Vijay Singh was once famously quoted for saying that he doesn't look at his swing on video because he'd be tempted to make it look pretty rather than focusing on building a swing that works. This quote is often used by people trying to justify why they won't record their swing or buy a camera.
Unfortunately, Vijay's quote was taken out of context, misunderstood, or was simply untrue. Singh has used high-speed cameras to record his swing for years and maintains a large library of his videos. While practicing, he often has his caddie or others record his swing, and will stop to look at things and make adjustments.
I think that what Vijay Singh was trying to say is that he values function over form. That's fine - and something virtually every good golfer has in common. And while it's true that form follows function in the golf swing, the opposite is also true: function follows form. A high-speed video camera is a useful, valid tool in improving both the form and function of your swing.
A few years ago I really liked the Kodak Zi6 (since replaced by newer, slightly better models) pocket video camera because it recorded HD 720p video at 60 frames per second (fps). The HD quality was nice, but the 60 frames per second video was what I was after.
Nowadays, cameras costing as little as $100 can record reasonably sized (not HD, but large enough) video at 120 fps, 240 fps, or even higher framerates!
The current king of the reasonably-priced-high-framerate-video cameras is Casio, with a fairly broad selection of cameras that will suit the needs of virtually every golfer out there.
Casio entered the market with their flagship EX-F1 camera, which cost about a thousand dollars, recorded 300 fps video at 512 x 384 resolution, and sold really well to up-to-date instructors eager to use available technology. Fortunately for golfers, Casio's less expensive cameras have eaten into the F1's market share, and the F1 appears to have been discontinued.
The new king of the hill is Casio's FH25 camera (shown above), priced at about $300 at the time of writing. The FH25 will record 240 fps video at 448 x 336 and 120 fps video at 640 x 480 (it can also record 420 fps video at 224 x 168, but that's far too small to be of any use and overkill on the speed). The FH25 features a large 3" screen for viewing the video right on the camera, trimming features first introduced on the F1, and two features that come in handy for golfers: a 2-, 5-, or 10-second delay timer that works not only with still images but also movies and a "pre-record" feature that lets an instructor or friend record only enough video to capture your swing without also recording your pre-shot routine.
Casio also has a series of pocket cameras - much slimmer than the FH25 - that work quite nicely and slip easily in a golf bag. The current king of that crop is the FC150 which will, like the FH25, records 240 fps video at 448 x 336. The FC150 will set you back about $225. If you can find the previous model - the FC100, which runs less than $200 - it will record 210 fps video at 480 x 360 and is an absolute steal, particularly in good outdoor lighting.
Though I've only recommended Casio cameras here, I realize that not only will this article be outdated the instant I publish it, but that other cameras out there likely have similar features. If you're looking for a camera to record your golf swing for analysis, here's what you'll want to get:
Framerate vs. Frame Size
The higher the framerate the better, but not at the expense of the video's frame size. For example, many of the Casio cameras can record 1000 fps, but not only is that overkill, you'll also get a video roughly the size of your pinkie fingernail. In the end, a framerate of about 100 is a good floor and a frame size of 400 x 300 is the frame size floor. Buy a camera that can record video at more than 100 fps and more than 400 x 300 pixels.
Ideally the camera you buy will let you manually control the shutter speed and the framerate. A camera that records at 150 fps but with a shutter speed of 1/150th of a second will result in a blurry club, particularly on the downswing, and won't be of much help. With the Casio FH25, I routinely shoot video outdoors at 1/4000th of a second, and manual control of the shutter speed is a high priority. Most cameras that let you control the shutter speed will have a good ISO or Auto-ISO function as well - the two go hand-in-hand in helping you to get a proper exposure (a bright enough image).
Video File Format
Though uncommon these days (more common for Windows users based on what I've seen and heard), you want to choose a video camera that supports a video format your computer can play. Most cameras these days shoot H.264 video or .AVI files, so you should be fine, but beware of any unusual video file formats.
In addition to a camera, there are a few other accessories you may want to buy.
First off, you may want to buy some sort of tripod. This could be anything from the $30 Gorillapod (shown on right), which can attach to a push cart, a golf car, your driver, etc. to a more expensive tripod. I have a Gorillapod attached to my pocket-sized FC100 and a $99 tripod with a little ball head for my FH25. If you're in a pinch, search the Internet for "bottle cap tripod" or buy this
The purpose of a tripod? To keep your video stable. It's tough to do any sort of analysis of your swing when the camera moves even a little. And trust me - regardless of how still you think you can be, a tripod is going to be better.
Reasonably Fast Memory Cards
Memory cards - typically an SD memory card for the types of cameras we're discussing - come in a variety of sizes and speeds. I recommend a 4 GB card or larger (if only because they're practically as inexpensive as smaller cards). The biggest price determinant in memory cards these days is speed. Speed will affect how smoothly video plays back on the camera itself as well as how quickly video is recorded, re-saved (while trimming), copied to your computer, and how quickly the card can be reformatted.
I recommend a card speed of 20 MB/second or higher. Whether that's "Ultra" or "Extreme" or "Class VI" you'll have to read the packaging to find out. Stick to the name-brand cards - SanDisk being perhaps chief among those - and spend the extra $10 or so to get a card that's fast enough. It's worth it in saved time down the road.
Remotes, Extra Batteries, etc.
Some cameras come with a remote. Frankly, I wish the Casios did - it would make recording yourself so much easier - and you may be inclined to pick one up.
Every camera will come with the ability to buy extra batteries. The Casio FH25 uses AA batteries, and will take rechargeable AAs, so a good charger and another four rechargeable AA batteries go a long way as the camera tends to chew through them fairly quickly.
Depending on how you treat your camera and where you plan to take it, you might want to look into a little case as well. A card reader (so you don't have to plug your camera in) can come in handy too.
Filming Your Swing
Now that you've got your camera, it's important to know how to film your swing. Consistently filming your swing from the proper locations not only makes it easier for you to compare your swings against previous and future swings, but also makes it easier for others you might show your swing to (for example, to folks in the forum or to an instructor) see what's going on.
Two views are commonly used in looking at a golf swing. If you've watched golf on television, you'll be familiar with them. They are the "Down the Line" view and the "Face-On" or "Caddie" view.
Here's how to set up and record each.
Face On (or "Caddie View")
The Face-On or "Caddie View" video should be shot with a camera at roughly hip or belly button height positioned in the middle of a golfer's stance, square (perpendicular) to the golfer's target line. The golfer should be centered in the frame with enough room above the golfer's head to see the hands and at least a little bit of the shaft at the top of the backswing and enough room below the golfer's feet to see the golf ball.
The caddie view is illustrative in looking at the length of the golfer's backswing, any movement side-to-side of his head, the location of his weight at key positions, the low point of the club, and any casting of the club or flipping of the hands, among other things.
Down the Line
The Down the Line view is a bit trickier to set up consistently. Again, the camera should be at roughly hip or belly button height. Rather than being square (perpendicular) to the target line, the camera should be aimed parallel to the target line, as illustrated by the three red lines above. The golfer should be in the left-center of the frame with a little room above his head and below his feet.
The absolute best position for the camera shooting Down the Line video is along the toe line - the left-most red line where the green is the brightest. A camera pointed parallel to the target line and halfway between the ball and the toes is acceptable but not ideal. Finally, a camera positioned directly behind the ball (the right-most red line) - regardless of how perfectly parallel it may be to the target line - is not very helpful at all as it will distort some things (such as the position of the club shaft at various stages of the swing).
The down the line view is illustrative of a golfer's swing plane, his shoulder pitch at the top of the backswing, his setup and balance, his trail knee and footwork, and his head and butt positions, among other things.
Go Film Yourself
I like training aids. I've recommended $25, $100, $200, and even $300 training aids to people because they work. A video camera is far and away the absolute best training aid you can buy, and with a market ranging from $100 or so to $300 for some of the best, it's quite affordable as well.
If you're at all serious about improving, you owe it to yourself to not only buy a camera, but to learn how to use it and to dedicate ten minutes per week to recording your swing. Whether you post the videos on YouTube or simply keep them to yourself, they will come in handy eventually. The forum is again a great place to get help. Or you might sign up for online instruction, or maybe you'll just compare a recent swing to an older one to look for clues about breaking out of a slump. Properly using a camera is the fastest way to improve and the surest way to practice efficiently.
Get a camera, get your swings on video, and get better.