Olivier S. (NDD#263) (27 Posts)

Born in France (and still living there) I discovered WDW in the mid 1970's when I was 10 during a trip to Florida with my parents. Since then, I am a Disney fan, but also a WDW fan with EPCOT as the prefered park. The Contemporary is my "mythic" hotel even if I never stayed there: it´s because of its futurist look. By the way, I also encountered space exploration during the same trip by visiting KSC. And I am today working as the chief editor of a space news website for a scientific park in France. Guess you can see the importance of this Florida trip and the others after...


3 useful video devices for filming in a Disney park (from left to right): the camcorder, the video-capable DSLR/Hybrid camera and a smartphone.

In a previous post, I wrote about 3 basic rules to improve your Disney park home vacation movie. One of them was to do a good filming. And, of course, a good video device will be useful! But why video device ? Why not, simply put, a camcorder? Because the technology has evolved and the camcorder is no longer the only tool that can be used to film your Disney Lifestyle! Which tool is the best? In fact, it depends on you. As no car can fit everybody’s way of life (some need a van, others a SUV, or a small car, etc.), no video device is perfect for everybody. You may even need two or three different types.

The classic: the camcorder

Still there! Despite the new video toys coming every day, the camcorder does have the fact that it is used for video filming. I will strongly recommend HD (1080p) camcorders as the prices are no longer too high. The final choice? Well, as a former professional corporate video producer/director, I have a favorite brand: Sony. Does that mean that others big players such as Canon or JVC are not good? No, it does highlight the fact that the choice of a camcorder is a very personal one. The good camcorder is the one that you will be comfortable with! Don’t buy one that is too complicated if technology is not an easy thing for you. Avoid the camcorders with a high megapixel count. 2 megapixels is enough for HD, 4 OK, 8 or more is just a publicity stunt. Most of the time video sensors with high megapixels count are poor performers in low light and a very good low light capability is what you want to film attractions and fireworks shows or the Main Street Electrical Parade. For example, the Canon Vixia HF G30, which got very good reviews and is quite expensive ($ 1,399 on Amazon), only has a 2.91 megapixel sensor, and that’s enough to get a splendid HD video. The video below is an example of the image quality you can get with a moderate HD camcorder (a Canon HF100, an old model now).

Always look if the camcorder can record in progressive mode (60p is best) because all modern HD televisions are in fact progressive (interlaced signal is a thing of the past). Also don’t pay too much attention to the zoom ratio (20x or 30x) but search for a decent wide angle (around 24-28 mm in 35 mm equivalent) or you will have great difficulties to get Spaceship Earth if you are not filming it from World Showcase… 😉 In your budget, always plan to buy at least one extra battery and 2 extra memory cards. And now, 4K (4 times the HD in resolution) is coming… But as with all new stuff in video, it’s pricey (the Sony AX100 4K camcorder is $ 1,999). You can count on the fact that prices will go down in the coming years.

The new player: the video capable DSLR or hybrid
More and more digital cameras (DSLRs or hybrids with electronic viewfinder) are coming with very serious video capacities. In fact, for the same price, you even get a superior image, especially for night shots and for the dynamic and colorimetry ranges. This is because their sensor and circuitry are made for photography. These devices have a high megapixel number (20 is common) but are good in low light because the size of the sensor is huge: the photosites are then bigger and can gather enough light to work properly. Below, look at this video of Disney’s Hollywood Studios at night. Was it done with an expensive camcorder? No, just with a Sony Alpha 57, an entry level hybrid camera (it is not technically a DSLR as the viewfinder is no longer optical but electronic) that you can find at $ 448 with a kit lens (price for the Alpha 58 model as the 57 is an old one).

Another example of an entry-level hybrid performance can be see with the previously shown video below. This was entirely filmed with an Alpha 57.

Of course, it is not perfect (video is 25 or 30p, you don’t have 60p for this price), but if you want the best bargain between price and image quality, consider the DSLR/Hybrid solution, not only the camcorder. If you go in higher price territory, you will have pro quality video with “toys” like the Sony Alpha 7 or Canon 5D. Would be cinematographers could also consider the Blackmagic Design line, especially their $ 999 (body only, no lens) Pocket Cinema Camera. I am now filming with DSLRs/Hybrids and I can’t go back. However, keep in mind that ergonomy can be awkward if you are used to camcorders. You will also have to drop some automatisms as a digital camera gives its best in video when used with some manual controls (autofocus can sometimes be an issue). Again, in your budget, plan to buy at least one extra battery and 2 extra memory cards. Some DSLRs/hybrids are ready for 4K like the Lumix GH4 ($ 1,699 body only, no lenses… Ouch, quite pricey).

The wild cards: the smartphone and the GoPro
Rather small and with more and more quality on the video side, the smartphone can no longer be ruled out. I will not write that you should film your vacation with an iPhone or other “phones”: I am much too old fashioned… However, a smartphone with good video capabilities can help you film where it would be difficult or near impossible to do with a camcorder or DSLR/hybrid. The best example is a water park. I always wanted to film what we were doing at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach, but buying a good underwater case for a camcorder or a camera is expensive and can be very difficult to use (it’s big!). The solution was simply to buy a waterproof case for our iPhone 4s. That’s how I filmed the video below.

The quality is even good enough to mix the iPhone videos with others (general views) done with the Sony Alpha 57. If possible, buy the waterproof case before going to the water parks. Of course, you will be able to buy a waterproof case there, but the price is going to be higher.  Never forget that these accessories are not made for going too deep (I will say that 50 cm underwater is safe). Of course, you can also think of all these action cameras designed for “stunt filming” such as the GoPro (which does have a very good video quality in HD). A GoPro with its underwater case will give you stunning images. A lot of people films their “non-stunt” vacations with these devices, even using a telescopic pole to do “selfies” or get interesting and unusual angles. Why not? However, don’t use a telescopic pole (or selfie stick) to put your GoPro or else in a place where it is forbidden, for example outside the ride vehicle: you may break it, stop the ride or, worse, hurt someone.

As you see, whether it is a camcorder, a DSLR/hybrid video capable, a smartphone or action cam, we have many tools that can fit almost everybody needs and tastes. You don’t have to stick to just one: you can combine.

What do you use for your photo & video choices?

What do you think?

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