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What are the differences in today's camcorders? Go HD or wait?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / January 3, 2008 6:23 PM PST

I would like to get rid of my Sony Hi-8 camcorder and get something better. In the stores, I see lots of different styles including hard-drive, mini-DVD, and even memory card formats. There are even some high-definition camcorders that I have seen for under $1,000 that record to HDV. What is the difference here? I know there has to be pros and cons to each--please let me know what they are. Is it worth my time to get an HD camcorder, or am I better off waiting another 6 to 12 months, or should I just stick with the mini DV and forget the HD hype? Thanks!

--Submitted by Russ E.

Answer voted most helpful by CNET Community newsletter readers:

Selecting a video camera


One might say that this is the best of times and the worst of times for making a decision regarding a video camera. There are many choices from which to select and making a good long-term selection can be difficult. You have inadvertently made helping you a bit more difficult because you haven't given us any clues as to what your needs and expectations are, other than you want to modernize from the Hi-8 you currently own. However, I'll offer my two-cents worth of information and let you decide what is or isn't important.

As I see things (and this is strictly my opinion), you have two major issues with which to contend regarding the actual video camera: (1) storage format, and (2) standard definition (SD) or high definition (HD). I'm going to address the latter first as I think it is an easier decision.

There are a handful of high-def video cameras on the market these days. While watching your home movies in HD on your HD t.v. must be very exciting you may run into a problem if you want to create (i.e. capture, edit and burn to DVD) home movies from your recordings. It is my understanding that there remains little in the way of available software for working with high-def home video recordings (at least where the software can work directly with your footage - some software will allow you to work with your footage, but only after transcoding to a different format, which inevitably degrades the quality of the video). This may not be as true today as it was last year, but from what I am reading around the web (including here at CNET), the hardware is there, but software has lagged behind. If you are interested in the creative process of making home movies this may prove to be a problem. However, if you simply want to record movies and then watch them (directly) on your television, then go HD if you want to spend the money.

The more complicated issue is the one of to which media format you wish to record your movies. Currently the big three are Mini-DV tape, direct to DVD, and hard-drive-based units. There are some flash-memory type cameras on the market, but at this time I would, again, in my own opinion, steer clear of this option due to it's lack of recording time and video quality. Each of the big three has its own advantages and disadvantages, but it is how you will use your camera that may best determine the more appropriate route for you. That said....

While Mini-DV is the older technology here I still firmly believe it's the best all-round choice for the average consumer. First, the technology is tried-and-true. Second, Mini-DV tapes are rather inexpensive (especially when bought in bulk at a place like Costco or Sam's). Third, while they take a while to download ('capture') onto your computer, there is plenty of software available for editing if that is a direction in which you are currently engaged or think you would like to go. Fourth, they offer a very high-quality image and use a minimum amount of compression. Finally, you can save the tape for long-term storage as it remains quite stable over long periods of time if you take just a modicum of care of the tape.

Direct-to-DVD appears to me to be a system that is geared towards instant gratification. You can shoot your video and then take your DVD (actually it's a mini-DVD; not a full-sized one) to your computer or stand-alone DVD player and watch it on your monitor or television. It couldn't be simpler. This format works very well if you have no intention of making home movies (avoiding that creative process), but this method comes with a price: video quality. There isn't a whole lot of room on an unused mini DVD. If you elect to capture video using less compression you will have less recording time. If you opt to increase compression you will obtain longer recording times, but the video quality will diminish. This will become even more apparent if you watch your video on a large screen television where compression artifacts will become much more apparent. In addition, the cost of mini DVDs is more than that of mini-DV tapes by a fair margin.

Finally, there is the latest incarnation of media - the well-known hard drive. Hard-drive based camcorders appear to be the wave of the future based upon how many I see at my local consumer electronics stores as well as by what I read in the press and on the Internet. This isn't necessarily a bad thing either as a hard-drive based camcorder seems to bridge the gap between mini-DV tape and mini-DVD based camcorders. With a sufficiently sized hard drive you should be able to record long movies without the need for much in the way of compression, thus offering you good (if not great) quality video as well as long recording times. Transferring your videos to your computer should also be quick, but keep in mind that large video files still take time to transfer. However, you are no longer tied to the 1:1 time ratio when moving video from mini-DV tape to your computer so things will be much quicker than if you purchased a tape-based camcorder.

They only down-side that I can see with hard-drive based units is long-term reliability and I say this from the perspective of the hard-drive. Hard drives can be finicky. When they sit in your desktop PC there is no concern about motion (as opposed to a camcorder being moved while your video tape, dropped, etc.). There are no physical forces being exercised upon the drive other than those created by the drive itself (as it spins and the read/write heads move back and forth). Even laptops are reasonably safe for hard drives because most folks aren't moving around their laptops while they work on them. A camcorder is a different story and might better be related to the mini hard drives that have been found for years in MP3 players. Both camcorders and MP3 players can receive quite a bit of shock when being moved about in the normal course of use. And even with all the physical and software-based things a company can do to help protect a hard-drive, it is still in an environment that is less than conducive to long-life and reliability (this may be why so many folks see what they perceive to be premature deaths in hard-drive based MP3 players). If you are considering the hard-drive route for a camcorder I think I would carefully consider under what circumstances and how often it will be used. Remember, the big professional video cameras used by the folks at your local television station are tape-based and there is a reason they remain so: tried-and-true and long-term reliability.

I hope this helps you in your decision-making process.

Submitted by: CNET member forkboy

If you have any additional recommendations for Russ, please click on the reply link and post away. Please be as detailed as possible when providing an explanation.

Thank you!
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Depends... are you editing?
by Robynsveil / January 4, 2008 9:02 AM PST

My understanding is that if you wish to do post-video editing, you might be better off going with MiniDV because it saves to a non-compressed format, whilst the HD saves to MP4 which is compressed. Most people do in-camera editing, so it doesn't much matter, and--quite frankly--the quality of your MP4 image is *still* a fair bit better that the Hi-8 ... IMHO.

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Go with HD... but its up to you on what storage type to use
by caskater4 / January 4, 2008 11:08 AM PST

Hi Russ,

This is really a two part question. The first part of the question is about what format to use; do you use SD or HD video formats? The second part of the question is about how the camera stores that chosen format.

So let's look first at the question of which format to use. Do you go with an HD camera or an SD (non-HD) camera? Much like HDTV television, video cameras are experiencing the same technology transition. A good indicator of how HD is not just hype is looking at the middle to high end camera market. There is not a single camera in the middle to high end market that is SD anymore. Everything is HD. The only SD cameras left on the market are at the low end as manufacturers are trying to get rid of their old supplies so they can move on to manufacture the new HD format equipment. So this really becomes a question of whether or not you want to have a future proof video camera or if you want to save a lot of money in the short term. In the end (5-10 years from now) SD video cameras will no longer be available anywhere nor will they be supported by many of the daily household items you will use.

So now we come to the second part of your question. How does the format get stored? There are many choices for how a camera will store a format's data. Traditionally cameras store the data on magnetic tape or film. In today's world we have a few more options such as hard drives, optical media (DVD), and even flash memory. The type of storage used does not change the format the video is recorded in but rather changes how you will interact with the data once your video has been recorded. Also, not every storage choice is available for both SD and HD formats. The following is a break down of the available storage choices, the formats they support and their pros and cons.

DV/HDV/MiniDV - This will be familiar to you as these are magnetic tapes like Hi8 uses. It is available for both SD and HD formats. SD formats use DV or MiniDV tapes and HD formats use HDV tapes. The down side to this storage choice is that you will have to carry around lots of tapes if you want to capture a lot of video (but you're already used to that with your Hi8). The up side to the format is that it is very easy to connect to a computer and edit your material. These cameras are supported by virtually every video editing software available.

DVD - This option uses optical media to store your recordings. These cameras require no editing or further preparation. Because of this your recordings can immediately be put into a standard DVD player for playback. The disadvantages of these cameras are that they only support the SD video format and it is much more difficult to download to a computer for editing. There are also only few software packages which allow you to edit this type of media and they are all typically simplistic programs that have little to no advanced editing features.

Hard Drive/Flash Memory - This option uses small hard drives or flash memory to store the video recordings. These cameras come in both SD and HD flavors. The downside to this choice is that your storage size is fixed within the camera. If you run out of space your only option is to copy your recordings to a computer so you can further free up the space on the camera. The up side of course is that you don't have to carry around lots of tapes. Also, these cameras are as easy to connect to a computer as the DV/HDV/MiniDV cameras are.

My recommendation would be to buy an HD camera in whatever storage format you prefer most. If you cannot afford an HD camera yet then wait to save some money and purchase one later. The video camera I chose is a Sony HDR-HC3. It is an HDV camera. While the hard drive based cameras are great I like not having a camera with fixed recording capacity. This is especially crucial if I go on trips where I may not have a computer accessible to me for days or even weeks at a time.

Whatever format and storage type you ultimately decide to go with make sure you do some more research as there are many cameras within each category to choose from and they all vary in terms of recording quality, extra features and so forth. Good luck!

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Sorry - Not Even CLOSE SO NO CIGAR!
by cdhanks / January 11, 2008 9:50 AM PST

Your comment, "There is not a single camera in the middle to high end market that is SD anymore." Just NOT TRUE. Panasonic, Canon and Sony all still make several SD Prosumer models they currently sell. Sony has the DCR-VX2100, Canon has the XL2 and the GL2, Panasonic the AG-DVX100 and the AG-DVC20. Perhaps you should do a little research before offering advice.

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SD cams still selling
by Cheeky1 / January 11, 2008 10:36 AM PST

yep have to agree. even the professional side of sony still sells the DSR-PD170 which is SD and still selling loads, same goes for the DSR-450 which is a very high end SD camera

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Exactly--SD isn't dead yet for the consumer/prosumer market
by froasier / January 11, 2008 12:40 PM PST

A good SD cam will outdo a cheap HD cam in picture quality almost every time. Despite the buzz around HD, regular DVDs still look pretty good, especially when upconverted. A widescreen "SD" camcorder (might be more aptly labeled "ED") that produces good motion, color, light balance, etc. will look better even on an HDTV than will a cheap HD camcorder that skimps on these qualities.

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Go HD with HDD ... but take the extended warranty!
by stevepowell / January 12, 2008 4:09 AM PST


In a few (not too many) years time, you will hear people say that the difference between standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) video recording is like the differnce between VHS and DVD or the difference between long playing records and music CD-ROMs. It really is 'night' and 'day' different.

The choice of format has already been made for you really. HD is here, with several excellent cameras available. The film and television industry has been recording almost all source content in HD for years and that technology is now available in both consumer and 'prosumer' camcorders.

I recently purchased a JVC Everio GZ-HD7 (1080p) and it is incredible. I also have Cyberlink PowerDVD creator and it reads the files natively with the latest patch so I can either watch the content directly or edit it and make 'movies'. Elsewhere, someone mentioned that the hardware is ahead of the software. This will change very soon, with all software manufacturers catching up so do not let that deter you.

As for storage, go for a camera with built in disk - the bigger the better as HD eats disk space! Provided you have a reasonably fast PC and USB 2.0 or FireWire connection, transfers to the PC will be quick - a lot quicker than 1:1 time from a tape playback system.

On the extended warranty ... I work in the computer business and I know from my many years of experience - both personal and that of my clients - the single most unreliable part of a computer system is the disk. That's not to say disks are unreliable these days but they still have moving parts and are subject to shock damage no matter how well the manufacturer protects them. A disk in a computer is 100,000 times more likely to fail than a processor or a memory board!

So take the extended warranty if you buy a disk-based camcorder. It will cost you around 15% of the cost of the camcorder but a single repair involving the replacement of the disk will cost you double that on average. And back up all your footage regularly. It will be too late to back up after the disk fails ...

At the end of the day, it's your wallet that will decide what you buy. In all technology purchases, you should spend the maximum you can afford to get the best technology available to you as you just know it will be obsolete by the time you get it home. Buying the best you can afford lessens the pain a little when you read that the manufacturer just started selling the ABC mark-2 and you just bought the ABC mark-1. Still, the mark-1 is a darned good gadget so you're happy, if now peniless!

Finally, if you can't afford the model you want, wait a while and save for your dream. Your Hi-8 is still working, I assume so don't rush it. There's always the ABC mark-3 that will be half the price of the mark-2 you wish you had bought last month!!!

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Standard or High Defnition?
by TreknologyNet / January 4, 2008 11:16 AM PST

If you want to stick with a Standard Definition camera, the most reliable and accepted platform across the boards is Mini-DV tape. If you are going to be serious about your editing, then most high-end software will expect to capture from a Mini-DV camera, and it is what I would personally recommend.

Tape mechanisms may be more complex than an internal hard drive, or disc burner, but the hard drives are not very friendly when it comes to knocking your camera about and CD/DVDs are scratchable. The more important the data, the more likely it is to get scratched.

If you want to go to a High Definition, be prepared to spend money. Make absolutely sure that it is capable of TRUE 1920 * 1080. There are many "HD ready" TVs out there that are signal compatible, but unable to actually show the full number of pixels, and as a camera is something you expect to perform, don't settle for anything less. I have only seen HD cameras with Tape at this time, perhaps this is different in other countries.

In either case, therefore, I'm recommended tape cassettes. If you only want a cheap camera for a couple of years, stick to Standard Definition. If you're making a purchase for the future then get into the HD market.

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misinformed on HD
by froasier / January 11, 2008 12:47 PM PST

1920 * 1080 is 1080p, or "full HD". 720p (1280 * 720) is still HD and still a very good resolution compared to SD. Also, "HD Ready" refers to lack of a tuner--it has nothing to do with resolution. You may be thinking of 720p TVs that are labeled as 720p/1080i, or can accept 1080p signals, but display everything at 720p, which again is still HD.
However, I'm not sure of the market availability of 720p vs 1080i/p camcorders.

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Sony Hi-8 Migration - Differences in today
by R2ramos / January 4, 2008 11:31 AM PST

I have migrated from Hi-8 to Digital-8 and am going to migrate to HD-HD (maybe not the correct term) later this year.

Having converted all of my Hi8 and Digital-8 videos to digital files (almost 500GB), I know that I don't want to do that again.

My camera criteria is:
1. Must be 1080P compatible.
2. Must have a 60GB Hard Drive (100GB is preferred.
3. Must have > 12X Optical Zoom.
4. Must use a Li-Ion battery.
5. Should be capable of saving >5MB photos to a flash drive (SD, MMS-Pro, ??).

Any brand camcorder that meets the above criteria will be considered.


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Sony Hi8 camcorder
by raymondo31 / January 4, 2008 12:15 PM PST

Greetings Russ, I bought the above mentioned PAL version analogue video camera about 9 years ago for just under $3000.00 Aus, from Duty free, here, I read in an American magazine that it was( THE BEST). at that time, just before digital arrived.. I took it on holidays to Hawaii and USA and when back home most of the video were useless ... Took it back to duty free and exchanged for another hi8, this was just as bad. I took it to Sony in Oz for service and they replaced the heads and then was only slightly better, and I even wrote to Sony in Japan,and no reply at all .By this time the warranty ran out! I got in touch with OZ Consumer and Sony repaired again, took 4 weeks for repair (as usual for service ),tried the camera again and not much better. This time the bad pulling and scratching affect happens about every 20 seconds not 5 seconds as before, Still useless. Bigest heap of junk I have ever had! ,, I have never bought or will ever buy Sony products again.. I heard 3 years ago that a friend of a friend had the same problem also with the Hi8 .. regards Ray of OZ

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Sony Hi8 camcorder
by pstaley1 / January 11, 2008 10:34 AM PST
In reply to: Sony Hi8 camcorder

I have had a Sony Hi8 camcorder for about or nine years. Never had any problems with mine. Good sound good picture. I am going to upgrade since I want to use it in the dark. You must of got a lemon.

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old Hi-8
by haf canadian / January 19, 2008 5:28 AM PST
In reply to: Sony Hi8 camcorder

I've had a Sony Hi-8 since about 1991. The only problem I ever had was a loose drive screw that caused the loss of some important video. The video is on the Hi-8 tape, but can't be accessed because it won't track correctly in the repaired camera or any other player. I've heard Sony's customer service can be less than user friendly, but the product design and function gives more pluses than minuses to buying Sony. That is not to say that today's complicated and delicate electronics won't let you down or overwhelm you; I recently bought a Sony DVD camcorder, and am pleased with it except for its highly frustrating unfriendly computer editing facility. Had I known that getting video into my computer and editing it for copy to a standard 12cm disk was next to impossible I would have bought miniDV or just stuck with our Hi-8. I can say that there is, after all these years engineers have been working on video, finally some picture improvement over Hi-8; though I don't know if it's worth the editing fiasco to go DVD. If Sony would fix that software snafu, it would be a simple choice for me to stick with DVD, because I do like the shooting and simple playback aspects of it.

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Today's Camcorders
by DougLye / January 4, 2008 12:40 PM PST

You hit the nail on the head with your multi faceted question and there are just as many questions to narrow down a suitable video recorder for you.
First off, what is the end result that you expect from your system. If you only want to store the raw video to watch over and over again, then you may want to get a video camera that records onto a medium such as digital video tapes or burns the image onto a CD. If you already have an HD TV system for playback, then that is also an option for you video camera. A video camera that has an internal hard drive will have to eventually be recorded onto some other medium for storage which will require a reasonably good computer and program that will allow some level of video editing and DVD burning. How much involvement you want over and above the recording process will help to narrow down the medium the video camera records to. If you prefer to get an HD video camera then you will need a better computer with the software programs that allow you to create HD video.

a 2nd consideration is where you want to take the video camera. Travel away from North America you will probably have to pack extra batteries, recording material, battery chargers (with the proper transformers to give you correct voltage for the rechargers) etc. With the video camera hard drive record system, can you record all of your video and not worry about running out of space before you come home? Is the equipment to big or bulky for travel or are you just recoding the kids in the back yard. An overnight hike into the mountains with an HD triple CCD system may be heavier than the sleeping bag you will really need.

Finally, each recording system will have some advantages and disadvantages. As an example, I purchased a triple CCD DV recorder. Very compact and light, better quality than a normal DV recorder, not nearly as good as an HD system (but then again I don't plan on getting an HD TV any time soon). Being a triple CCD, the optical zoom is only 10X compared to a similar DV model with 30X optical zoom.

Narrow down the search for a video camera that will suit YOUR needs. Is digital zoom an essential feature to capture the eagles in the trees across the river? Is it essential to get an HD system that will match your playback system (don't waste your money on HD if you don't have an HD system that will play it back in all it's glory). A triple CCD DV recorder will give you a better results than a DV system but won't break your bank account. Once you narrow your search, check out CNET reviews to get some professional insight into the quality of the different camera models.

Happy hunting

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Not SO quick..
by ngillbanks / January 4, 2008 12:46 PM PST

I bought a new camera a couple of years ago and kept the old 8 MM Hitachi in the closet. Well my daughter started wanting to use a video camera to make "skits". I let her use the old one and she had a great time until one of her friends dropped it. All those baby videos I was going to get around to transferring to DVD, are now held hostage on the 8-MM tapes. I know there are services that will transfer it for me and I could get another one off Ebay but I will never hear the end of it. It frosts me to have to pay for something I should have done myself for "free".

Make sure you have EVERYTHING off your old tapes before you ditch your old camera.

FWIW.. I bought a Canon ZR-300 2 years ago and I am very happy with it. As you might guess from the nickname, I am a Halloween nut and need good night shooting. That was the best I could do on the budget I was "allowed" to spend. My only regret is that it has no separate microphone input for a wireless mic. I still like tape as opposed to direct to DVD because I can choose how much compression to use.


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A reasonably priced camcorder with a future

Hi Russ,

I'll start with a short answer followed by an elaborate justification. I would recommend a Canon HV20 with an external firewire hard drive recorder. This is based on owning and enjoying a Canon HV10, Sony HC3, Sanyo HD1, Canon TX1, and Aiptek A-HD high definition camcorders, and miscellaneous SD cameras.

There are many measures of quality, but one of the most basic is resolution. Here are some picture size approximations for reference: SD 480I = 720 x 480 pixels, or about 350K pixels per picture (two interlaced fields); 720P = 1280 x 720, or about 1 megapixel per picture; and 1080P = 1920 x 1080, or about 2 megapixels per picture (1080I requires two successive fields for one picture).

And here are the pixel rates per second for various common formats: SD, 10 megapixels per second, 30 complete pictures; 720P30, 30 megapixels per second, 30 complete pictures; 1080I, 60 megapixels per second, 30 complete pictures; 1080P24, 48 megapixels per second, 24 complete pictures.

Interlaced standards imply that a picture will be reproduced using two interwoven fields, the first consisting of the odd numbered lines, the second of the even numbered lines. Most cameras expose each field separately, 1/60 of a second apart, which means that moving objects in the image won't line up when a picture is composed from the two fields. The benefit is that when they are shown as video, they produce a smoother moving image. Progressive standards imply that the entire picture is exposed at one time, as it would be on film. 1080P24 is supposed to emulate the appearance of film, as film is typically exposed at 24 frames per second.

We'll use this information below.

The first consideration in your choice of equipment should be the value of the content over your lifetime. It takes little more effort to shoot good video using HD formats versus SD formats, but results in pictures with three to six times the resolution. As resolution standards increase in the future, they will have greater value than SD video of the same content. It doesn't matter if this is personal or professional video, the same rule applies. The cost of the equipment is far less important than the time and effort you will spend using it over its life, and the content you will produce -- go for the best results.

Within the HD camcorders you are considering, there are four predominant compression formats: MJPEG (Canon TX1, JVC), HDV (HV20, others), MPEG-4 (Sanyo, Aiptek), and HDAVC (really MPEG-4 AVC, aka h.264). Real AVC requires lots of horsepower, and current implementations leave room for improvement, as one might expect in the first generation. HDAVC cameras typically record to hard disk or flash media.

MPEG-4 is generally for flash media cameras, such as the HD1 and A-HD. It allows 720P30 high definition recordings around 4 gigabytes per hour with acceptable quality, although quite a bit short of HDV quality. This is necessitated by the current capacity and data rate of flash memory cards. Memory cards still cost about ten times as much as DV tape for the same storage capacity, so you will probably want to erase and reuse the cards. Just be sure you have made two copies to different storage devices before erasing the original.

MJPEG is a format that offers easy editing, much like DV format (each picture is compressed individually). However, it eats memory like crazy (Canon TX1 uses about 8 GB/hr). And the difficulty of editing MPEG formats which share information from picture to picture is only a problem for the guy who has to write the editing program -- for you, there should be no additional burden.

MPEG-2, which is the basis for HDV, is well understood, and although it isn't as efficient at compression, produces an excellent image. HDV compression puts an hour of high definition content on a one hour DV tape, the same as a standard definition DV camera. HDV editing tools are common. DV tapes are inexpensive enough that it makes sense to never erase them, keeping them as your archive instead.

Speaking of media, DV tapes store about 12 GB for about $4. Flash memory is down to about $5 per gigabyte, and hard drives are around twenty cents per gigabyte to forty cents per gig for tiny drives. While hard drives are remarkably reliable, when they fail, their entire contents is gone. With video tapes, only the section affected by the failure (e.g. crinkling) is lost. When video is captured to a hard drive, it is ready to plug into a non-linear editing system immediately, avoiding the "real time" (1x) transfer of content from tape to disk before editing can begin. An ideal capture medium in terms of reliability, cost, and workflow is a removable hard drive.

But wait -- none of the consumer camcorders have removable hard drives! So you have to take the camera out of service in order to edit the content of its hard drive, or at least transfer it to another drive before editing, since you'll have to erase the contents of the camera's fixed hard drive before continuing to use it!

What makes a lot more sense is to use an external hard drive, capturing simultaneously to DV tape for archival purposes (copy 1) and to the disk (archival copy 2), which can then immediately be used for editing. Unfortunately, external firewire disks (with controller intelligence to be able to download) are remarkably expensive -- about the cost of a portable computer. So -- use a portable computer! Run an editor with a built-in capture program to record the content as you shoot. If you record it to an external hard drive, you can hot swap drives in the field for immediate editing.

The Canon HV20 is about the best quality, most versatile HDV camera available (according to reviews from owners at Amazon, NewEgg, CNet, etc.). My HV10 has been very pleasing, and the HV20 offers both 1080I and 1080P24 recording formats. It is said to have an actual 1920 x 1080 sensor (many HDV cameras are 1440 x 1080), with reasonable sensitivity and noise. It has an external mike in, and a headphone output (it is very important that you monitor your audio while shooting).

So that is the basis for my recommendation. However, I also recommend that you get an Aiptek A-HD (about $120 on sale) to play with, so you'll know what is coming. I have always associated Aiptek with gimick cameras that were fun but low quality. The A-HD is a real surprise in quality and low noise, and you can afford to give an HD Camcorder to your children! It seems to readout the video sensor in real time, so that if you pan quickly vertical objects tilt. Getting good audio is difficult. You'll need a tripod. But by and large, it is really cool. It can even record an NTSC video input (with audio) and work as a portable video (or MP3) player.

I've carried the HD1 (pocket sized) or the TX1 (even smaller) at all times for a few years. The world's finest camera setup won't do you any good if you don't have it with you when an opportunity presents itself. The 720P30 format is just fine in this context. The A-HD could also serve in this capacity.

By the way, great video requires great audio. Small portable recorders with good microphones (such as the iRiver IFP 7xx and 8xx series sold as MP3 players, or the Zoom H2) have crystal controlled timebases, just like your digital camera. As a result, the audio can be synchronized during editing and (as long as all devices remained rolling during record) they should remain in very good sync. You can sprinkle recorders in areas where you expect interesting audio, and once everything is rolling, clap once in front of the camera so you can line things up later. In this way, you don't have to be dependent on the camera's mike, or worry about dragging around the external microphone wire while you shoot. And you are not limited to the single channel of audio a wireless mike typically provides. If you get a wireless mike, remember you want a lightweight, battery operated receiver (most come with clunky AC powered receivers).

Although your camcorder will be great for handheld shots, please also get a decent tripod, with a quickly removable camera mount (and a spare platform), with "fluid head". The fluid is a viscous dampling fluid, which almost guarantees all of your camera moves will be smooth. A jerky tripod is almost useless for a video camera. Also, when you shoot on the tripod, turn off the image stabilization which will otherwise produce strange lagging movement effects.

Please remember when you are shooting that camera moves and zooms are like fonts on a page -- use too many and you distract from the content by calling attention to the camerawork.

So the answer, although it can be boiled down to a rational choice of equipment, is not intuitive. First, the cost of the equipment will be of far less importance than the value of the content; second, great video requires great audio; and third, great video requires great attention to lighting.

One last thing: Please back up your media, both locally and on distant servers. There are services which specialize in this, but with a little effort, you can use private space on a shared Internet host that is readily accessible but secure. Hosting space in a distant city can cost as little as $6 per terabyte(!) per month, but guarantees that any local catastrophes won't destroy your family picture and video collection. And if you wish, you can also set up your own website in the public space.

Whatever you choose, Russ, I hope you have a blast.


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Simultaneously recording to tape and laptop
by sfraibe2 / January 13, 2008 5:50 AM PST


As a follow-up, I am indeed interested in purchasing an HV 20 and simultaneously recording to my laptop and to tape. If this in fact posssible, what happens when the tape stops recording after 60 minutes? Can I continue to record to the hard drive while changing tapes?


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Simultaneously Recording - tape and laptop
by sfraibe2 / January 13, 2008 6:27 AM PST

Thanks for your answer. To follow up, I am strongly considering purchasing the HV20, and being able to simultaneously record to my laptop and tape would be very helpful. Do you know for certain if this is indeed possible with this camcorder? If so, what happens when the tape stops recording after 60 minutes? Can I continue to record to the hard drive while changing tapes?


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Can firewire recording continue while tapes are changed?
by Steven W Rose / January 14, 2008 2:29 AM PST

Hi Steve,

Great question! I only have the HV10, but I'll give this a try in the next couple of days. I would expect some sort of interruption, but we'll see.


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Firewire download continues during tape change
by Steven W Rose / January 14, 2008 5:51 AM PST

Hi Steve,

I had a chance to test sooner than expected. I used the capture app in Sony Vegas Studio 6 on my portable (I think it was the first version to allow HDV capture). With the HV10 turned on in the Camera position, output was immediately available via Firewire, and was unaffected by starting and stopping the tape (aside from the chime sound on the audio track from the camera's mike -- best to turn off the beep!).

When I ejected the tape, the capture screen on my portable turned blue and said something like "camera stopped". I reinserted the tape and closed the lid and the image resumed. However, on reviewing the capture file itself, it continued to record the camera's output during the tape change!

An important consideration for this type of use is the ability to change tapes with the camera mounted on a tripod, since you intend to continue to capture video during the change. The HV20 scores on this count, as the mechanism opens from the top. The HV10 opens from the bottom, as do many DV camcorders, and would require a special adapter and some contortion to change the tape while tripod mounted.

Another consideration is audio. Even with the beeps turned off, the camera mike will pick up the noise of the tape eject mechanism. Please see my earlier post about using external recorders such as the Zoom H2, and synchronizing in post. And please remember if you buy a wireless mike, that you'll need a small battery operated receiver if you intend to be able to move freely with your camcorder. Otherwise you'll be tethered to a large, AC powered receiver by the audio input cable, and might as well have used a wired external mike.


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Thanks-More Helfpul Info on Simultaneous Recording
by sfraibe2 / January 14, 2008 9:42 AM PST


This is extremely helpful, and I do not know how else I could have found out this information.

To add to this thread for those interested in a dual option of simultaneously recording to tape and a hard drive, I have learned that OnLocation (by Adobe) advertises that it enables one to simultaneously backup to tape and record/view on a computer screen. I also found out that another interesting alternative is to use a Focus FS-4Pro HD external hard drive, which you can attach to your HDV camcorder while simultaneously backing it up to the hard disk. The information can then be painlessly transferred to your computer. This option costs from 600-1500 dollars, depending on the size of the hard drive that you choose (40 mg - 100 mg). There are also some other portable hard disk options available as well, including from Sony and Citidisk, but from what I've learned it seems like the Focus is the most reliable (relative to the Citidisk) and widely available on various formats (the Sony is limited to Sony cameras, and possible specific types).

In sum, it seems (at least in terms of my own needs) that using HDV, while simultaneously backing up to both tape and a hard drive makes the most sense, as I do not believe AVCHD is ready for prime time (not allowing for easy editing, and sometimes not even easy viewing) and does not provide the same piece of mind in terms of archiving and redundancy to prevent the loss of data. On the other hand, transferring tape simply takes too long and one is limited by the 60 min length (or 80 min, if you choose this option) on mini dv and hdv tapes. An hdv format with a backup to a hard drive combines the best of all worlds, and (for my money, anyway) is the best tradeoff for the getting the highest quality recordings, ease of use for editing and transferring data, and piece of mind in terms of ensuring information is safely archived.

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"Great video requires great audio" - Steve Rose
by boris.klyushnik / January 14, 2008 4:50 AM PST

Thak you Steve for your remarks and avices on audio.
In many papers, fomus discussions etc. the topic of sound quality is ignored.
I have a lot of noises with Canon-HV20E, and almost perfect audio recorded with Panasonic NV-GS400. Both with buid-in mikes. Regarding the sum of (video+audio)quality I'd prefare Panasonic NV-GS400.
My question is: May I stick the Iriver digital MP3 player (as recored) onto my distand lecturer hoping to synchronize my DV with
separatelly recorded audio?
Thank you in advance,
Boris Klyushnik

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Synchronizing separately recorded audio
by Steven W Rose / January 14, 2008 8:05 AM PST

Hi Boris,

I haven't tried synchronizing over extended durations, but so far it has been easy to synchronize external recorders with video. This requires that the audio and video recorders remain rolling at all times after they have started, and that the audio recorder not be in "voice activated" mode. Also, because some audio recorders have variable speed playback, make sure that it is playing at 100% of the recording speed.

To be appropriate for this application, the recorder must have a stable (crystal controlled) timebase. But it doesn't have to be adjusted, because you will be playing back on the same device and any fixed error will be compensated! If you record a musical instrument with the recorder, such as a single high note on a piano,and the pitch is accurate when you compare the playback with the instrument, then the recorder should be fine. The only time I'd anticipate a potential problem would be if the recording was done at a very different temperature than the playback, since inexpensive timebases may change frequency slightly with temperature.

Once you have downloaded the soundtrack(s) and the video to the editor, you will be able to compare their lengths. If they don't match, it may be possible to stretch or shrink the length of the audio to fit. This probably won't be necessary, since both the camera and the recorder(s) are running with crystal timebases.

In the old days, when everything (including VCR video sync!) was determined mechanically, it was necessary to have some sort of elaborate mechanical synchronization mechanism among multiple recorders. Now, you can have multiple recorders running in different audio and video hotspots, synchronize their tracks in the editor, and do your edit just like you were directing a multicamera live shoot -- except you get to go back to make adjustments.

Interestingly, in your application, if the lecturer is far away the audio pickup on the camera will not be synchronized with the video! For example, if the lecturer is 100' away, the sound will be delayed by about 1/10 of a second (speed of sound is about 1000' per second). Having a recorder at the lectern will allow you to synchronize a much higher quality soundtrack with the video.

This brings up the need for a signal that can be used to synchronize the video and audio tracks in the editor, such as the clapboard commonly associated with movies. An informal approach is just to stand in front of the camera with both devices rolling and clap! You'll want a short impulse sound that can be easily matched with the frame showing the action.

I hope this works for you. If your iRiver is a 7xx or 8xx its external audio input can be used for an external stereo mike if you wish -- there is an option in its menu to change the input sensitivity from line to mike. Also, you will probably want to turn on AGC unless you can test and set the input level before you shoot. It is always a disappointment when your separately recorded audio turns out to be distorted. Other recorders may have similar options.


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Getting great audio
by Jamfan55 / January 14, 2008 6:59 PM PST

I've got a Panasonic miniDV cam with a built in zoom mic. I mostly record live music, and several people (non-musicians) have commented on the high quality of the sound. On the other hand, my musician friends have complained about the low end bass distortion, which I assume is due to the zoom mic. To me, it's a very minor issue, especially when compared to the substantial reduction in crowd noise I get when I use it.
Anyway, I've been wondering about recording with a line in from the soundboard, which I believe would eliminate all the crowd noise (except what comes through the mics), but I'm worried about the quality of the sound mix, and it being out of synch with the video. Is this latter a valid consideration?

I wouldn't mind a wired external specialty mic, mounted on the coldshoe, if I could find them and get accurate assessments of their performance before I buy. But sellers, and even the manufacturer's specs, don't tell you everything, just what THEY want you to know.

Hey, judge for yourself (shameless plug):
(all videos dated before 2007 are converted from analog)

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Getting great audio from a soundboard
by Steven W Rose / January 14, 2008 8:26 PM PST
In reply to: Getting great audio

Hi Tom,

A professionally mixed feed should give the best possible sound, as long as the input levels match what your camera expects. What you would want on the camera is a line level input, but most have only a mike level input which would require a significant pad (attenuator) to reduce the line level to mike level. Also, some external mike inputs are mono, I suspect, so you would also want to mix the two channels (after attenuation to prevent messing up anyone else using the feed). Or the mixer may already provide a mono output. The pad should be at the camera end of the line to prevent noise pickup.

There will be no synchronization issue, as there should be little or no latency of the audio through the board and it effectively puts your audio pickup right by the instruments.

The pad for each feed would be something like a 2000 ohm resistor in series with the feed, followed by a ten to one hundred ohm resistor connected to the 2000 ohm resistor and ground. The signal to the camcorder mike input comes from the junction of the two resistors and ground (across the ten ohm resistor). The 2K / 10 ohm combo should knock a 1 V line signal down to about 5 millivolts. Everything should be shielded.

If your camera has adjustable audio levels and some sort of audio level indicator, ask the board operator to provide a 0 dB tone on your feed, and adjust the camera so that it is also at 0 dB indicated. If you wish to be conservative, set your camera level a little bit low. Then leave it up to the board operator to monitor and adjust levels during the performance -- the result will be much better than camera AGC or trying to do it yourself while shooting. It should give you the cleanest possible mix, with the greatest dynamic range, and the board operator becomes your audio guy.

If one of the musicians is also operating the board, definitely set your camera level three to six dB lower than the board, since their attention will be divided. Also, if your camera has a limiter function (versus AGC), it would be good to turn it on.

The position of the camera level controls should be between 1/2 and 3/4 of maximum if the attenuator values are correct. If the setting is lower than 1/2, use a lower value for the smaller resistor, e.g. 20 instead of 10 ohms. If it is higher than 3/4, use a higher value. The idea is not to overload the camera, but also not to have to crank up the camera audio gain so far that it introduces noise.

Finally, if your camera has a headphone output, you should use it. Otherwise, if a cord gets disconnected or intermittent, you won't know it until you play back the video. And a band video without sound ...


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Thanks Steve!
by Jamfan55 / January 21, 2008 8:08 PM PST

That clears up a lot of things (though I may need someone to translate it into "common english for the technically illiterate", lol).
This is just a hobby, and I'm a low budget hack. I'm not making anything on it, and it's only intended to help out my friends until they can afford to make something better. Recorded audio alone is fine, but video is the next best thing to being there
I find that most live music where soundboards and stacks are used are pretty much mono - everything together is coming out of each speaker, and I'd expect the same through the line.
I'd also expect that, somewhere between my PC and the TV's speaker system it would be converted into at least "simulated stereo"
Just getting a feed line is enough of an imposition, I certainly couldn't expect them to mix my sound too. Since using the line limits my vantage to either being near the board or using lots of duct tape to keep people from tripping over the cords, adjusting the feed myself isn't stretching things too much.

To everyone else, sorry for taking this so far off-topic. Seems it's inevitable with popular discussions and, as others have noted, sound quality seems to be a subject that's often overlooked when discussing video.


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by w0by / January 4, 2008 1:53 PM PST

I would recommend getting one that records onto a hard drive. It's way nice to be able to just hook it up to your computer, download the files and edit them as you please. Note that if you get a hard drive recording camcorder - with high definition - the files will be very large and there aren't many programs that will even support editing the video - or the sound.

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Go for the best features
by Rontyne / January 4, 2008 5:04 PM PST

As a former filmmaker (that's filom, not just video)and one-time owner of a high-end Sony mini-DVD system, i would opt for an HD recorder, straight onto Hard Disk.
The reasons are quality, flexibiilty, and build: inserting and removing tapes does not do your machine much good.
If you choose a three-CD version - that is, dedicated hardware for each of the thre primary colours ( red, yellow, blue) which, with black and white, make up all other colours - then you will not go wrong.
The next thing to consider is the lens: if you can get a manual focus, this will improve things immeasurably, and if you can get a variable zoom - one that is swappable with other lenses - than you are onto a winnner.

Make sure the operating buttons are clear, logical and distinct, even if in the rain, cold, on a rush and in other extreme circumstances. Makt certain the menus are likewise clear and easily configurable.

You could ask vendors for trials: why spend more than $2000-3000 based on a viewing fo less than five minutes: would you do that with a used car or oven? No, well in that case take yout time and don't be impressed by sales pitches.

Ask vendors for the names of other customers, and seek their opinion ( especially if the system is high-end and represents an investment: try to find sites where video clips show which cameras were used in production. Read reviews you respect ( I always look at PCPro magasine and their handy A-list, wiht their regular articles on productino, software and digitalisation).

Finallym, think about the editing system and software you will be using, and how your PC/Mac capacity will affect image and sound dexterity. Yes, don't forget about sound, microphones and effects: these are the basic "grammars" of film language, alongside the visual. Ignore them at your peril.

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Do you edit your video or just store it and view now an then
by dan herrman / January 5, 2008 12:10 AM PST

DVD video is very difficult to incorporate into and editing platform. If you just record and pulll out to watch this could work for you.

Hard Drive recording is limited in that you probably need to offload your footage to antoehr hard drive and if say you are on a long vacation that becomes a bit of an issue

Mini DV is cheap convinient in that you can carry unlimited number of the small tapes with you and they are generally the format used by most prosumer and hobbyist types out there

HDV versus any other format is a clear winner. If you own or plan to own a HDTV then I am sure you will appreciate seeing your videio in a format that is as good or even better then the HD signal you receive from the satellite companies or you cable companies. does a very good job of ranking the current camcorders on the market and in detail describes the pros and cons.

From my standpoint it is HDV and MiniDV. The price is now under $500 for a Canon HV10 and the Canon HV20 is now under 1000 and woks as good as some of the prosumer models/

Ebay has many Sony HDR-HC1's for under 500. Camera of the year in 2005!

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by jock a / January 5, 2008 2:05 AM PST

I had a Sony Hi-8 camcorder and gave it to my brother in law in Australia who isn't in to all this newfangled technology, but he is quite happy with it. Anyway I now have a Sony DCR, which uses a smaller tape with digital qualities, and a HDD camcorder which uses no tapes at all. The beauty of the latter is that the picture quality is far superior. I don't think you should bother with HD until you wait and see if HD is going to take off. The HDD camera, I think, would be the best one to take over the role from the old, and much-loved, Sony Hi-8. Happy shooting!
Jock A

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I prefer HD camcorder
by rampas / January 5, 2008 3:00 AM PST

Six months ago, I went trough the same problem. I tried every possibility and at least Iwaited until beginning of December. I bought a JVC HD camcorder, with a capacity of two recording hours. Major advantage to recording, I have a 20Gb pen drive, or external HD to transport data or files if I'm not using camera as a recording unit. From other point of view, you have to have a data transfer system, same as with all othern systems. I hope to help your decission.

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