the software releases it’s pull towards holding the image in the stable position. You will get a more jumpy looking video in the boat in bouncy water with in on. It’s meant for shooting a stable subject while hand held. You asked a mouthful. I’m not in tune with all the latest models but the image quality has improved enormously in low priced cameras - some with built in storage although it’s fairly compressed. You’re on the wrong forum. Go to for actual advice. Big learning curve in video and editing. And surprisingly bigger learning curve in getting good sound. Good luck.

Hi def
Most of the cheaper crop of Hi-def cameras are actually shooting in DV 640 x 480 and interplating it up to a higher pixel count just like photo shop does when you inlarge an image at the same resolution. Most of them are not native Hi-def from the chips. they can advertise it as a hi-def camera because that’s what they are delivering in the end. If you like it and it makes nice images that’s all that counts. And then to capture it on the fly on a hard drive, it’s highly compressed which means less quality or definition. A true Hi-def camera capturing the pixel count that yours is doing would take four times the storage that yours would require.

I swim too much
to take an expensive camera on the water. Besides, you can get surprisingly good results with a cheap waterproof camera. These were taken with my Pentax Optio W20, edited with Microsoft MovieMaker

Quality is good up to 640 x 480. I use a 2 GB memory card. Not professional quality, but hey - its a canoe trip.

As much as I like video, I do agree with G2D - you can’t beat a good still shot.

Canon Hi Def
Just picked up a nice Canon hi def camera (HV30 for work) cost around $800 shoots to mini dv tape and actually has a 1/8" mic in, headphone jack, as well as the hotshoe for accessories.

I would avoid the hard drive camcorders for all the previous mentioned reasons. The hard drive format just doesn’t work yet.

My only concern about this camera would be it’s durability if it’s geting used roughly. Our old Sony camera were work horses (the trv series) and the Canon feels a bit more deliciate. The new Sony cameras (hdr-96?) are absolute junk. I would recommend avoiding Sony because of the lack of accessories and durability issues. We have 60 Sony cameras (I work at a school) and the new models are all dying after 2 years or so, the old Sonys lasted forever.

Hope this helps…