Camcorders forum


Camcorder Newbie aks for help

by blablabla_297 / July 4, 2013 6:39 AM PDT


I have a few questions about camcorders.
I'm looking for a good camcorder to capture nice moments in my life. Not everything stays the same, and of some scenes and persons I'd like to have a good memory for the rest of my life. My parents had (and still have) an old Chinon video camera and the video's taken by that are very precious possession. But new generation, new camera, especially because the old one can't be replaced/repaired and is necessary to play the old recordings.

I already discovered that a decent camcorder is a bit more expensive than a camera for photos and that the world of camcorders is a bit more daunting. My budget is around (less than) €1.000 ($1.300, £860). I'm an amateur and I'm not planning to buy a new one every few years, so I like a decent one now. I want to film both in outdoor as indoor situations. Most scenes I will film (especially in the first few years) are memories I want to retain, so quality of image is important. I'll also take the cam on holidays and it shouldn't be too big of a hassle.

These two cams looked good to me: Panasonic HC-X920 (around €850) and Sony PJ650 VE (around €920). From these two, which will be the best buy? The PJ650 has an extra sunscreen (not so good for portability) but has an interesting (=? superior) stabilization system (at least, they told me in the shop). The 650 has more pixels in one chip, while the X920 spreads it over three. What does that mean in terms of resolution and image size? The lenses seem to be similar... I can also obtain a Sony CX 960E, is that any good? How does this compare to the other two? Are there alternatives to these camera's? And a similar cam without the viewfinder, is that an option? Just how important is a viewfinder when you have an LCD? The Panasonic HC-V720 looks like a good cam too (on first glance; less pixel but a better lens?), only half the price of an X920, but without viewfinder.

Thank you in advance for the help.

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All Answers

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start somewhere...
by boya84 / July 6, 2013 5:41 AM PDT

Get the largest lens diameter and imaging chip size you can afford. I think in the range you're looking 58mm lens filter diameter and 1/3 inch single imaging chip are typical. These two items (larger is better) will help with the low-light and poor-light environments you describe. You will have much better results if you add light, but sometimes that is not possible. Add the appropriate Canon Legria HF M or HF S model to your list.

Professionals do not regularly upgrade, either - many news stations continue to use Beta tape equipment and will continue to do so until the equipment costs more to repair than replace.

Humans were not built to be steady. While camcorder stabilization (optical or electronic) can help, nothing beats a tripod... or desk, or shelf or chair. Plus it allows YOU to get into the shot.

Video resolution is measured using horizontal row count. 480 rows = standard definition. 720 and 1080 are high definition. Pixels - specifically, megapixels - are used for still image resolution. For video, in addition to the rows, the amount of compression used when capturing or storing the video ) will dictate the video quality. Always capture in "highest available quality". You can always compress the video and reduce the quality later (and still be "high definition video), but if you start at low quality and high compression, you cannot get that lost data back.

Some people like the viewfinder (it can provide better focusing capabilities than the LCD screen), but many people find the LCD panel more convenient (until they discover the focus issue). In my opinion: The Sony projector cams have a feature lots of people will not use - the projector. Assuming this is the case, what, exactly are you getting a camcorder with a projector for?

Unrelated but related: How are you planning to store the video? Do you have LARGE hard drives connected to your computer or home network to store the video captured by the camcorder? What are your plans for editing? What happens when the computer with the video crashes? The camcorder manufacturers have not provided cost effective processes for long-term storage of video captured by today's flash memory camcorders, so you need to be you own computer network manager... There are solutions, but they all have a price...

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Thank you and a bit more questions
by blablabla_297 / July 9, 2013 6:55 AM PDT
In reply to: start somewhere...

Thank you for your information.

Well, I indeed didn't think more about the way to save the files. I thought it would be possible to store them on a external hard drive. How much space does it take record a few minutes? I think you don't have to tape everything at best quality...

The most people put the x920 as the best, so it surely can't be bad.

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"External hard drives" are one method,
by boya84 / July 9, 2013 2:07 PM PDT

but when you go the electro-mechanical route, you need to assume the hard drive will crash. Using a Network Attached Storage system that is configured as RAID1 does a couple of things...

First, being NAS, the operating system of the computers does not matter.
Next, as RAID1, two drives actually are "paired" and mirrored. The chances that both will fail at the same time are extremely slim. But when one fails, replace it with a known (new) working drive and the remaining drive has the data that will get copied over to the replacement drive. Normally, these systems allow for hot-swappable drive changes so you don't need to power the system down for replacement.
And last, because the NAS is on the network, other computers can access it.

How much space a "few minutes of video uses" depends on how you want to store it or how you want to retrieve it... If you keep the original, compressed video, the hard drive space used will depend on the quality of the video you captured and whether LOTS of compression was used (low data rate and poor video quality) or only a little compression was used (high data rate and better video quality).

Since you are not using a tape camcorder, you aren't using *any* tape... but I always capture at highest possible video quality. It is easy to compress and reduce the quality, but if the video was captured at high compression, then the video data was never recorded and you can't get it back. You may be correct - the video does not always need to be at best quality all the time. I have not yet been able to see into the future to decide when mediocre quality id "good enough" and I am generally happy 10- years after capturing video that I took the effort to capture at best quality...

I have nothing bad to say about the Panasonic HC X920. For a consumer grade camcorder, it has a healthy sized 3MOS sensor array, pretty good 48mm lens filter diameter, 1/8" (3.5mm) stereo audio input, a couple of useful manual controls on the outside of the camcorder, wifi connectivity, 3D ready, and a few other good things... But it is not the camcorder that does the long term storage, the camcorder manufacturers are not usually in the large data storage business and cloud storage is just problematic for uploading these sorts of large video files (hence the home NAS)...

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I didn't exactly answer your question...
by boya84 / July 9, 2013 2:15 PM PDT

If you store the video uncompressed the 60 minutes of video-editor-useful uncompressed high definition video will consume about 44 gig of computer hard drive space... or one 60 minute miniDV tape. As previously indicated, if compressed and in the same format the camera captured the video, it will depend on the camera's settings...

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Stabiliser in the Panasonic
by Terfyn / July 11, 2013 6:02 PM PDT

I have the HC-V700 and the Optical Image Stabiliser(OIS) is excellent and totally acceptable for normal videoing. I would normally recommend a tripod or, at least, a monopod and would say either is essential for telephoto videoing but the OIS holds a steady picture for general use.
I am not a fan of Sony as they seem to go their own way with accessories and add-ons and the extras are not cheap. Panasonic and Canon will accept most third party accessories without problem. (I risk the wrath of the Sony brigade!!)
I have had the V700 for about a year now and rate it as a good camera.

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Can you please
by boya84 / July 12, 2013 12:13 AM PDT

list the accessories and add-ons that are Sony-proprietary?

From what I can see, the batteries may be the only issue - but they are not interchangeable between manufacturers just as the other manufacturers' batteries are not interchangeable - and the optional batteries from the camcorder manufacturers are all pricey.

Sony seems to have moved away from requiring ProDuo cards (in favor of various fast SD flash memory);
screw-on lenses and filters are all basically standard for those camcorders with a filter diameter spec from any manufacturer;
the 1/8" (3.5mm) stereo audio-input jack is nothing special for third party mics;
I don't think the Panny 3D lens add-ons work with other manufacturers and it is not inexpensive;
AVCHD compressed video is the same;
USB connectivity is the same;
Tripod mount is the same;
AV, HDMI/miniHDMI and (if available), RGB cabling may have a manufacturer specific connector on the camera, but those cables generally come in the box with the camcorder;
That leaves the accessory shoe...

Some of the higher-end Sony consumer camcorders have an "Advanced Interface Shoe" that is a proprietary hot shoe for some mics and lights... same with the higher end Canon consumer camcorders with the "mini Advanced Interface" that is also Canon-proprietary. These hot-shoes are smaller than a standard sized accessory shoe but do provide functionality that a cold shoe cannot provide. With my Canon and Sony cams I either use an adapter to standard sized cold-shoe or camera bracket to mount certain accessories that are not manufacturer-proprietary. I use non-Sony and non-Canon mics and lights with my Sony and Canon camcorders.

Some of the upper end of the Panasonic consumer camcorder line have an accessory shoe, but it is a standard sized cold shoe, so no special functionality. And the same third party mics and lights I use with the Sony and Canon camcorders can be used with appropriately equipped Pannys (but not mine).

So... No wrath (I use products from all three companies), but I do like to learn about the gear I use and do not experience the issues others claim I'm supposed to be having. If you are able to share what those expensive, required, add-ons are that have no third party provided equivalent functionality, I'd like to know what they are in the event I missed something in my research. Neither Sony, Canon nor Panasonic have required me to buy their specific accessories due to some sort of proprietary connectivity. Like I said, I think batteries are about it - other than the Panasonic-specific 3D lens.

If it helps, I regularly use a Sony HDR-HC1 and HDR-FX1 - and have for many years. I occasionally use a Sony HDR-CX760, Canon HF S100 and Panasonic HC V520.

For those who are in the market for a camcorder learning about this stuff, it is only fair to be specific so they can weigh alternatives and make a fully informed decision.

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