Which Camera is Best for You?

Many, if not all, aspiring Brickfilmers are faced with this question. Some very early, some after their first few films. This document tries to give these people some ideas to base their choice on. Basically there are three different camera types that can be used for stopmotion animation. I’ll shed some light on the advantages they have, and the differences between the various brands and types. I will focus on webcams because these are used most often, and not as expensive as the other types.

Webcams
Webcams are the cheapest option available, and by far not the worst: some of the best brickfilms around here have been created with ordinary webcams. They work well with the software that’s available, and their small size makes it possible to put them in the middle of the action.The disadvantage is that they are very light, and the cable is not too long and flexible, which can make it easy to move it while filming, This limitation can be overcome with a little ingenuity however.

The main difference between webcams is the light-sensitive chip found inside. Most webcams, and all the cheap ones, have a what is called a CMOS chip. This one is not as sensitive as the higher quality CCD chip found in the more expensive ones (PHILIPS ToUcam Pro, Kodak DVC325 and Logitech Quickcam Pro 3000 (and 4000), and the Intel CS330 are some examples). The result of this:

*cheap, CMOS based webcams are more grainy

*they can not be adjusted as well

*the most clearly seen difference – they have difficulties with live motion (they adopt to changes in light intensity much slower).Those who own a webcam: open the preview window, and set the frame rate to the maximum value. Then wave your hand frantically in front of it.If it becomes a blur before it starts hurting, you have a CMOS chip inside it. Otherwise it’s CCD.

CCD cameras can exhibit this blur effect on fast moving objects too, but they are less susceptible to it

For more reading on this, visit http://www.howstuffworks.com/ .

Digital photo cameras
Digital (photo)cameras also usually have CCDs, but they are much more expensive because:-

  • they are self-operational and portable
  • they have better lenses (glass and aspherical instead of the cheap plastic used in most webcams. Also adjusting the focus is not the same as unscrewing the lens from the camera as is the case with webcams.
  • Many models support optical (“real”, leans based, not digitally interpolated) zoom.
  • They have higher resolutions.
  • They have lots of internal software.

This last point is exactly what makes them less useful for Brickfilming: the software is not very exact, so focus and even lighting may change considerably from frame to frame. With the exception of some very expensive models, where all can be set manually, they are not too useful.

A final reason that makes them less useful, is that there is no camera I know of that can store the pictures taken directly on the computer. It will always store them on an internal memory, and when connected to the computer it will appear as a disk drive. So instead of storing your frames on your hard drive as your film, you must periodically, and repeatedly stop animating, connect the cameras to the computer, transfer your stills, empty your cameras memory, and begin shooting again.

(Digital) video cameras
Digital video cameras are probably the best you can get: they can be connected to the computer to store the images directly, and have all the advantages like high-quality lenses, manual focus, zoom and – not unimportant – a standard socket for a tripod (though some webcams also have this). Also they can be used for other (vacation) purposes. Unfortunately they are terribly expensive, and you will usually need a capture card, firewire or in some cases USB2, for your computer before you can use it for stopmotion. For analogue videocameras you must have a Video card that has Video input on it . The main difference between analogue and digital videocameras is the way they store film on tape. The digital cameras have much higher quality there. You won’t notice this difference, however, if you capture directly into a computer.
Conclusion
So, to conclude, if you want to limit the amount of money you spend on equipment, go for webcam. Keep in mind the following points, that determine its quality:

  • chip (CMOS/CCD, CCD being the superior by far.)
  • Maximum resolution (640×480 is usually very satisfactory for online distribution)
  • tripod socket/stability (an unstable, or wobbly base will lead to much frustration while stopmotion animating, though there are ways around this, see “Making a LEGO compatible base for your Webcam” in tech guides from the main resource page)
  • manual focus (essential for a sharp picture. This is not always mentioned on the box, so look for a ring around the lens that can be turned.)
    Also ask in the shop if you can try it out and return it when you are not satisfied. In the Netherlands this is usually no problem if you repack it neatly, and return it within 2 weeks. Also ask for the amount of guarantee, and how this is settled in your shop.

For your reference, the table below lists many of the cameras that have been / are in use by your fellow Brickfilmers.
Information listed includes a link to the manufacturers website where possible, the specifications of resolution, the type of image sensor chip, any extra features, and a link to a brickfilm made with the camera.
While the Video (live) framerate has been listed, it is not really relevant to an animator when using the camera to record Stopmotion, I have included the information nonetheless, as live action does have a place in Brickfilming,for example, filming a train traveling along a track in real time instead of the time consuming task of filming it in stopmotion.

Name: The LEGO Studios camera/ Mindstorms Camera
Link: http://www.lego.com/studios/ [Dead Link]
Resolution/max. framerate: 640×480 (really!), 30 fps or thereabouts
Chip: CMOS
Other features: This is actually the Logitech Quickcam Web.Comes with Lego Studios, which, because of the forced, small, resolution and aggressive compression, makes picture quality worse than what the cam is actually capable of, needs to be very well lit to perform at any satisfactory level.
Link to film: Labour Union Riot by Cinmea of Champions

Name: Orange Micro iBot (firewire webcam)
Link: http://www.orangemicro.com/ibot.html
Resolution/max. framerate: Still 640×480, Non-compressed full-motion
digital video at rates of up to 30 Frames/sec @ 640 x 480 depending on your system configuration
Chip: CCD
Other features: Connects via firewire instead of usb.
Link to film: The Gauntlet by Jay Silver (frame averaging improved the picture of this one a lot)

Name: Kensington webcam
Link: was http://www.kensington.com/products/pro_1465.html, dead link the Kensington webcam
has been discontinued and is no longer supported.
Resolution/max. framerate: Still 640×480, video 24 fps maximum
Chip: CMOS
Other features: Came with stopmotion software in its bundle
Link to film: Freedom

Name: Kodak DVC 325 (webcam)
Link: http://www.kodak.com/
Resolution/max. framerate: still 640×480, video 176×144 @ 30fps, 640×480 @ 8 fps
Chip: CCD
Other features: Clear picture, very adjustable, stand is removable for very low angles.
Link to film: The Invention, Good Company

Name: Logitech QuickCam Pro 3000 (webcam)
Link: http://www.logitech.com/
Resolution/max. framerate: Still 640×480, video 640×480 @ up to 30 fps
Chip: CCD
Other features: Lots of software included, standard tripod socket
Link to film: Kyoko’s Poetry

Name: Logitech QuickCam Express
Link: http://www.logitech.com/
Resolution/max. framerate: Still 352×288, video up to 30 fps
Chip: CMOS
Other features: Very basic, very cheap
Link to film: Doctor Death Horror Edition by Bingo Bongo Pictures

Name: Philips ToUcam Pro (PCVC 740 K) (webcam)
Link: http://www.philips.com/
Resolution/max. framerate: Still 1280×960, video 640×480 @ 15fps, 320×240 @ 30 fps
Chip: CCD
Other features: extremely clear picture, friendly software
Link to film: Great Inventors Part 1: The Wheel by YellowHead Studios

Name: Sony Handycam CCD-TR910 NTSC (Hi-8 video camera)
Link: http://www.sony.com/ (this model is no longer on their website)
Resolution/max. framerate: 270k pixels, tv framerate (don’t know exact numbers)
Chip: CCD, video camera!
Other features: Zoom, tripod socket, many other features.
Link to film: Xarkun 8 by Platypus Pics

Name: Swann SmartCam Deluxe
Link: http://www.swann.com.au/
Resolution/max. framerate: Still 640×480, video up to 30 fps
Chip: CMOS
Other features:a rarity in that it is a CMOS camera that will reach 640×480,
an uncommon feat amongst it’s peers
Picture quality not too bad.
Link to film: A (very) brief history of the bushranger
‘Ned Kelly’ and the ‘Kelly gang’
. Look mainly at the gallery scenes to see the quality,
as the rest of the films has been put through several filters to deliberately degrade the quality for
an “old film” look.

Name: Intel CS330
Link: Intel CS330
Resolution/Max framerate: Still 640×480, Video 30fps@ 160 x 120, 30fps @ QCIF (176 x 144),
30fps @ CIF (352 x 288), 5-15fps @ VGA (640 x 480)
Chip:CCD
Other features: filters for Flicker Free Operation (under 50Hz/60 Hz fluorescent lighting,
Multi-element lens for improved clarity and minimal distortion stand can be removed for
Ultra low angles, at or below mini-fig eye level even.
Link to film: see “Blood of the wolf” for low light performance, and “Geek Out”
under normal, bright lighting
NOTE; The CS430, is a variant model which supports a composite video input at the rear of the
camera.

Name: Intel CS110
Link: Intel CS110
Resolution/Max framerate:Still 352 x 288, video 320 x 240 @up to 30FPS
Chip: CMOS
Other features: filters for Flicker Free Operation (under 50Hz/60 Hz fluorescent lighting,
Multi-element lens for improved clarity and minimal distortion

Name: Quickcam pro 4000
Link: Logitech
Resolution/Max framerate:Still 1.3 megapixel (1280 x 960) ALTHOUGH the Image sensor is
only 640×480 so the “1.3 megapixel” resolution is INTERPOLATED not TRUE 1280 x 960),
Video 640 x 480@ up to 30FPS
Chip: CCD
Other features: digital zoom, Animation software included
Link to film: “The letter”, “Out of time”
Currently a VERY popular choice amongst Brickfilmers

Name:Aiptek Pocket DV 2 (Digital Camcorder)
Link::Aiptek Pocket DV 2
Resolution/Max framerate: Still 1280×1024 and
640×480, Video 320×240@10FPS
Chip:CMOS
Other features: Optional use of Compact Flash
memory card. “Focus ring with only 2 settings, but
can be easily removed with a little pulling to zoom in
for closer shots.” – strongest of the weak
Link to film: SpideyFiller