Tools for Teachers

My Top 11 Cameras for Classroom Recording

My Top 11 Cameras for Classroom Recording

Looking for the right camcorder to record talking head lectures, classes or school labs? Check out my selection of the best webinar cameras, consumer and pro camcorders, document cameras and GoPro. Find out which one fits your use cases, tech specifications and budget.

In the era of video lectures and interactive experiences, decent recording equipment has become an indispensable tool for the modern teacher or instructional designer. Whether you are involved with blended learning or flipped classroom concepts, or just looking to improve your whiteboard recordings, you need to think of a suitable camcorder or camcorders. The most common scenarios include classroom filming, talking heads, lab/whiteboard recording, and more. In an attempt to create a matrix of solutions, I am mapping out the tasks with versatile camera types – webcams, consumer camcorders, professional devices, document cams, and GoPro gadgets. Now, let’s look deeper into each category and see what’s out there for a tech-savvy trainer.

Webcams for Talking Heads

Aside from embedded cameras of dubious quality, there is a wide selection of external cams employed in webinars and video lectures. If you have a talking head scenario in mind, that’s your soft option. A typical webcam is compact, yet feature-packed. Some specimens – like a Logitech I recently used – provide live stereo and wide-angle lenses, as well as multiple features to tweak and tune: frame rate, color, brightness, resolution, and more. Here are a few samples that I’ve laid my hands on or seen in action.

1. Logitech Pro Webcam C920

Logitech Pro Webcam C920

Logitech Pro Webcam C920

What’s inside:

  • Widescreen full HD 1080p video recording and calling, functions as a desktop or laptop webcam
  • H.264 video compression, dual stereo mics with noise reduction, and low-light correction
  • Video and photo capture tools, face and motion detection
  • 720p HD Skype calling and full HD recording for Windows
  • Works on Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, and Android
  • Tripod-ready clip for laptops and LCD monitors.

Here’s a brief video review of the cam. This clip also recommends a mike to go with the Logitech Pro C920 for improved sound quality:

Upside: For a relatively low price, you receive nice video quality, 15 megapixels, and smooth autofocus. The cam sits well on top of a monitor. Plus, it has this screw mount that gives you a ‘real pro’ camera look and feel once perched on any standard tripod. I tried that before getting myself some larger recording gear!

Downside: You might want to get closer to the camera for noise-free sound, so if the audio part is critical it’s advisable to use an external mic. Interested to learn more about standalone sound recorders? Read on in my microphone review.

Best for: Professional and amateur talking heads, video bloggers, lecturers and frequent video conference attendees.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

2. Genius WideCam F100

Genius WideCam F100

Genius WideCam F100

What’s inside:

  • A 120-degree ultra-wide angle webcam
  • 1080p Full HD recording (up to 30 frames per second)
  • In-built stereo mike
  • 12MP interpolation photo
  • 3ft extension cable
  • Manual focus with glass lens
  • 360 degree rotation

Here’s a video piece emphasizing the wide angle features of the camera:

Upside: The key feature of this cam is the wide focal lens. Need to record your whole class interacting with the teacher? That’s your choice. Nobody will be left out of the picture – literally.

Downside: Don’t expect outstanding results with low-light recording. The cam does its job well and is a great value for money – for even better picture you might want to look into the higher range.

Best for: Group and conference capture, classroom recording, tutorials and explanations.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

3. Microsoft LifeCam Cinema

Microsoft LifeCam Cinema

Microsoft LifeCam Cinema

What’s inside:

  • High precision lens for sharp quality
  • Accurate face tracking
  • TrueColor Technology™ for bright and colorful video
  • 720p HD video chat
  • Smooth sound recording
  • 360 degree rotation

Here’s a video piece emphasizing the wide angle features of the camera:

Upside: Great choice for small room webcasts. The TrueColor features keep this device ahead of the game in the 720p range. It’s totally plug-and-play – and yes, it runs smoothly on PC and Mac. Also, LifeCam includes an awesome mic for this price range.

Downside: The cam’s autofocus is too sensitive, in my opinion. It keeps re-focusing when the slightest movement occurs.

Best for: Teachers and lecturers, whiteboard recordings, sound-sensitive lectures and webcasts.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

Consumer Camcorders for Whiteboard Recording and Beyond

Portable video cameras, or camcorders, work great for almost any recording scenario, be it talking head, whiteboard recording, or other specific cases. Camcorders store video on internal SD cards. Many portable cams have nice lenses and optical zoom, praiseworthy video quality, and are sometimes bundled with tripods, which are great for self-recording and lecture filming. More often than not, camcorders can’t do live streaming or conferencing without extra software or hardware, thus most of them can’t serve as webcams. Here are a few select workhorses that will help you in capturing the training process or pretty much anything you like.

4. Panasonic HC-V770

Panasonic HC-V770

Panasonic HC-V770

What’s inside:

  • An impressive 20X zoom
  • High-dynamic range feature to eliminate bright spots
  • Wireless Twin – connect your smartphone’s camera for a PiP video effect
  • Full-HD Slow Motion Video
  • High quality sound recording with a Wind Shield Zoom Microphone

This video test was made by theSmartReview.com crew at Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2015) where the model was first introduced to the market:

Upside: The standout feature of this cam is what they call ‘WiFi twin’, which enables the user to shoot a separate scene with a phone/tablet camera, and add it to the recording as Picture-in-Picture. What I also like about this device is the smart zoom and night vision functionality. For shooting outside, you get a wind-shielded mic to reduce the noise.

Downside: Like other Panasonic cams, this one reveals some white balance issues in low light conditions, so you’ll need to tweak color manually in exceptional cases.

Best for: Video lecture recording, PiP webinars, experiment/lab shooting, filming outside.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

5. Canon VIXIA HF R72 Camcorder

Canon VIXIA HF R72 Camcorder

Canon VIXIA HF R72 Camcorder

What’s inside:

  • 57x Advanced Zoom and Super Range Optical Image
  • 3.28 Megapixel Full HD Sensor
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 32GB internal flash drive
  • 1080/60p recording in MP4 (35 Mbps) and AVCHD Progressive (28 Mbps)
  • Embedded Wi-Fi and NFC models for easy sharing
  • 3.0-inch capacitive touch panel – easy menu navigation.

Here’s another SmartReview.com piece, this time covering the Canon’s cam lineup and R72 in particular:

Upside: When playing with the camera I enjoyed the easy touchscreen controls and longer battery life compared to the competition. Also, it comes at a reasonable price. Good bang for the buck!

Downside: The picture may get a little grainy when shooting in bright daylight or zooming.

Best for: Whiteboard footage, blended lectures, vlogging, video lecture recording, PiP webinars, experiment/lab shooting, filming outside.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

6. Sony HD Video Recording HDRCX405 Handycam Camcorder

Sony HD Video Recording HDRCX405 Handycam Camcorder

Sony HD Video Recording HDRCX405 Handycam Camcorder

What’s inside:

  • 26.8mm wide-angle ZEISS Lens
  • 1920×1080 resolution at 60P, AVCHD and MP4
  • 30x Optical / 60x Clear Image Zoom
  • Automatic video compilation from multiple clips
  • Optical SteadyShot™ image stabilizer
  • Face tracking, noise reduction.
  • Smart Auto mode with 60 various scene combinations.

A feature review and field test of this Sony camcorder, pointing out usual scenarios and semi-pro applications:

Upside: The video quality is on the high end, with obvious depth improvements in XAVCS-HD compared to MP4. This cam lets you join video automatically from multiple clips, but you’ll need additional software to make extra edits.

Downside: This cam doesn’t allow external microphones, but its original sound quality is pretty good.

Best for: Video lecture recording, PiP webinars, experiment/lab shooting, filming outside.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

Professional Cams for Classroom Lectures

Professional cams provide similar or identical portability compared to consumer camcorders, with the benefit of exceptional video quality and extended connectivity. Needless to say, the ‘pros’ are costly pieces of equipment that may sticker-shock an average user. As such, pro cameras will appear ‘overqualified’ for talking head recordings and the like. Using a cannon to kill a fly makes no sense here. That said, grabbing classroom lectures – both the instructor and students – with a pro cam is one of the justified scenarios. Now, let’s see what the options are in this segment.

7. Canon XA30 Professional Camcorder

Canon XA30 Professional Camcorder

Canon XA30 Professional Camcorder

What’s inside:

  • 20x high-definition optical zoom
  • Improved HD CMOS Pro image sensor with greater low light performance
  • Full HD 1920×1080 recording
  • Two SD card slots
  • Highlight Priority Mode
  • Wi-Fi and FTP transfer capabilities
  • 3.5-inch OLED screen with 10,000:1 Contrast Ratio
  • DR gamma of 600%

Here goes a short B&H review of the cam outlining its basic features and controls:

Upside: The dual card here is a real tradeoff since you can always split 1080p and, say, 480p, and avoid further transcoding for web publishing. That’s what makes this cam a multi-scenario device. And yes, the light is real good for this prosumer option. I had my test run of this cam on a broad selection of dim bunkers of lecture rooms and dark outside locations – it passed with flying colors.

Downside: There’s hardly anything I can think of. Perhaps the input/output section is a little messy and could be better organized. Otherwise, it’s the real deal.

Best for: Shooting classroom events, interviews, and presentations with no worries about low light conditions.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

8. Sony HXRMC2500 Shoulder Mount AVCHD Camcorder with 3-Inch LCD

Sony HXRMC2500 Shoulder Mount AVCHD Camcorder with 3-Inch LCD

Sony HXRMC2500 Shoulder Mount AVCHD Camcorder with 3-Inch LCD

What’s inside:

  • Wide-angle 26.8mm Sony G Lens
  • Great image fidelity, 12x zoom
  • 1/4″ back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor
  • Professional low light sensitivity and fast autofocus
  • Built-in 32GB SSD drive for video storage.

This video review gives you an idea of the camera’s rich settings:

Upside: This is a classic semi-pro with efficient light qualities, long-lasting battery, and a reliable Flash drive that will keep you shooting for quite some time.

Downside: As a perfectionist, I’d go for a standalone mic, but that’s totally subjective. Most users are happy with the sound. What you do need is a solid mount, as the cam is not exactly lightweight.

Best for: Family videos, classroom filming, outdoor activities.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

Document Camera for Live Modelling

What are document cameras for? Well, they basically demonstrate papers like a digital projector. However, these devices also provide a nifty way to stream oneself working on a project in real-time, solving math problems, making graphs and mockups, or whatever floats your boat. Although IPEVO doesn’t grab video itself, you can use any freely available software to make a screencast, and then upload it online or share with your audience. Here comes the model that I used.

9. IPEVO VZ-1 HD VGA/USB Dual-Mode Document Camera (CDVU-05IP)

IPEVO VZ-1 HD VGA/USB Dual-Mode Document Camera (CDVU-05IP)

IPEVO VZ-1 HD VGA/USB Dual-Mode Document Camera (CDVU-05IP)

What’s inside:

  • VGA document camera for capturing live images to your projector
  • Stream images and videos to PC or Mac via USB
  • Quick seamless captures with a multi-jointed swing arm and swiveling head
  • Built-in LED to throw some light on your subject
  • High-density, and considerable space advantages
  • IPEVO Presenter software with the toolkit.

A concise and down-to-earth overview by the manufacturer:

Upside: It’s an instructor-friendly tool that lets you showcase anything from textbooks to 3D models and artwork. The dual mode ensures certain flexibility – if your computer shuts off, you can always leverage the direct projector connection. Other perks involve small footprint, ease of use, and smart design.

Downside: If only it were a video recorder… But you can’t have everything in a single device.

Best for: Class demos, unravelling the creative process, text annotation, visual analysis, and more.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

Action Cameras Re-Purposed, or GoPro for Recording Lectures

You might think of GoPro and the like as mere action & sport camera manufacturers, but their products also find the perfect application in blended learning, lab demos, and online tutorials. This type of camera mounts almost anywhere and may even offer water-resistance, should you be filming a school video underwater 🙂 Action cams are generally small, handy and high-definition (1080p HD, more often than not). Here are the bestsellers in the category:

10. GoPro HERO5 Black

GoPro HERO5 Black

GoPro HERO5 Black

What’s inside:

  • 4K video and 12MP photos
  • Single, Burst and Time Lapse mode.
  • Durable and waterproof up to 33ft (10m) without casing
  • Preview and playback, trimming functions and adjustable settings.

This video review from VideoMaker.com guides you through the main features of the market leader HERO5 Black, shows test footage and shares relevant recommendations:

Upside: This GoPro model is highly portable, yet stable, with dramatic sound improvements compared to the older siblings. Perfect Android and iOS connectivity also adds to the plus side.

Downside: The ubiquitous digital grain may turn up in low light conditions.

Best for: A wide range of users, from videographers with an active lifestyle to creative teachers; works great for grabbing lectures, complex experiments or labs.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

11. Sony FDR-X1000V/W 4K Action Cam

What’s inside:

  • 4K (3840 x 2160) video recording, up to 240p HD/120p HD
  • SteadyShot™ stabilization technology
  • Waterproof body
  • Universal tripod mount
  • Embedded stereo mic with wind noise reduction
  • Highlight video in MP4 created from multiple clips
  • Loop recording to avoid space shortage on the memory card.

It’s hard to find a ‘second best’ option since GoPro consistently kills the competition with its offerings, yet here it is, a nice product from Sony – video-reviewed on YouTube:

Upside: The cam works in 4K and records at 100Mbps in Sony’s XAVC codec. It has nice perks like a built-in GPS and a robust stabilizer – imagine you’d like to record your students from a drone flying around the classroom like a bumblebee :-). Also, enjoy the arguably longer battery life compared to GoPro (depending on resolution, settings, etc.).

Downside: Barrel distortion when employing the whole sensor, questionable quality of still image.

Best for: Lab works, video lectures with complex settings, high-resolution scenes for academic or other applications.

Check out this camera on Amazon →

In conclusion

I could go on about cameras for ages, but it’s time to wrap up before this gets boring or pedantic. All in all, I’d suggest a few general tips for camera shoppers: consider the size vs. features, pay attention to the LCD, think of preferred memory media and compatibility, keep the low light challenge in mind (is that a challenge you need to take on?).

Now, without further ado, here come my top picks in the multiple-choice categories:

Webcams: In this segment, I vote for
Logitech considering its good value for the money, comprehensive features, and superior low light capabilities compared to other popular webcams.

Consumer cams: In my contest, Panasonic and Sony are neck-in-neck in terms of price-to-performance ratio. Although Sony looks like a soft option budget-wise, I’d still go for the Panasonic HC-V770 with its ‘wireless twin’ feature and better application in teaching/lecturing scenarios.

Pro cams: Like it or not, Canon leads the field in this game. Full HD, good value for money, easy to use after a moderate learning curve. As for Sony, it has audio issues which might be a drawback for group/class recording.

Action cams: The Sony cam has posted some solid performances in my humble tests, yet GoPro remains untouchable. Lack of night mode and in-camera time lapse, slow menu response and other major and minor issues still keep Sony one or two steps behind.

I hope this will help you find your way in the videography jungle. If you’re all set with hardware and are now looking for video presentation software, check out my article on the subject.

Any questions or suggestions? Give me a shout!

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