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Help me buy a Camcorder

by Harishgeorge / February 3, 2013 10:57 PM PST


After a long research on camcorders (based on my budget) I have been able to short list the following

Canon Legria HF R306, R36, R37, R38, M506 & M56
Sony CX190, CX210, CX250 CX260

In Sony, except for CX 260 all the others are not exactly full HD (they just use SD and try converting to HD as per some sites)

Therefore, I am confused which brand to chose. The web reviews that I have read give details and specifications of each model but there does not seem to be any specific comparison between various models. Moreover. most sites have technical jargon which I dont understand. All I am looking at is good video recording, full HD, low light recording, shake stabilzer and good battery life at the best possible price. eg. There could be a canon and sony with exactly the same specs and video quality but with a different price. I would definitely go for the lower priced one. For this I need someone to help me chose from the above mentioned camcorders or suggest something equally good in JVC, Panasonic, Samsung, etc.

I do realise that each model has its own specs, pros and cons. But I am looking for someone to help me make a decision as a layman without any technical knowledge who wants to get his moneys worth.

Thanks and Regards

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looking for more information
by boya84 / February 4, 2013 12:59 AM PST

1) Can you supply links to the sites that indicate the Sony HDR-CX190, CX210 and CX250 are "not exactly full HD"? The definition of standard definition video is 480 horizontal lines; high definition video is 720 or 1080 horizontal lines. The Sony HDR-CX190, CX210 and CX250 all use AVCHD compression - by definition is high definition. Whether "full" high definition or not might be debatable - but if they are Standard def video as stated, Sony is wide open to false advertising legal issues...

2) The list of requirements you provide is normal... one at a time - other than we really do not know how picky you are... In my opinion - per your requirements:
* full HD: This is merely "1080p" as opposed to 720p or 1080i. Horizontal line count is only one measure that contributes to "video quality". In addition to lighting, the amount of compression applied to the video data as it is written to the storage media plays a huge role. It is easy to be recording 1080p video that looks worse than standard definition video. The 180p is highly compressed; the standard definition video uses low compression.

* low light recording: In order for good "low light recording" the camcorder needs a large lens diameter to allow light into the camcorder; then a large imaging chip (better yet, large 3-chip array commonly referred to as 3CCD or 3CMOS) is needed to deal with what light is allowed in. The camcorders you list are essentially entry-level consumer grade camcorders. Their lens diameter is usually in the 30mm to 37mm range. Most have no threads to mount filters or add-on lenses, so they do not list the spec making it impossible to know their lens diameter. The single imaging chip size is normally in the 1/6" to not-quite 1/4".

As camcorders increase in price, lens diameter and imaging chip size grows. Just setting the expectation: Low light behavior for the list of camcorders you have provided won't be too good. Captured video will be grainy.

* shake stabilzer: Humans were not made to be stable. Either mount the camera to your body, somehow, or use an external steadying device (tripod, rock, chair, shelf...). Optical stabilization works to a point and *some* video editors have a "shake removal" feature (iMovie for Macintosh) - but best practice is to not use the camcorder handheld. One learning challenge I had was understanding that the camcorder is not necessarily the human view. When the camcorder is handheld it is easy to quickly turn the camcorder as the camera-person's attention is drawn elsewhere. One of the last things you want to do is quick-pan the camera and go back and forth between subjects. Professionally, multiple cameras would be used for back and forth cuts. We don't get that luxury, so we compromise.

* good battery life: Get an optional high-capacity battery or two from the camcorder manufacturer. I've read from several folks who decided to spend less $ on the battery from a third party only to find that they caused more problems and were not worth the "savings".

JVC, Panasonic and Samsung all make competitive products in the same price range. The video file types are similar, the amount of compression applied is selectable and similar. AVCHD files are MTS, M2TS or TOD from all.

A big part of video is audio. You make no mention of any audio capabilities/requirements. At a minimum, a mic jack might be preferable. Better yet, a mic jack with manual audio gain control. In the camcorders you listed, most have a mic jack. A couple rely solely on auto audio gain control. Most have a few with at least a "normal" and "attenuator" (for loud audio) settings accessible through the camcorder's menu.

And we assume your computer has the horsepower and storage space to deal with AVCHD compressed video - many cannot. Of course, that assumption is based on the assumption that video editing or playback on a computer is planned. That takes us to the next step of understanding the playback audience (computer, tablet, smartphone/personal media player, video sharing sites, DVD, Blu Ray and knowing there is no single best file, but multiple different files are needed.

I'll take a breath here...

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Dear boya84. Thanks a Lot
by Harishgeorge / February 4, 2013 2:53 AM PST

Dear boya84

Extremely thankful for the information. You need more than a breath after typing out so much Happy

But, you did kill me with the technical jargon over and over :). (doesnt mean I am being rude and mean).

Anyways, if you were to chose between Sony and Canon (or even other brands) ............ which would it be. The audio part is also quite important. I have a good inclination towards canon as those cameras looked much sturdier as compare to sony which felt like cheap plastic in hand.

The link which caused doubts about the HD is

one particular sentence states "You can't really call the video HD quality, the camcorder feels flimsy and the lens is prone to fringing." (What does fringing mean anyways.)

Appreciate if you could actually suggest a brand and model based on my requirements as I dont know anyone in particular who used the mentioned models and I also did not find any proper comparison on the web. Like..... someone comes upto me and says "hey dude, I had a sony ***** and then I bought a canon ***** which was extremely good, blah, blah, blah.......................... Definitely buy the canon ****** without any more thinking". Something like this would help me a lot as I am dont have the technical knowledge and just need to get good HD video and audio. Would make life more easier for me.

The computer part can be ignored as that can be taken care of. My personal opinion is that its much easier to buy a laptop as nowadays everyones got one and there are plenty of opinions and suggestions flying around. A far easier task as compared to the camcorder.

Once again thanks a lot for the reply.

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I tried to stay away from
by boya84 / February 4, 2013 6:12 AM PST

"technical jargon". Apologies if I was not successful.

Reading that CNET review... The use of low resolution sensors and interpolation to call the video "HD" is common across vendors in the low-end. Says so in the article. Fringing is sort of described in the article - it is the purplish color one can distinguish in the digitally zoomed in photo of the squirrel - it is that sort of "halo" around the squirrel's hairs on its back. This is common to most camcorders - more-so in consumer grade. You only really see it when the image is made really large - which you would normally not do.

Personally, I use a Sony HDR-HC1 and HDR-FX1. I don't like the AVCHD compression most of the current crop of consumer camcorders use. Plus the lenses and imaging chips are too small. I have used my son's Canon HF S100. Under nice, bright lighting - sunlight - out doors with all three cameras white-balanced and not recording fast action, one would be hardpressed to tell which camera captured which video (I used all three on a shoot). But when the lighting turns down or when the action starts, it is relatively easy to pick out the one with the small lens or the one with the high compression video.

Personally, I think all the manufacturers' camcorders all provide about the same quality given a specific price point in their line. They are competitors.

The CNET article to which you refer also says, "If you're going to buy one, get the cheapest; nothing on any of these is really worth the extra bucks." Assuming we trust this review, then the CX190 is it from Sony

I have not used any of the Canons listed. I like the HF M series because there is manual audio control that is more granular than in the HF R series. Comparing the entry level CX190 to a mid-range HF M56 is a bit unfair... a bit like comparing a Toyota Corolla to a Cadillac ATS. Both well built, but in different classes. Given a choice, I'd take the HF M56 or the the possible equivalent on the Sony side of the HDR-CX760 (not on your list).

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Thanks a Million boya84
by Harishgeorge / February 4, 2013 3:17 PM PST
Happy Thanks a Million again.

Now I am making some progress, Your suggestion that they are all almost similar makes sense. I should use a bit of common sense here ................. no one is going to buy 2-3 different camcorders and be able to provide a suggestion, as most people just buy one and use it till it drops dead. And in this range, I'm sure most people are not able to tell the difference as its meant for common people without technical knowledge/jargon like me. Unless there is a group/forum that keeps discussing this.

Your comparison of the cars was quite good. But in my case I would opt for something good at a lower price. Toyota spare parts are much cheaper compared to the caddy as well as maintenance costs. Toyota it would be for me then. I know for a fact that Sony LCD TVs are highly priced as compared to the Samsung for their brand name. But generally, samsung TVs are equally good (sometimes even better). Samsung it would be for me. In short, I must get my moneys worth, no show off or style statements for me Wink

One final quick question. What is your opinion of JVC everio mainly the GZ series.

Thanks a lot again for taking the time and patience to reply. Really Appreciate.
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Just to be clear...
by boya84 / February 4, 2013 10:29 PM PST

The automobile analogy was just that - about buying automobiles. Nothing about maintenance. In my life I've had Chevys and Caddies. Maintenance aside, I'd take Caddies any day - when I could afford it. Not to "show off", but due to the comfort, quality and available features.

Remember, appropriate expectations... Using today's physics, small lens diameter and imaging chip = poor low light behavior. As the camcorders/cameras increase in price, the lenses and imaging chips get larger. You listed "low light recording" as important. The less expensive cams just cannot capture non-grainy low light video.

Be sure to get a mic jack - and *some* form of audio control. Even if it is the simple "normal" and "loud audio attenuator" option switch. In this case it is better to have and not need it than need and not have it. The Canon HF R series has the "attenuator"; the HF M series a little more granular. Download a manual form the manufacturer's site and read through it...

I have used a JVC consumer-grade camcorder once a few years ago. It was OK. The colors did not seem as robust as a Sony, Canon or Panasonic in the same price range. I do not know if that continues to be the case. I have no experience with Samsung camcorders.

A bit about editing... While it is true that laptops are more powerful than desktops of a few years ago - and they *can* handle light editing, be careful when shopping. In my opinion, something with 4-8 gig RAM, a current CPU and use of an external drive for the video project files is strongly suggested. When a computer boots up, it is running on the internal start up drive. When the video editor is launched, it is in RAM and in virtual RAM on the start-up drive. When the video files are brought in for editing, you do not want the internal system drive available space using as virtual memory fighting with read/write activity retrieving the video project files. On top of this, laptop drives are designed to be power savers and traditionally run slower (5400 rpm) than desktop type drives (7600 rpm) or "media drives" (10,000 rpm). I am not saying a media drive is needed - they are more expensive. But don't fall into the portability trap - use an external, non-laptop drive for the project file storage.

Note and a question: I use digital tape. When I am done with a project, it is usually exported to the tape for archiving. The video files are discarded from the computer because I have the original captured video on other digital tape. Then three more versions of the project are made: a DVD disc image, a high quality computer-readable one for uploading to video sharing sites and a compressed MP4 for use on a personal media player. These all take space. What are your plans for back-up and archive of the original or rendered versions of the video you capture?

High quality, low compression video files are large and I do not see the cost benefit of storing in a service cloud yet. Local Network Attached Storage (NAS) looks appropriate but they are also expensive...

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Computers and Tape
by Terfyn / February 9, 2013 1:52 PM PST
In reply to: Just to be clear...

I would not use a laptop for video work. Everybody thinks laptops are the be all and end all - they are not. My computer, a tower system, was built to a spec for running Avid editing software, it has a quad core processor, 8Gig of ram, a powerful graphics card and the ability to run two video monitors. I have a 4:3 monitor for controlling the editor and a 16:9 monitor for displaying the pictures. It may sound "overkill" but seeing the picture full size on the second monitor makes editing far easier.
I have two cameras, a Canon HV-20 (which I bought in 2005) and a Panasonic HC-V700, the Canon is tape based and the Pansonic is SD card based. To download from the Canon I need FireWire (not usually available on newer computers) so I had a FireWire card installed. The point is that a laptop is very limiting whereas a Tower can be configured to exactly what you want and can be uprated at any time. (more memory for example)

I am very nervous of using tape as an archive medium. Recently I tried to record some old casettes onto CD. The tapes were useless even though they had been cared for. There was loss of signal, print through and other degridation. When one magnetic field sits within 0.1mm of another magnetic field you are going to get problems. I use DVD for archiving - it has its problems as well but should last longer than tape.

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