The footage will be shot inside comedy clubs and I'll get no say over the lighting - at least, for the most part. If I am lucky, the techs will be able to give me a temp for white balance. It will be dark and heavily directional.
And very contrasty. Be prepared to use manual exposure on the camcorder. Its auto exposure program will be fooled by dark backgrounds.
I figure that since I'm a proficent photographer, it shouldn't take me too long to figure out a camcorder but I've a couple of really basic questions:
What is the difference between aperture and iris?
Nothing. "Iris" is just video talk
How do you turn up the "ISO" of a camcorder? - I'm going to be in the 800-1600 (equiv.) region.
Video people call this "gain". Usually quoted not in ISO (which video people don't care about) but in db. 3 db equals one stop, I believe. A nine db boost is about three stops of gain. Be prepared for noisy images at this level of gain. It's just electronic amplification.
Can I use the built in mic to record the audience laughter whilst an auxillery one is placed on staqe?
Yes, but you'll need either two discrete audio inputs to the camcorder or (better) a mixer. And someone to operate it during the show. If you can get any kind of rehearsal, you might be able to set the levels yourself.
Can you get semi-directional mics? Ideally, the aux mic would be one that picked up in a say, 120 degree arc forwards
Sure, but usually a directional mic is best. The problem with recording sound is excluding unwanted sounds. (noise).
What is a stereo mic and why would I want one?
A stereo mic records two channels of audio in one device. Usually, you don't want this. You create the stereo mix in post production. Mono is fine for the audience and or the performance, usually.
Do I need anything more than a camera, a mic and a tripod for this? Video lights are out of the question - clubs get arsy about anything they possibly can!
Consider a second camera, locked off on a wide shot of the stage, maybe with the audience in the foreground. It will record an applause track and more important, give you something to cut to when you want to edit the primary performance track. A simple consumer camcorder will do this just fine.
Since the budget is limited and the task is so specific, I'm not convinced about the necessity for HD - though if it is possible within the budget, it would be preferable! Having said that, I know that certain actresses have been kicking up a storm because it might make their skin look bad. I can fully sympathise with this fear and since I represent females, I'm quite sure they would share this concern!
I wouldn't. For a demo, SD will do. Spend the HD budget on a second or third camera rental and someone who knows about sound recording on location. Pictures are easy, sound is hard.
A lesson learned from many years of experience: Sound is usually more important than picture.
Shooting 16:9 would seem a necessity because TV execs seem to decorate everything with big plasma displays.
Maybe, maybe not. You can create a 16X9 image in post by masking off the top and bottom of the frame. 16X9 native shooting and editing may introduce problems you don't need for your first time out. Are you editing this? Ask your editor about this.
The final question is predicatably, what would you recommend?
Rent two Sony PD150 DV camcorders. They're heap to rent because they're older technology, they make excellent pictures, are great low-light performers, have good manual controls and are relatively easy to understand.
You're attempting something that's not easy. It's a location shoot, no control, no rehearsals, not easily repeatable subject matter and a harsh environment for both sound and picture. Anything you can do to practice and rehearse first at the location will reduce your chances of disaster.