Choosing a camcorder


Buyer's Guide: Cameras

When it comes to producing video for streaming, choosing the right camera is Priority #1. The challenge is to choose the camera that is right for your application, at the right price, without short-changing your ability to do better work in the future. For those who are buying a camcorder in 2011, let's turn these goals into features to look for in a new camcorder.

Buyer's Guide: Cameras

When it comes to choosing the right equipment for producing online video, it all starts with the camera. DSLR or Camcorder? We help you decide.

In the Field: JVC GY-HM700U

jvc-1.gifI just spent a few weeks with the JVC GY-HM700U, JVC's new shouldermount camcorder (Figure 1, right), and found myself very sorry to see it go. Its strengths include very crisp, noise-free images in a range of lighting conditions; a high-quality, easy-to-edit HD acquisition format stored on inexpensive SDHC media; a large, high-resolution LCD and viewfinder; wonderful overall usability; an SxS storage option for Sony XDCAM EX wannabes; and detachable lenses. The main caveats include the overall kit price and the lack of auto-focus and image stabilization. The HM700U comes in multiple packages that juggle different lenses plus the KA-MR100G SxS memory recorder (more on that soon). I reviewed the GY-HM700UXT, which includes a 14x Canon lens and the SxS memory recorder and retails for $7,495 (at B&H). You can also get the camcorder with a Fujinon 17x lens, purchase it with or without the SxS recorder, buy the body and Canon lens, or purchase just the camcorder body if you already have compatible lenses. Note that several previous reviewers have looked at both the Canon and Fujinon lenses, and preferred the Canon.

Shooting with the Canon ESO 7D

I just spent about a month with the Canon EOS 7D, specifically to evaluate its HD video shooting capabilities. The results were very impressive, with amazing depth of field, and relatively low noise in low light situations. You can read my review here.

Click over to the article to see some of the sample videos I shot with the 7D.

Chosing a camcorder for streaming production - 5 questions to ask

If you bought a camcorder ten years ago, chances were it was DV and stored its video on DV tape. Three years ago, it was likely HDV and DV tape. Today, it could be any one of five or six HD formats (AVCHD, HDV, DVCPRO HD, XDCAM HD, AVC-Intra) stored on four or five different storage mechanisms (tape, SD card, P2, SxS, hard disk, optical disc).

Concerned about navigating through this maze of options? Well, if so, you’re in this right place. Over the next 3,000 words or so, I’ll detail these options and others, tell you which ones to care about, and the questions to ask before buying your next HD camcorder. I’ll even detail the top four camcorders to consider in 2009.

To make my word count and maintain my sanity, I’ll focus on 3CCD camcorders that cost between $3,500 - $5,000, which I think is the real sweet spot for high quality and value. If you’re a bargain basement shopper, or indie film maker or wannabee, you might learn some valuable information, but you’ll probably want to buy a different class of camcorder. With so much to get through, let’s jump right in.

Know Your Digital Video Formats

Many digital shooters started with DV video, which hammered the nail in the analog video coffin and democratized video production by dropping the price of capturing very good video from $25,000 (BetaSP camera and deck) to well under $4,000 (Sony DCR VX-2000 and FireWire cable). Another strong feature was that DV was simple; simple to edit, simple to understand and simple to explain.

In the world of high definition video, things get much more complex, with a multitude of very different formats competing for your purchase dollars. Understanding the similarities and differences between these formats is critical to making the correct purchase decision, and as always, the various product camps and their loyalists spew fear, uncertainty and doubt about competitive formats. It’s always an election year when it comes to high definition camera gear. So, in this article, I’ll take a stab at explaining the differences and similarities between some of the more prominent high definition formats.

Affordable HD Video Format

If you’re considering buying a new affordable HD camcorder, you should have at least three formats in mind: tried-and-true HDV, up-and-coming AVCHD, and the ever-more-affordable DVCPRO HD. By a stroke of good fortune, I have three such camcorders in hand right now, and I thought it would be a good time to discuss their relative merits. Specifically, I’ve got the Canon XH A1 ($3,299 street), the Panasonic AG-HPX170 ($5,195 street), and the brand-spanking-new Panasonic AG-HMC150 ($3,495 street). Granted, the HPX170 is a much more flexible camera targeted at higher-end markets than the other two, but it will at least be on the radar screen for folks comparing the other two.

Understanding your HD Formats

If you’re considering buying a new affordable HD camcorder, you should have at least three formats in mind: tried-and-true HDV, up-and-coming AVCHD, and the ever-more-affordable DVCPRO HD. By a stroke of good fortune, I have three such camcorders in hand right now, and I thought it would be a good time to discuss their relative merits. Specifically, I’ve got the Canon XH A1 ($3,299 street), the Panasonic AG-HPX170 ($5,195 street), and the brand-spanking-new Panasonic AG-HMC150 ($3,495 street). Granted, the HPX170 is a much more flexible camera targeted at higher-end markets than the other two, but it will at least be on the radar screen for folks comparing the other two.

Beyond HDV: Using AVCHD with Panasonic's AG-HSC1U

I've been a user exclusively of tape-based cameras since the analog days. So, beyond the implications of the AVCHD format, I was intrigued by the opportunity to test Panasonic's AG-HSC1U, because it stores all video and still images on SDHC cards. A 4GB card is included with the camera. You can find the camcorder online for well less than $2,000, with spare Panasonic 4GB cards for as low as $150 (gulp!)—although Kingston offers a card that should be compatible for around $50.

Review: Focus Enhancements FireStore FS-C

Focus Enhancements' FS-C direct to edit (DTE) recorder is a high-performance, feature-rich product that's the perfect complement to Canon camcorders like the XL H1, XH A1, or even XL2 (I tested with the XH A1). The only catch is price; at $1,799.95 for the 100GB model at B&H Photo, the unit may be hard to justify for all but the highest-volume (or highest-end) event videographers, though as you'll see below, product benefits do extend far beyond time-saving.