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Looking for First Camcorder, Need Help. Please!

by kybattey / April 8, 2007 4:23 PM PDT


I have decided to get my first camcorder and need some help choosing one. What I am looking for...

1) Great picture quality.
2) High Optical and Digital Zoom
3) Excellent low/no light
4) Easy transfer to computer for editing (very important)
5) Good feature set overall.
6) Price less than $400, no more than $500 with tax, etc.

Now I have read enough to know that MiniDV seems to be the way to go for picture quality. However, looking over the reviews here on c|net the MiniDV camcorders don't seem to do all that well. The best I was was rated 6.

I am considering the Sony DCR-DVD108. It looks like a nice camcorder and is highly rated by those that own it. However, it being miniDVD has me worried about not only picture quality but ease of getting the video off the MiniDVD and on to my computer for editing. I have heard that MiniDVD isn't all that easy for that. It does have a USB 2.0 port but I have not found anything to suggest that I can plug it in to my computer and just transfer the video over that way.



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Some thoughts on miniDVD...
by whizkid454 / April 9, 2007 12:02 AM PDT

If quality is your goal, you will be very disappointed with miniDVD. Many problems have been had with this format such as difficulty in editing and hassle of finalizing/unfinalizing/formatting each disc.

Here's how a miniDVD camcorder with a USB port transfers video to the computer. Think of the DVD camcorder as a separate DVD drive for your computer just connected with a USB cable. Once you put a DVD with recorded video in the camcorder and connect the camcorder to the computer via USB, either the Sony software or a message should pop up on the computer saying "What do you want to do with this type of disc?" Just copy and paste off the disc as you normally would with a flash drive or an external hard drive (if you have one) and save the video in a place on your computer's hard drive where you can easily find it. The problem is that once it is on the computer, the file format uses a .vob extension which is not readable by Windows. This is why you need editing software that is specifically designed for DVD camcorder discs. (Windows Movie Maker 2 will not work.)

According to your specs, MiniDV is the way to go. The one problem is your budget. The saying "You get what you pay for" comes into play here. If you don't put a lot of money into your camcorder, your camcorder isn't going to give a lot back to you. Is there a possibility of your budget increasing if you wait a couple months (around $200 more)? There are camcorders for around $400 but as you said, they did not get good ratings. Once you get into the $600-700 range, you can really get a camcorder that delivers what you want and you wouldn't be disappointed. A good place to look at camcorders in detail is which gives very thorough reviews covering all aspects of the camcorder. Perhaps you should get a second opinion on the models you were looking at?

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The problem is...
by kybattey / April 9, 2007 3:35 AM PDT

The reason I don't want to really spend any more is that I really don't have a large need for a camcorder. I don't have any living family or kids or anything like that. I want one to play with and to play with the software and things like that. So, I am not sure at this stage that high quality is going to be all that important. What I see myself doing most is taking it with me when I go out with my Pentax K10D still camera and shooting some matching video to go with the still shots and then creating video/slideshow presentations of that and putting it on DVD, kind of like a still/video scrapbook of each place I visit.

Now with that being said it would be my luck that I don't get a good one and I end up regretting it. My one complaint about the MiniDV is that the transfer in to the computer is at 1:1 speed. So if you have 2 hours of video it takes 2 hours to get it transfered in to your computer.

What would you recommend for a miniDVD in the price range you suggested?



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In that case...
by whizkid454 / April 9, 2007 4:31 AM PDT
In reply to: The problem is...

Let's see...

Probably one of the better ones in the $600-700 range would be the Sony DCR-DVD405 or DVD408 (the 408 being the newer model.) You could probably get the 405 about $100-150 cheaper than the 408 considering the 408 is brand new.

Others brands such as Canon and Panasonic also make pretty good DVD camcorders. I would advise you to go to and take a look around at the many different DVD camcorder models. Read the reviews and pick out a few you are interested in. Once you have done that, then we can compare here and find the best choice for you.

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I thought you said..
by kybattey / April 9, 2007 5:34 AM PDT
In reply to: In that case...

To stay away from the DVD camcorders and go with the MiniDV?


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According to your last post...
by whizkid454 / April 9, 2007 6:05 AM PDT
In reply to: I thought you said..

Quote: "What would you recommend for a miniDVD in the price range you suggested?"

So I suggested you a miniDVD camcorder. I thought you were still interested in those because you said for me to find you a miniDVD camcorder.

With that aside, have you visited and searched for now a miniDV camcorder? One that might be a pretty good bet would be the Panasonic PV-GS320. Take a look and also look for others that you are interested in. Once done with that, come back here and we can see which one would be best for you.

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by kybattey / April 9, 2007 7:19 AM PDT

Well, I am now considering the Sony DCR-HC96. It is MiniDV and that brings up two questions. 1) is it true that if you have 2 hours of video it will take 2 hours to get it in to your computer? If so any way to speed that up? 2) With MiniDV going the way of the dinosaur are the tapes going to be readily available for say the next 10 years?

I was also looking at the Sony DCR-DVD508, this is a MiniDVD camera. Overall it seems to be pretty comparable to the HC96 just different media.

I also looked at the DCR SR200 and while I like the ease of getting the video over to my computer I am not thrilled with the finite nature of the hard drive. Once it is filled that is it. No more recording until you can clear it out.

Both the DVD508 and SR200 are really more than I want to spend. I the HC96 price isn't bad. But I am concerned about the two questions I asked above.

I am still considering the Sony DCR DVD108, people really seem to like it for the money.

Also, do you know of any place that has even short sample videos from these cameras. I am very surprised that the review sites don't offer even short 10 or 15 second clips. It would sure help if I could see the video from these.



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Let's see...
by whizkid454 / April 9, 2007 8:07 AM PDT
In reply to: Ok...

1) Yes, every tape holds 1 hour of highest quality video. Others say using the lower quality setting is not very good. It takes one hour for each tape to transfer to the computer. I don't think there is a way to speed that up unfortunately.

2) I would say probably yes. It is becoming a less-available format to consumers, but there is still a lot of people using miniDV camcorders. (Many companies announced fewer miniDV models in 2007 because consumers seem to be more interested in hard drive, miniDVD, and flash-memory based camcorders. However, there are still many people that want to buy miniDV camcorders so the companies will keep making them until demand runs low.) Notice how they still sell blank VHS tapes at your local store even when VHS is now considered a dead (or dying) format.

Here's one problem when comparing similar camcorders with different media. The DVD camcorders use MPEG2 compression to fit a lot of video (20 minutes) onto a relatively small disc (1.4GB). MiniDV camcorders use DV compression to fit 60 minutes of video onto a tape (~30GB). So, when we see minutes per GB we get:

DVD- 14.3 min/GB
MiniDV- 2 min/GB

The more compression you use, the more artifacts and noise (random dots) you get in the video. This is the case with miniDVD. Even though the two camcorders (the HC96 and the DVD508) you listed have the about the same specs camcorder-wise, once they go through compression, they are two totally different results. Throw in the low-quality sensor of the DVD108 and you probably will not be happy. Hope this clears that up.

Hmmm... samples... I haven't found any site that has the camcorders you are looking at on there. There is one I found, that seems to have many video comparisons. Maybe one of the ones you're looking at will be there soon...

My suggestion would be to stick with the HC96. The others are too expensive as I see for your budget. Let me know if you have any other questions...

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DVD Camcorders
by kybattey / April 9, 2007 10:39 AM PDT
In reply to: Let's see...

Well, I found some sample videos (about 90MB each) of the Sony DCR-HC96 and the video is very nice. I went down to my local Circuit City which had the Sony DVD108 and bought a DVD-RW disc and tested out the 108 and so now I have same video from it.

The sales lady I think wasn't as well trained as one would hope. When I asked about getting the video off the DVD-RW for editing on the computer said you just need to copy the file and open it in your editor. Now I guess this is true if your editor handles VOB files, but if it doesn't I would guess you have to first convert thos VOB files to a format that it can open.


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by kybattey / April 9, 2007 10:48 AM PDT
In reply to: DVD Camcorders

Even after making sure the disc from the DCR-DVD108 was finalized nothing I have shows anything on it. Not my computers 3 DVD drives nor the 4 DVD players I have hooked up to various TVs. So I don't have any sample video from this one then.

I think after trying the DVD drive I am going for the HC96. The tapes are readily available and I figure for a good long time. I don't like the format, write, finalize thing with the DVD ones. I also don't like the it takes a few minutes to get the disc out as it has things to do to the disc before hand type of thing.

I am not thrilled with the 1:1 transfer of the MiniDV, but I think that is a better way to go. Probably because the technology should have the bugs out by now and the quality is going to be great. The sameple videos I found from the HC96 were very good. I also like the idea of the dock for the thing, yes I am a dock lover.

One thing about the DVD one that I didn't like is I bought a Panasonic brand disc and the Sony wasted a good 10 seconds telling me it would rather use Sony brand. Well, that would be fine if the Sony accessories were twice the price of everyone elses. Normally I am not a Sony buyer, but for the camcorder I will make an exception.


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Glad to hear...
by whizkid454 / April 9, 2007 12:24 PM PDT
In reply to: Well...

Hope everything goes well for you. Happy

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Me too...
by kybattey / April 9, 2007 2:14 PM PDT
In reply to: Glad to hear...

I hope so too. It seems like a nice camera and I think since I do want to do some heavy editing the MiniDV will be the best way to go.

How long do the DV Tapes last? How many times can you use them before you have to replace them? Any particular brand you would recommend? I am of course assuming you have a MiniDV camcorder if not then just ingore the question.

I have a Firewire port on my computer (just built the computer) anything other than that I should consider?

Thanks for all of your help.


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Using miniDV tapes...
by boya84 / April 10, 2007 12:44 AM PDT
In reply to: Me too...

I record, lock and mark the contents - I do not reuse any tape.

They are my "archive" so if I want to go back and either recreate a DVD or use different captures for a new DVD, they are available. Under certain circumstances, after burning a DVD, I output the project to tape as well...

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by kybattey / April 10, 2007 1:52 AM PDT
In reply to: Me too...

I will have to consider if what I have planned will benefit from keeping the tapes with the contents or reusing them. Hmmm. Something to think about.


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Digital Video Photography,,
by castingRod47 / April 11, 2007 8:41 PM PDT

Reading all the THREADS in the POST..
a SONY Digital 8 Camcorder would be the top of the line..
Then the lesser priced like SAMSUNG..SHARP Models..
there are $$199.00 Video camera's still out there.

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Thanks a lot! :)
by kybattey / April 12, 2007 12:50 AM PDT

Just what I needed something else to consider. Thanks! Happy


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camcorder with SD card memory
by andyjames / April 13, 2007 8:34 PM PDT

This does'nt ever seem to be mentioned - why not?
On both our last two camcorders the moving parts failed. With this type there are no moving parts so far as I can tell.You can get 2Gb SD cards now so there's 30 mins of recording - no doubt capacity will increase! So smaller, lighter and longerlasting! I dont know about cost!
any info/thoughts?

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SD Camcorders
by kybattey / April 15, 2007 1:55 AM PDT

I considered this and liked the idea that there were no moving parts. However, there are very few of these to choose from and they get the amount of video on the small cards by using a great deal of compression. Until 32GB cards are available for $50 and the give an compression free option these won't be for me. If you don't want to edit the video they are probably fine, but the compression is a real issue when it comes to editing. In a few years these could be just the thing.


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Looking for first Camcorder too !
by Dave Cal / April 14, 2007 4:01 AM PDT

Like yourself, I have decided to get a Dig-Cam also.
After researching and reading as much as I could, I think the way to go is the Mini-DV.
The best quality seems to be achieved with the Mini-DV tape.
I have decided the Canon ZR400 is the one for me, as like you, I don't want to spend a lot either.
I know the ZR400 is older (2005) and may be difficult to come by for some, but I have found it available, Refurbished, at my local Puter store for a great price....$299.can.
The ZR400 was their top model of that series. As well as being a Camcorder ( Great Canon Lenses) it can also be used as a Webcam, and has Analog pass through ability. Which is important to me...
After going thru all of this research, I've come to the conclusion there is no perfect budget priced camcorder, even though I think it would be relatively simple for Manufacturers to make one...
So unless you want to spend lots of money, consider your needs, and compromising is the answer here I think...

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Help is here!
by In2Books2 / April 14, 2007 8:35 AM PDT

Hi Robert...sorry but I did't have time to fully read the entire thread of posts here but I can tell you that I absolutely love my Canon DC20 mini-DVD digital camera and camcorder. It has tons of features and is Canon's first on the market from what I've been told (though there is also a DC-10 but not as full of features).

Yes it comes with everything you need (software and USB wire, along with a DC adaptor to charge your battery) to upload your video's onto your computer. Being as it also has a slot for a mini-SD card, a converter will open those up in your photo editing software or that which comes with the camera.

The price is an issue per your requests, but believe you me, this is a keeper of a camera that you don't want to be without. Switching back and forth from camera to video mode is a piece of cake. No delays aside from pause. What I find myself doing with my mini-DVD's (cheap through SAM's Club), is putting them in a sm. bubble bag and mailing my travels to my friends and family for a mere 0.63 cents. It's great. I email tons of pics to family and friends afar off as well. You can just keep reusing the same mini-SD card or even DVD if you want to buy the RW format and then download it onto you PC.

Mine is a 10x zoom but it has option to go much higher for the digital if selected (like 800). It's ultra tiny and the batteries are quick to charge. The DC-20 has a built in light and backlighting as well. There are features too numerous to list, and frankly, I've forgotten what all it can do. Learning it is very easy.

I would buy a back up battery though, along with a separatge charger with universal adaptors for traveling. You can record in either 30" or 60" mode. It has high resolution and great sound and the mini DVD's play on a regular television DVD player. I think if you go to (it may be pricegrabbers), you will find a vendor that still sells them. I bought mine from a reputable source from NY City, but have forgotten their name. The cost a few years ago was about $600.00 and that was a steal. If you see them for $800.00 plus, that would be more like it. So, shop around. T

he only thing is, I don't think that Canon manufactures the DC-20 anymore, nowadays they DO NOT combine all those features but sell them separately for the same hefty pricetag. Check out eBay too for the DC-20 and see what you can findout. I absolutely love this camera, and it comes with a rotating flip open screen, a remote control, and reliability. Any further questions, don't hesitate to ask and I'll look them up in my camcorder/camera's manuel for you.

God bless and happy shopping.

By the way, I too am from old school and typically use my Cannon EOS750 camera with a 300mm zoom on it to take pics, and being a bird watcher with an array of ever changing Woodpeckers that live at my property, I like taking the Canon DC-20 outside with me to capture the sounds that they all make, especially in the dusk of morning. It's wild our there. Then, having the camera feature on it as well, allows me such great flexibility where digital e-source technology is concerned.

Forget about whether or not you have family and kids etc. this camera is for you to keep your own memroirs with. Others will be elated to receive your beautiful glimpes into the awesome earth and your own unique life. It's about sharing with others and touching their lives...even stangers on the Internet.

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Made a decision...
by kybattey / April 15, 2007 1:52 AM PDT
In reply to: Help is here!

Well, I decided to go with the Sony DCR-HC96. From what I read I liked what it had to offer and is one of the best in low-light. Its funny though what really sold me was the fact that I was able to find some sample clips of video from this camera. Had I been able to see sample clips from other models and brands who knows which I would have went with.

I also looked the Sony DCR-DVD108 which has a good price. Being DVD the video is already compressed once once it is written to the DVD. That was a problem. Once I went back to the store to finalize the DVD that I bought there to capture some sample video from it I was able to look at the video quality. The quality is very good, but quickly falls apart when you load it in to your computer, edit it and then sent it backout for making a DVD the double compression it will go through because of the editing really takes its toll. If you don't need to edit the video ever it could be the right camcorder. Since I want to edit it wasn't for me.

I also decided to that after looking at sample video from the Panasonic GS300 (another one I was considering) that the difference between lens based stabilization and electronic wasn't all that big.

The camcorder will be here on Monday so we will see. Thanks for all of the feedback and help.


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Hope you are right
by Dave Cal / April 15, 2007 2:18 AM PDT
In reply to: Made a decision...

I'm glad you were able to make your decision, and go the mini-DV route, it is the best for quality, no doubt.
But I'm sorry you decided to go with Sony. I only hope you wont regret it...

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It would have been easier...
by kybattey / April 15, 2007 2:42 AM PDT
In reply to: Hope you are right

Had the review sites for camcorders bothered to post at least a 10 to 30 second sample clip for the camcorders. It is very hard to make a choice when from one review to another there are so many differences. One person harps about Sony's menu system, one says this is what all camcorders should aspire to, etc. etc. but none of the post any sample video to back up their yay's or nay's. So in the end I had to go with what I could find in the way of video clips. Since most stores didn't have many of the newer models that you could look at (they have them on their web site but few had any of them in their local stores).

It came down to video quality and while I liked the video quality of the DVD one it totally fell apart when edited.

I also decided on Sony over the others because right now they are the only ones that are still making a decent selection of MiniDV camcorders. Canon doesn't, Panasonic doesn't. Sony does. Now I am not a Sony fan, I think they make you pay too much for their name. But, I feel from what information (real world information, no someones opinion) I had available the choice I made was the best. We will see.


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Right choice
by Dave Cal / April 17, 2007 3:20 AM PDT

You're right of course HJ. When all is said and done, it is your decision and money.
You can get dizzy reading all the different posts, not knowing how much the posters actually know for sure.
But you have to be happy with your choice...
One thing there appears to be no doubt about though, is that Mini-DV is the best for picture quality.
The reviews state that Harddrive, and DVD Camcorders, have to compress the files too much, resulting in loss of quality...

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So you've made the decision
by AJBetter / April 17, 2007 2:59 AM PDT
In reply to: Made a decision...

Hey, I was somewhat confused during the course of the thread but I am a devotee of Mini DV as anything else has a hard job to rise to the quality - unless the budget is unlimited.
Just one point about 1394 (firewire) - whenever you connect the camera to th computer make sure it is turned off (In fact it is better to turn both units off if you don't mind the hassle.
Mini DV is the best at present!

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Thanks for the heads up...
by kybattey / April 17, 2007 3:38 AM PDT

On making sure the camera is off.


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Why did you exclude a HDD type camcorder?
by krsb13 / April 20, 2007 4:45 PM PDT

Are the HDD camcarders not perfected yet? They seem to be easy for transfering data to a computers hard drive, but does that affect the picture quality greatly?

Has anyone had troubles with the HDD software working for them?

I truely want to use the camcorder for taking video of my kids and family outings. What would be the best bang for my buck, minDV, DVD or Hard drive, to store my movies on a computer hard drive?

Thanks for any replies.

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Why ?????
by Dave Cal / April 21, 2007 2:43 AM PDT

If you had been following this thread, you would know by now that the Mini-DV is the best quality, and the best bang for your buck.
Both the Hybrid Harddrive Camera and the DVD Camera, compress their files to get more on the media. Whereas the DV Tape doesn't...

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I agree with Dave Cal...
by boya84 / April 21, 2007 5:50 AM PDT

and with another added item.

After you so quickly transfer the video odd that hard drive camcorder onto your computer, I presume the next step is to delete the video from the camcorder thereby freeing up space on the camera's hard drive for the next project.

That means my next step on the computer before editing would be to burn discs of the video files I just transfered (before editing) so I have an archive in case my computer's hard drive crashes or I am in the middle of editing and delete files I thought were no longer needed and changed my mind - or after editing is complete, at some later point I want to use the cut footage for some other project... So I just spent more time making that archive - whereas if I had been using miniDV tape and locked it and have that tape as my archive, I would not be burning discs. (Personally, having been an IT manager in a previous life, using optical discs as an archive media is not generally a proper method - but using digital tape - in this case MiniDV - is acceptable and commonly done).

The other issue I have with hard drive based camcorders is the reliance on the electromechanical nature of hard drives. One of the measurements of "robustness" is MTBF - Mean Time Before Failure. Typically rated at thousands of hours - and they are getting much more reliable - but the fact is, they can (and will) crash... likely at the point where a bunch of video is sitting on it - and you have not yet tranferred the video to a computer. You have two choices: Forget the video existed or send the camera off to a company like DriveSavers for recovery (expensive). Had I been using miniDV tape when the camera failed, I take the tape out and find another camera. Yes, it is possible that a tape can fail - but I have 250-300 tapes in my "archive" and have not yet had a tape failure.

Of course, your requirements may be very different than mine...

Stay very far away from DVD-based camcorders - I suggest you pretend they do not exist.. Hard-drive based camcorders have good video - but stay away from the lower-end units... and yes, there is compression applied to the video stored on the camcorder's hard drive, so yes, there is negative impact on that video. MiniDV tape continues to provide the highest quality image available.

Storing you movies on the computer's hard drive is possible with any of the formats - but a word of caution: if this is the ONLY place the video is stored, you would be well served to have a regular back up routine in place to keep multiple copies of that video around... A hard disk crash, home fire, theft or other disaster could wipe that out...

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Digital zoom is useless.
by boya84 / April 17, 2007 8:16 AM PDT
In reply to: Help is here!

Turn it off so you don't accidentally use it.

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Digital Zoom....40x
by castingRod47 / April 18, 2007 1:36 AM PDT

Seems the MAX. to me..I have never been able to CAPTURE past that setting..and use the footage..
I use a Panasonic PV-DV53..w/10x Optical Zoom..since camcorder is my recreation..this cameras has everything..except the situated inside the Camera BODY----making lots of noise(Hummms-clicks--)it actually sounds like the Predator in Arnold Swartzennegers Movie..the first
My next Camcorder is expected to be something like a SONY Digtial 8 and used for Close-Ups..generally..while I have my better Camcorder for the real movie shots..
I hope to be able to spend over $$1000.00 so as to get the Sound Microphone out of the Camera Body.

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