With video and camcorder technology at its advanced state, their use is an extremely valuable tool. Unlike photography, video shows activity unfolding continuously, which helps in the process of documenting events as they occur. Many types of video cameras and camcorders are widely available and each will be discussed along with their pros and cons.
First is the standard VHS camcorders. These are the full sized camcorders. Because they use standard VHS tapes, a full six hours of record time can be used on one tape then plugged directly into any home VCR for review. They are relatively large in size, therefore battery life usually will not exceed two hours. The use of a wall adapter is highly recommended for extended recording times.
Compact VHS or VHS-C camcorders have the same capabilities as their bigger brothers with a few exceptions. As the name suggests, these units are more compact, making them easier and lighter for use in all applications, specifically ones requiring portability. The drawback to these camcorders is tape length. VHS-C tapes are compact versions of the standard VHS tape and can only provide twenty to thirty minutes of record time. They can also be used with any usual home VCR, provided that an adapter cartridge is used. Many department or electronic stores carry the VHS-C to VHS adapter cartridge at prices ranging from twenty to thirty dollars. Battery life of VHS-C camcorders will normally be a little greater than VHS types, about two and a half hours or so.
Next comes old faithful, the Beta camcorder. Beta camcorders are generally smaller than VHS camcorders and are usually thought of as being older equipment (remember, older does not necessarily mean lower quality). The tapes used are not compatible with any home VCR but the camcorder itself can be used to transfer the tape to VHS format. If you have or can acquire a Beta camcorder or Beta VCR, they will usually have more capabilities and better picture quality (when reviewing, such as fast, slow, or reverse viewing, pausing, or frame by frame) as compared to standard VCRs.
8mm camcorders are very compact, making them easy to use and ideal for portable applications. Functionally, the 8mm is the same as any of the previous types except that the mechanical parts are much smaller. 8mm tapes are just slightly larger than regular audio tapes but can record a full six hours per tape. Just like their Beta counterparts, 8mm tapes are not compatible with any home VHS VCR, but the camcorder can be used to transfer the video to VHS format or a 8mm VCR can be purchased for about four hundred dollars or so. Battery life of an 8mm camcorder will usually run at about two to three hours.
Newer to the scene is the digital camcorder. These units have few moving parts, which make them extremely light, reliable, compact and battery efficient. As digital camcorders become more available and inexpensive, a large amount of people are now turning to it for use in investigations. Typically, digital camcorders provide the best picture quality available and therefore provide the best opportunity for capturing supernatural phenomena. Similar to digital cameras, because they are completely digital, electronic, the ability for a spirit to manipulate it is much higher, providing either outstanding supernatural evidence or, conversely, a non-functional unit… remember, spirits have a knack for manipulating electronics and can just as easily cause a digital camera or camcorder to STOP working. Newer Sony units even have built in “Night-Shot” technology, built in infra-red imaging.
Lighting requirements is an important issue dealing with video recorders. One term that needs discussion is “Lux”. Lux is a unit of measurement assigned to the intensity or brightness of light, the amount of light a particular camcorder requires for it to “see”, as we will use the term. A standard camcorder requires about two to three lux to be effectively used (candle light at ten feet is equivalent to about one lux), but some higher end (and, obviously, higher priced) models are sensitive to one lux. If using a camcorder in a house with all the lights out, it is suggested that a flashlight or nightlight be used at the far end of the viewing area. There are trade offs to be concerned with when talking about ambient light levels. The lower the ambient light, the better the chance of detecting ghost lights but the lower the chance of detecting shadow ghosts, and vice versa.
Starlight viewers would be excellent for use in a dark house with very low ambient light levels or outside at night with the moon or stars visible (never turn on a starlight viewer while the sun is out, that my result in overload and/or burnout of the imaging tube). These units are fairly expensive, a cheaper model will cost about two hundred and fifty dollars. Remember, starlight viewers work by amplifying what little ambient light is available, so on a cloudy, moonless night or in a pitch black house, these units will be of little use unless an infra-red light source is also used. They also tend to be very “grainy” or “snowy” regardless of the amount of ambient light available and that may make differentiating ghost lights from snow difficult at best..
Also available are the Infra-Red Video Cameras. Most of these models can be purchased through many types of suppliers at prices around one hundred twenty five dollars and usually come without a case (which will have to be constructed by the purchaser). These cameras differ from starlight viewers in that they do not amplify light, they are just sensitive to lower light levels. They are also very small in size, most commonly sold models are only one and a quarter square inches in size. I-R cameras are basic video cameras but only display black and white and are sensitive down to 0.1 and even 0.01 lux. A separate VCR is required to perform the actual recording so it is not as portable as a standard camcorder. Also, in extremely dark environments, an external infra-red illuminator will be required. A flashlight with an infra-red filter cover can illuminate an entire room as far as the camera is concerned but to the human eye, it will still be pitch black. These units have proven very good at discerning ghost lights as compared to standard camcorders.
Lastly, Thermal Imagers. If you can afford the eight to fifteen thousand dollar and up price tag on one of these models, get one. They are very expensive but thermal imagers display heat signatures vice actual images as seen by the human eye or any other type of video camera. Two main types are on the market, black and white or color. Thermal imagers are ideal for paranormal research because they will easily detect the familiar “psychic cold”. You will be able to WATCH one move about as was seen on a sightings episode two years or so ago. They are VERY sensitive to ambient light and if they are exposed to direct sunlight, the lens and imaging tube will be permanently scarred making further use impossible.
An option available primarily to infra-red video cameras is the use of a wireless RF transmitter. There are some pros and cons to keep in mind if you are considering using a wireless video system. The great advantage to using a system such as this is that you can monitor an area from a distant location (should you chose) or an area where the use of cabling is restrictive. Some problems with using a wireless system: 1. If you chose a cheap RF transmitter (49 Mhz) the range will be minimal, about 50-100 feet. 2. Even the better quality 900Mhz and 1.2 Ghz transmitters are susceptible to interference, especially when we talk about paranormal activity. 3. A 900 Mhz or 1.2 Ghz transmitter generally cost about one hundred fifty dollars each, so for a two or three camera setup, the price will start increasing drastically.
To close, whatever form of recording device you decide to use, remember to double check your batteries. They have an uncanny habit of draining themselves, even when not being used. Keep in mind what we are dealing with. Also, bring a plug-in power pack, you may find it necessary even if you bring two freshly charged batteries.