Here's my first (and currently only) railroad video online, I have more coming, many more, I just need the time to upload them all.
This was shot with a $150 Flip UltraHD
camera with a $45 37mm wide angle lens superglued on to it and a $15 tripod from Radio Shack.
The camera cost me $150 at Staples, it can only shoot for 2 hours at a time and has no external storage so once you use up your two hours, you need to plug it into a computer to load the video before you can start recording again. In the course of a full day of railfanning, I've never gone over the two hours since each clip of a train is only a few minutes at a time. The video above is 3:29, that one train is 3 and a half minutes out of the two hour total capacity, and if I'm going to be out for a long time, I'll bring my laptop with me so I can offload the video if I need more time.
This camera is not designed for professional use, it's really only a "point and shoot" camera made for simple home movies. That being said, I have a 46" Sony Bravia LCD TV, and when I plug this camera in through it's mini-HDMI jack, the image quality is incredible. The camera is also unbelievably simple to use, it's light correction, image stabilization, etc. are all completely automatic. There's a simple setup menu, but other than that there's no settings, it's completely automatic and I'm more than satisfied with the result. The audio on the other hand, isn't bad, but the microphone definitely picks up wind noise badly, and there's no jack for an external mic. I taped a piece of a facial tissue over the mic and that seems to cut down on the wind noise. It also seems to dampen the sound, but luckilly, freight trains still tend to be really loud, so it hasn't been a problem so far (the people behind me that kept talking while I shot the video above are a different story).
As I mentioned before, I superglued on a lens. This camera doesn't have any kind of support for additional lenses, like I said, it's just supposed to be a simple point-and-shoot video camera. From the advice I learned from various websites and blogs, I bought a Sunpak wide angle lens which came with screw-on adapter rings. I superglued a ring around the built-in lens and can now screw on my big lens for the really wide angle shot you see above. I'd like to get a nice telephoto lens to put on here, but for the time being, I have a hard enough time affording enough gas and red-bull for chases.
I'm not overly happy with the battery life, the battery that comes with it is Lithium-Ion, it will last a good 3 hours of continuous use, and charges through the USB jack that is also used to download the videos off the camera. The weird thing is that it will only charge while connected to a computer or to it's own proprietary wall or car charger that goes for about $30 from their website. It recognized being connected to power when I plugged it into the USB car charger I use for my iPod, but it wouldn't charge. One day I pulled the battery out and noticed the diagrams for AA batteries. The cheap AA batteries won't last 5 minutes, but Duracell seems to power it for over an hour of continuous use (as in, not counting when the camera is off), and I can get a 20 pack of Duracell AA batteries at Home Depot for $10 bucks, it's lasted me over a month so far. Energizer works well too, but the less popular brands (eveready, purecell, panasonic, store brand, etc.) barely last 5 minutes.
This is the cheap-as-hell solution I use that seems to work great for me, be careful when buying cheap cameras, you definately get what you pay for, but in the less than 6 months that I've had this setup, I'm more than satisfied.
Trains aren't dangerous, it's lack of common sense that's dangerous.