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Best camcorder for Mac users?

by lorigrim / June 17, 2008 12:28 PM PDT

I recently bought an iMac and would like to start using the iMovie software. What is the best camcorder for Mac users to buy? I want to start with basic home movies - baby's first steps, family stuff, etc. - but would like to work up to editing, adding effects, etc. I'm a little confused as to what features are most important for Mac users. I know that FireWire compatibility is an important factor but what else should I be considering? Any specific hardware suggestions?

Thanks in advance for your help.

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I don't think there is a operating system
by boya84 / June 18, 2008 1:53 AM PDT

difference, but since all Macintoshes of the last 10 years or so come standard with a Firewire400 port (the only exception being the new Mac Air), then any miniDV tape based camcorder will be good. You will also need a 4-pin to 6-pin firewire (IEEE1394a) cable because they don't come in the box. With the camcorder, in Play/Edit/VCR mode, connected to the computer with the firewire cable, iMovieHD and FinalCut will recognize the camcorder and allow the video to be imported... whether DV or HDV. Video uses lots of hard drive space... ~14 gig per hour of standard definition DV and ~4x more for 1080i high def.

If you choose the Hard drive or Flash memory route, for standard definition, you will likely need to download and install StreamClip to convert that highly compressed video to something more useful.
For Hard drive or Flash memory high definition, that will typically be encoded in AVCHD - and can only be used by the most current iMovieHD or the most current FinalCut. AVCHD, in it's current implementation, has been problematic for many users (whether Macintosh or other operating system) - though many people have had success with it, too. Hard drive or Flash memory camcorders will transfer files using USB (also standard on all Macs for many years). Transfer is faster than importing miniDV tape, but archiving that video will eat up the "saved" time. With miniDV tape, the tape you shot is the archive (do not reuse tapes - store them in a cool-dry place).

Since I see no value in DVD based camcorders, I don't bother researching them.

Since you did not provide a budget...
Low end: Standard definition only: Canon ZR800, ZR900, ZR930. All have a mic-in jack; none have manual audio control. Sony DCR-HC52 and HC62. No mic-in jack; no manual audio control.

Mid: High def and standard def: Canon HV20, HV30, Sony HDR-HC7, HC9. All have a mic-in jacks and manual audio control.

High: Sony HDR-FX1, Canon XHA1, Panasonic HDX200. These are pro or prosumer grade... All have a mic-in jacks and manual audio control among other easy to get to manual controls.

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by lorigrim / June 18, 2008 1:57 AM PDT

Great stuff, boya84. Thanks so much for your post. I had been loooking at the Canon HV cameras and your recommendation really helps. Looks like that's the one we'll get.

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A couple of things to know
by boya84 / June 18, 2008 2:25 AM PDT
In reply to: Thanks!

since you did not indicate which Mac you have...

When importing DV, this will be real-time. That is, if you have 1 hour (a full tape) of standard definition video, it will take an hour to import. High definition will most likely be longer than real-time. This depends on your Mac's CPU. A 4 year old iMac using a 2GHz PowerPC chip can take 3-4 hours importing HDV. I click import and go do something else... A newer Intel-Chip based Mac will take less time. The newest computers will likely be near real-time.

HDV (1080i) is the default of the Canon HV series camcorders. Once you start recording on a tape, it is easiest to stay with that format - that is, if you start with HDV, stay with HDV through the tape. Or vice-versa if you start with DV. If you mix formats on a tape, the import to the computer will be a pain. (This is not operating system specific.)

When imported to iMovieHD or FinalCut, and editing is completed, burn the DVD with iDVD or DVD Studio - since the Mac's superdrive uses "regular" DVDs (single layer or double layer), the video burned to that DVD will automatically be downsampled to standard definition. After that (in iMovieHD or FinalCut), consider exporting the completed project back out to the camcorder. If the project was captured in hidef and imported to the Mac as high def, then exporting back out will be high definition - so you can use the camcorder as the playback device and watch the project in HD when connected to a HDTV with composite (RGB) + audio or connect using HDMI.

You can also save the project as a "Full Quality" data file - so if you have something like AppleTV or decide to connect your computer to a VGA-port equipped HDTV (like some of the Panasonics) then playback will also be hidef.

But wait, there's more... You can also post short clips to (and a few other places) as hidef and share that way.

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