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Need advice for choosing digital camcorder

by coatsb / February 27, 2007 4:41 AM PST

Here's the scoop. I work for a group of forensic pathologists, who use a plethera of Nikon digitals in the morgue, as well as a Sony DVD Handycam for taking short videos of bodies. The handycam has not been too bad to us, although the MPEGs seem to pixelate when the camera is in motion. As the docs are moving while filming the bodies, this sometimes poses a problem. In any case, the camera seems to have died (the mode switch won't rotate into play mode, so the USB connection is useless), and it seems we need a new camera. I've been doing some research, but what I really need is some opinions from advanced users or pros.

We're looking for a digital video camera that will perform well though camera movement. (No one will be running with it...just panning with the camera, possibly walking.) It needs to be able to capture HQ vids in fully fluorescent, decently bright lighting. The recording process needs to be simple enough for less advanced users, although the video transfer process doesn't. The image quality needs to be superb for the price we're willing to pay ($800-1500); since there is a chance that any of the videos will need to be presented in court, they need to appear professional. It needs to be able to handle taking a massive quantity of clips (roughly 5-10 seconds per clip), and transfer those clips to a PC with as high a data transfer speed as we can get for the money. Something that records on flash media or HDD would be nice, but is not a requirement. We're essentially looking for the best quality we can get for the price. Obviously we could get better quality for a $3000 shoulder-mount model, but as we primarily rely on digital stills we really can't justify a purchase of that magnitude. And, last but not least, it would be nice if the camera had a feature to turn the microphone off...but again, that's not a necessity.

We don't need the camera to take great still photos...we use the Nikons for that. We don't require features like night shooting or anything.

I've been considering the Sony Handycam that a good option, or can I do better for the price?

If anyone can steer me in the right direction, I'd really appreciate it a lot!


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The Sony is a great choice
by blaine100 / February 27, 2007 2:13 PM PST

I think your choice of the Sony HDR-SR1 is a great choice. It gets the highest ratings of all the camcorders that I've seen. Most reviewers consider it the HD model of the year for 2006. It also has the hard drive capacity that you said you'd need.

You can read every review on the internet of the Sony here:

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On that Sony HD-SR1...
by boya84 / February 27, 2007 10:15 PM PST
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Little editing
by coatsb / March 1, 2007 3:02 AM PST
In reply to: On that Sony HD-SR1...

We don't plan on doing any editing (except to strip all sound from the videos, if they ever need to go to court). We just want to be able to pull the clips off of the camcorder and drop them into a directory on our server. And we'll probably record them in HD, although it just depends on how that would affect the simplicity of operation.

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The Sony camcorders
by boya84 / March 1, 2007 9:27 AM PST
In reply to: Little editing

I have seen all have a manual audio level... just set the audio to manual and move the volume to zero.

As far as copying the clips over, if you use a hard drive based Sony camcorder in hi-def mode, you will have a clip encoded in AVCHD.

I *think* the work flow would be:

1) Video tape the body - or whatever portion of the body you need.

2) Import the clip to a computer with a video editor (if AVCHD encoded video, one that understands AVCHD).

3) Just to be sure, set the volume on the imported video clip to 0.

4) Save or export the clip as a QuickTime or .AVI file.

5) Copy the clip up to the server or burn to disc or whatever.

The thing is, in this environment, you can't go straight from camcorder to server... the steps are (very simplistically): camcorder, decode, edit, encode, server... and that is how it works with miniDV tape based hi-def camcorders, AVCHD encoded hi-def camcorders or DVD-AVCHD hi-def camcorders... for that matter, that's how it works with standard def camcorders (of whatever media type) as well.

Even if you aren't actually editing the visual portion of the video when you zero-out the audio, you still need to use a video editor... or have no audio recorded to begin with... or upon playback have the playback device's audio at 0...

Plus, there may be value adding information to the video (in the way of titles) like case number, date, names, attending officer/physician/coroner or any other bits and pieces of appropriate information - though you would obviously know better about this - and adding this info would be part of the editing process, too.

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Yes you have better options
by ramni / February 27, 2007 5:14 PM PST
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Don't go with AVCHD
by jmg1983 / March 6, 2007 11:47 AM PST

I would strongly recommend against purchasing this HDR-SR1 for what you need to do. It's a great camcorder, yes, but the AVCHD codec can display more compression artifacts than say HDV in some instances. Also, you will not be able to edit h.264 (AVCHD) easily, even in more expensive editing programs such as Avid Liquid, Premiere Pro, etc.

What you need is the Canon HV10 or the soon to be released HV20. Amazing picture quality, better than the Sony SR1 and the Sony's HDV counterpart - the new HC7. They're also more affordable.

A big advantage is the use of miniDV tape which is easily archivable. You don't want to be wasting so much time archiving your videos onto DVD's which can easily scratch. And I'm sure you're aware that you may run into the occasional "bad" disc from time to time.

Trust me on this - go with the HV10 or HV20. You will not be disappointed.

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