Record – on video

my_roots_my_music_image_2As video cameras become better quality and more reasonably priced, more and more people are naturally wanting to record their interviews on video rather than audio. 

There are plenty of ways of capturing video available – many smart phones have good cameras, and we’ve all seen the footage captured on their phones by citizen journalists from flashpoints around the globe.

Oral history interviewers should aim for better but, unless you are very experienced, be aware of buying a very expensive camera. It takes an experienced cameraman with knowledge of how to operate all the knobs and buttons to get the best out of such cameras. The cameras I’m recommending give excellent results in automatic mode and can be used to great effect by rookies with minimum tuition.

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Ironically the most important part of a video recording to get right is the sound. Bad pictures can be replaced, but poor sound can’t. It’s important to get the microphone close to the subject and the built in camera mic is too far away to do this satisfactorily, so as a bare minimum you’ll need a camera with separate mic and headphone sockets. However I do know people with limited budgets who use cameras that record high-quality AVCHD files that do not have a separate socket for an external microphone. They get their high quality sound by using the camera in conjunction with a good quality audio recorder and microphone that can be close to the subject. They clap at the beginning of each take (or you could do this more formally with a clapper board) to allow for easy syncing of the sound in the editing process, where the good quality audio recording can replace the sound recorded on the camera.

In terms of editing programmes you can get blinded by the PR. There’s no doubt that Final Cut ProX on an Apple Mac or Adobe Premiere on a PC are great, but they are expensive options.

I must admit to now using Final Cut Pro, and it is excellent and easy to use but for years for all my professional work I used either Adobe Premiere Elements or Sony Vegas Movie Studio Suite, which comes with Sound Forge Studio for your audio editing.


This equipment list (to download, right click and select ‘save as’) is one that I am currently recommending to those who attend my British Library/Oral History Society Lives in Focus course. The camcorders I have chosen may not look impressive but they provide full HD widescreen quality pictures, and even a beginner can produce excellent results.