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Camcorder Recommendations for Novice ?

by jimbo7236 / November 21, 2006 12:18 PM PST

I have a baby boy and would like to start making videos of him (and other family activities). I have never owned a camcorder. I have a 1 year old Dell PC with Windows Media Center, 1 GB RAM, 250 GB hard drive, DVD R/W drive, DVD R drive, USB & firewire ports. I am willing to shell out up to say $700 for a camcorder. I want to end up with video that I can do basic editing on and put on DVDs for playing in a DVD player, without a lot of hassle and without spending a lot of time. I also want to be able to take "decent" stills with the camcorder. I have no other special requirements and don't anticipate using a lot of the special features that some have. I do want good quality video & audio. I have vacillated back & forth between HDD, miniDVD and miniDV formats with no decision. I'm not really thinking of high def at this time given the $$$. Comments & recommendations would be appreciated, especially regarding format!!

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so... start here...
by boya84 / November 21, 2006 1:47 PM PST

Some would argue that "good quality audio" and built-in camcorder microphones are an oxymoron...

Things to look (out) for:

1) Don't do DVD-media camcorders. First choice MiniDV tape; 2nd choice hard drive (my opinion - due to achive-ability of tape - though I would expect Whizkid to weigh in here - he likes the hard drive camcorders).

2) Don't spend your entire budget on the camera - You should also get a tripod (or monopod), and external mic (optional, but strongly suggested) and an extra high-cap rechargeable battery... and a carrying case. Depending on where you get the camera, the store *might* throw them in, or have a "starter kit".

3) Presuming you have available hard drive space on that computer, you have a good rig for editing standard definition video. If you don't, consider adding another internal drive (is space is available) or an external FireWire or USB drive.

4) Panasonic, Sony, Canon... not in any particular order, but the current crop of camcorders from these folks will generally do well in the price range you indicated (minus the above suggested accessories)... Many of the lower-end Sonys don't have a mic-in jack, exactly, but they do typically have a proprietary hot-shoe where you can connect a Sony proprietary mic. The low end Canon and Panasonics may have no mic-in at all but when they do, they are noted and there are lots of mics to choose from. In any case, you don't need to get it right away, but just know that after you have used an external mic, you probably won't want to shoot video again without it. Yes, a decent external mic improves audio that much.

5) The MiniDV tape based camcorders will typically use FireWire to transfer video from the the camera to the computer (and back). The manufacturers do not include a FireWire cable in the box. You will need to buy a 4-pin-camera to 6-pin-computer FireWire cable. The included-the-box USB cable will allow you to transfer stills off the memory card only. You plug the camera in, launch the video application and import the video. Transfer time is real-time... 1 hour video to transfer = 1 hour of transfer time - but the archive (tape) is already there so no extra step for archiving.

6) The hard drive based camcorders generally transfer using USB. Plug the camera into the computer, and the computer mounts it like any other USB hard drive device - drag the video files over to the computer and they copy... there is no archive - so either you burn the video (no editing) to a disc or after editing and you trash the video in the camera hard drive plus you trash the video on the computer hard drive - if you want to go back (and have not burned the raw video to disc stashed somewhere), the data - video - is gone.

7) I do my video editing (high definition) on a Macintosh using FinalCut Pro or iMovie. I have heard and read that in the Windows XP environment MovieMaker 2 is included and is rudimentary but can do a the job. I also understand that (for additional $) Sony Vegas 7 is quite the editing powerhouse - and the various CyberStudio component applications are quite good - but I have never used them.

Cool Use name brand tapes (I use Sony and Panasonic MiniDV tapes) and discs (I use FujiFilm and Memorex Single Layer and Double Layer DVDs).

Congratulations on your baby boy (mine's in college - the time goes REALLY fast). Have fun. It is a GREAT ride.
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Boya is right
by shahrokhan / November 21, 2006 9:03 PM PST

In my opinion I think that MiniDV camcorders are the best. They are cheap, you just pop in a tape once one is over without worrying about archiving and transferring, it has the best quality, editing it is generally said to be easier and you get them almost everywhere. With hard drives, if it crashes your video is gone, if the space finishes theres no way to get more without transferring the video to a computer. High Definition cameras are generally going towards MiniDV, so thinking about the future it might help.

I would sugggest either the Sony DCR-HCR96 or the Panasonic PV-GS500.
About the software to use, on a PC, I would say you go with Cyberlink's PowerDirector and I have heard that Sony Vegas is also really good. Many people think that Pinnacle Studio is the best but no it is not and has given many people troubles. If you don't want to spend money on software, then you could just go with Windows Movie Maker which is free but I really wouldn't recommend it and would stay away from it.

To tell the truth going with an High Definition camcorder would be best now despite the price because these moments will never come back and are quite important and HD is basically next generation whereas Standard Def has been around for quite a while. This is just my opinion.

What ever Boya has said is right except the format part where I strongly support MiniDV. I expect Boya and Whizkid to give you suggestions for which cam to buy.
Good Bye.

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"I dont want to spend a lot of time..."
by whizkid454 / November 22, 2006 12:31 AM PST

And you want good video, look at the Sony HDD camcorders.
Reasons why HDD is much faster than other formats:
1. Fast transfer time to computer. Usually to transfer the whole hard drive(30GB), it takes about 20mins. MiniDV usually takes like boya said ONE hour for ONE tape! MiniDV takes the longest. 20mins of video equals ~20-25mins(depending on your importing DVD drive.

2. MiniDV, you have to fool around with many tapes and it takes "time" to take out the full one and pop in another unlike an HDD cam where you can continuously shoot for ~7 hours. DVD can only record at best quality 20 mins( and if you did get a DVD camcorder, which I dont recommend, you should always use the highest quality video setting).

3. Fast access to data that is already on the disk. miniDV is awful(as far as I know) for finding scenes(rewinding and fastforwarding) to find one scene. It could take a long time if your trying to watch a specific scene on a TV. With miniDVD and HDD, all of the scenes are neatly organized and you have instant access to any scene throughout the miniDVD or the HDD. Saves much time.

So after that, my suggestion would be the Sony DCR-SR100. Excellent video. 7 hrs recording time. Good stills(4x6 able). I'm not sure where you live but it is about $900(retail) which I'm sure you can find somewhere for ~$700. On sale at BestBuy or CircuitCity probably.

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