Video Cameras forum

General discussion

Looking for advice on a basic, lower-end camcorder

by mkw22 / September 11, 2006 9:58 AM PDT

Our priorities:
1) Price - less than $600
2) General use, but w/some advanced functionality
3) Ability to easily edit and transfer to computer
4) Decent sound quality, but high sound quality isn't really necessary
5) Will use for fun home videos, kids, outdoors, nothing specific
6) Will shoot in low-light some

Sounds like MiniDV is the way to go, but I'd love some suggestions on makes/models. I have good personal references for Sony, but have seen some not so favorable reviews. Thanks!

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Looking for advice on a basic, lower-end camcorder - Cont'd
by mkw22 / September 11, 2006 10:00 AM PDT

Also, I would love to know what other things I should really pay attention to: Firewire vs. USB, CCD, white balance, exposure shift, etc.

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Definitely look at the Sony DCR-HC96
by whizkid454 / September 11, 2006 10:35 AM PDT

This cam is very strong in the market and pretty darn good at video. Fits all of your requirements. Here's a website where you can look at it Good luck!

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Sony HD 96- exporting to iMac
by ernie Lee / January 2, 2007 9:38 AM PST

This Handycam fits most of my requirements. I coach high jump and use Handycam both at trainiing and at competitions. Started with analogue cams some 15 years ago, so when digital Handycams came out some 4 years ago, I graduated to a Digital8 TRV355E. This was a great pmprovement over analogue. Of course I had to upgrade my Mac to run MoxOSX. This combinatiion gave acceptable DVD.

So, some 18 months ago, I purchased a DVD Handycam- a sad mistake! The compression required to produce MPEG2 DVDs gave unacceptable results in playback, especially in stop frame or slow motion.

Back to miniDV format led me to the Sony HD 96.

Now I get excellent videos with the mini tape and stills using Memorystick.

Limitaions and settings are-

I cannot use EASY mode as shutter speed too slow- blurred images with motion shots.

I need to set PROGRAM AE to SPORTS to prevent blurring. However, under low light conditions, I get underexposed clips. I can correct this in iMovie.

WHITE BALANCE needs to be set for outdoors.

I had to get use to delay in focusing for new clip- this is common for all auto focus cameras.

Please understand, I use the cam as a tool, NOT as a hobby. So, I am not concerned about delicate picture qualities such as best brightness, colour, white level etc etc.

Once the Handycam is set up for ease of use- like placing required features in first MENU, I find it very easy to use.I had to invest in a couple of 240 minute lithium batteries- NOT those overpriced ones from Sony !

Now my problem is that I can't transfer to the High definition HDV 1080i or HDV 720p formats in iMovie- it reverts to DV mode. I know iMovie has it's own quirks like not clearly playing back imported film clips- problems with interlace.

Without spending considerable time in finding a solution, can any Mac enthusiast help out ?

I have a new Imac

Machine Name: iMac
Machine Model: iMac5,1
Processor Name: Intel Core 2 Duo
Processor Speed: 2 GHz
Number Of Processors: 1
Total Number Of Cores: 2
L2 Cache (per processor): 4 MB
Memory: 1 GB
Bus Speed: 667 MH

OS 10.4.8 with all updates.

With a 500G HD.

Is the Firewire a limiting factor ?

Ernie Lee

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The "Sony HD 96" you refer to...
by boya84 / January 2, 2007 10:29 AM PST

Is it the "Sony DCR-HC96"?

For consumer level, high-definition, 1080i-capable camcorders, Sony had the HDR-HC1 in 2005. In 2006, they had the HDR-HC3, HDR-SR1, HDR-UX1, HDR-FX7 and HDR-FX1. The SR1 and UX1 are hard-drive based and DVD based, respectively and capture using AVCHD format. The HC1, HC3, FX7 and FX1 are miniDV tape based camcorders.

The only camera I can find in the Sony USA lineup with a "96" is the DCR-HC96. It is not a high-definition camera. It is a standard definition camera. When you connect the DCR-HC96 using the FireWire connection to your Mac and import the video, iMovie knows that it is a standard definition camcorder. Neither the camera nor the computer can "up-sample" standard definition video to a higher scan rate. That higher-definition information does not exist in the camera, so there is nothing to transfer in that format so that selection in iMovie is not available.

If you want to edit High-Definition video on your computer, it needs to be captured by a high definition camera and transferred from that camera or a tape mechanism that can deal with high definition video signal.

I use a Sony HDR-HC1. If I were to capture hi-def (1080i) video and give you that tape, you camcorder would not be able to read the tape. If I set the camera to capture standard definition and give you that tape, your camera would be able to read the tape...

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Definition of High Definition ?
by ernie Lee / January 2, 2007 1:21 PM PST

Sorry about the typo

The HC96 has -

"The HC96 packs a big 1/3? CCD with 3.31 gross MP (2.05 effective MP). This is one of the big differences between manufacturers in their upper-tier models. Panasonic and JVC go towards the 3 CCD route, while Sony and Canon use larger single chips".

I suggest that Sony does not compress the video stream sufficiently to export through Firewire. This is why the DVD mpeg2 is used for High Definition. I gave you my experience I had with mpeg2 compression, so this is not the way for me to go !

So, what advantage has the HC 96 over older mini DV camcorders? The videos are of much better quality-upgrade in hardware ? and can be taken in wide screen mode.The maximum resolution of stills is 3 Meg, equivalent to 2016X1512, so a huge advance over older models.

Not quite what I thought the cam was capable of !

Maybe a docking station which can slow down the video streamrate, or break it into two or more Firewire streams, or compress streamrate to a "lossless" format ? Who knows!

Thanks for reply,

Ernie Lee

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A large single CCD or CMOS imaging chip
by boya84 / January 2, 2007 10:14 PM PST

or 3 smaller CCD or CMOS imaging chips that use the same area as the single chip camera results in similar imaging. But ff the electronics in the camera are designed for standard definition, that's what you will get onto the tape in the camera. MiniDV tape will capture what the electronics interpret from the imaging chips through the lens.

The issue you are having - my guess - is when the action is slowed so the gymnastic training can happen, all you see are blurs. If the tape were to move faster and capture more "frames per second" you would likely get better imaging frame by frame.

For example purposes only, I DO NOT currently recommend the Sony HDR-HC1, but it (and the UX1) is the only consumer-grade camera I can find that does "high speed" image capture.
and scroll down to "Smooth Slow Record". The reason I CANNOT recommend this (or the UX1) camera is because there is currently no video editing application that can do anything with the AVCHD format when it records high definition video. I do not know if "Smooth Slow Record" is available when Standard Definition option is used to record video. Please note that "Smooth Slow Record works only in 3 second speed bursts which results in 12 second slow-motion playback.

Your issue has nothing to do with FireWire or your Mac... The Sony DCR-HC96 is not capable of capturing High Definition video - it captures standard definition video.

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Your right- only SD
by ernie Lee / January 3, 2007 5:03 AM PST

OK, I understand the electronics only give SD output but at vastly improbed quality over older Handycsms- picture noise reduction ?

I don't have blurring when I set-up the cam to give short shutter times. I do have problems with under exposure which is easily corrected in iMovie.

I am quite happy with overall performance of the cam. I just expected too moch !

With video takimg of Track and Field, the 10X optic zoon is a problem. Perhaps I cam use a small amount of digital zoom to counter this. With the vastly under utilised CCD capacity, this could give acceptable results. Any ideas ?

With my DVD Handycam, I played the DVD disk on a normal DVD player connected to the A/V input of my old Handycam Digital8. From there to the Mac via Firewire. Loss of quality with A to D conversion, but could edit it with iMovie. Another way was to use a video memory capture program like SnapProX but this needs a fast computer.

Thanks for feedback,

Ernie Lee

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or you can add a telephoto lens...
by boya84 / January 3, 2007 5:14 AM PST
In reply to: Your right- only SD

I would not bother with digital zoom no matter how small... but you *could try it and see what happens. I use a HDR-HC1 and I have a 2x tele lens. It works great - but you need to be careful when zooming out because the lens barrel will cut off the corners of the image and it looks odd. When you zoom in, it is great...

The video quality is not so good (lots of loss during upload), but for an example of that barrel-effect, take a look at the surfing video at
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2X Zoom
by ernie Lee / January 3, 2007 6:16 AM PST

I did have a entry level 2X zoom -a sony
Diameter 30mm Tele Conversion Lens
$165.00 AUD inc. GST
- until I lost it !

My results with this lens were somewhat disappointing. In still capture, auto focusing was a problem resulting in less than clear photos. Also, time limitations during competitions made changing lens a hassle. This is why I don't use a seperate still camera.

I think the optics in the
$349.00 AUD inc. GST
would be a lot better, but the price ?

Thanks for the reply,

Ernie Lee

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I use the
by boya84 / January 3, 2007 7:26 AM PST
In reply to: 2X Zoom

VCLHG2037Y 2x tele - and for the 1080i video I shoot with the HDR-HC1, it provides acceptable quality. I don't normally use the camcorder as a still camera because it does not do that job very well (only 2.8 megapixels). I do occasionally. I have not had the focus problem you refer to. If you press the photo button 1/2 way, it does the focus nicely... but in sports activities, you likely don't have that kind of time.

What I have found quite useful is pulling a still frame from the video, but I have not had a "high-speed", lots of motion, requirement quite like yours. Also, I have found that the picture quality is much better when I shoot a still while filming rather than shooting a still with the camera in "photo" mode. I have not taken the time to investigate why this is the case. The stills of the band and of me holding the slate at were all pulled as still frames during the video edit from iMovie HD. But yes, the video was 1080i and not standard def. And the myspace examples are not good because of the compression they use.

And I agree, the screw mount lens is not efficient. With the still cameras getting better and smaller, perhaps rethinking the separate still camera is in order.

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Still cameras a good idea-but...
by ernie Lee / January 3, 2007 9:54 AM PST
In reply to: I use the

I can easily miss the shot I want setting up another camera. All of the parents of my high jumpers have very good still cameras but I have not seen a good still they have taken.

So this leaves me with using the HC96 for both video and still. I don't have to change MENU settings, just reseting from TAPE to MEMORY is all I need to do. ZOOM same as before and SHOOT. No, I usually don't have time to SET focus by pressing PHOTO half way, so the results can be somewhat chancy.

I can get quite acceptable STILLS from video clips if I save clips via Quicktime and use SnapzProX to GRAB the STILLs. I do have interlacing problems which are resolved in Quicktime Pro- single frame.

I "touch up" STILLS in Mac Preview or by exporting to iPhoto. I am able to put STILL sequences together very easily in iPhoto and can PRINT a very acceptable A4 photo on a el-cheapo Canon ink jet.

Now after saying all of that, why would I want to go to a Windows machine ? ALL of the programs I use above, except QT Pro and SnapzProX ,come free with the OSX software. Anyway, that's another story !


Ernie Lee

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uh... no one said to move to another
by boya84 / January 3, 2007 10:40 AM PST

Operating System, unless I missed something...

So... let me walk through what we just went through today:

1) You asked how to get HiDef footage from a non-HiDef camera and we worked through that.

2) You wanted to know if there was a way to get better than the built-in 10x zoom... your choices are using digital or or getting a telephoto lens... and we worked through that.

3) You wanted to know if you could get better stills from your camcorder - and it sounds like you are already on top of that.

I use my iMac to do video editing too... I didn't see anything about Windows anywhere...

So are we OK? Do you have any other questions we might be able to help with?

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