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Semi-Pro-Quality Camcorder-Buying Expertise Needed!

by JavaJed / October 12, 2008 1:39 AM PDT

Hello CNETers. I need some camcorder-buying help from those of you who know much more than me. The company I work for has asked me to select a new camcorder (plus small light kit, microphone, etc.), but the budget they're giving me is making this a difficult decision. They've budgeted $2500 for the camera (I'm going to TRY to get it up to $3500). Most of the videos I'll be producing will be for the web only, but we need the option of delivering the video to broadcast-news outlets or on DVDs. We're using a new iMac with the latest Final Cut Studio to edit.

I'd love to go with HD, but is it really necessary? If so, what format?

My boss would like to go with a hard-drive or flash-card based camcorder, but is this the best choice for our budget? I'm used to MiniDV, but solid-state could make things simpler.

Is it justifiable try to squeeze more money out from them and get a prosumer camcorder like the Canon GL-2 or XH A1, or would we be better off getting a high-end consumer camera like the Canon VIXIA HG21, which is HD plus tape-free.

These are the cameras I'm looking at. Some of them push our budget to the limits:
Sony HVR-HD1000U
Panasonic AG-HMC70
Panasonic AG-HMC150
Panasonic AG-HVX200A
Sony Handycam HDR-FX7
Sony HDR-FX1000
Sony HVR-V1U
Sony HVR-A1U
Canon XH A1
Canon XL2
Canon GL2
Sony Handycam DCR-VX2100
Panasonic HDC-HS100
Canon VIXIA HG21

Thanks for your help, expertise, and advice!!!

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my nickel's worth...
by boya84 / October 12, 2008 4:42 AM PDT

Since you did not tell us what you want to capture to video and where you might be, the I'll go with an elimination process.

Internal hard drives drop off because of known vibration and altitude issues. Flash memory typically saves to the same formats HDD drives do, so stay with flash if necessary. Drop the HG-21 and HDC-HS100.

"Semi-pro" or "prosumer" closer to the consumer side should go away. Drop the HVR-HD1000U, HVR-A1U (small lenses/chips). For those remaining, the 1/8" mic jacks might need to be augmented using an XLR adapter like those from BeachTek and juicedLink.

High Definition cams can do both HD and Standard def. Suggest staying in the HD environment to have flexibility. Drop the XL2, GL2 and VX2100. Is HD necessary? No. Is that where video is going? Yes. Getting a HD cam allows you to go either way. Even then, you could record HD and release in SD. Most of the TV stations I've recently worked with preferred HD on miniDV tape - though one wanted 4:3 standard def.

Some are way outside your budget. Drop the HVX200.

Personally, I would drop anything that uses a LOT of compression as the first step - in this case, AVCHD. OK for final step - bad idea for first step. Drop the HMC70 and HMC150. If the file type were less compressed (DV and HDV) like the Panasonic P2 card cams do, then that is fine - but the HVX200 already dropped due to price.

The "short list" now is:
Sony Handycam HDR-FX7 (the prosumer version of the Pro Sony HVR-V1U)
Sony HDR-FX1000 (an upgraded HDR-FX1 which is the sibling of the pro HVR-Z1U)
Canon XH A1

You did not tell us which mics... Stereo? shotgun? Clip-on lavaliere? Multiples? You did not tell us how portable this needs to be.
To cover all bases,
is most flexible and is very high quality. The base station can mount to the camera and is battery powered (as are the body pack for the lav and the plug-on transmitter can connect to any XLR-based mic. With the 1/8" cable to the base station, an XLR adapter is not necessary - but will provide better manual audio control than the camcorder's alone.

For miniDV tape based camcorders, you will also need an inexpensive firewire 400 cable to connect the camcorder's DV port to the firewire400 port on the Mac.

Video lights can be fun... NRG Research or Bescor + a battery belt pack. You will also want a good sturdy tripod (Bogen-Manfrotto), sturdy case (Pelican 1600 or two 1500s). A SpiderBrace turns a non-shoulder mount camcorder into a shoulder mount. LANC is very handy.

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Thanks! And...
by JavaJed / October 14, 2008 9:43 PM PDT
In reply to: my nickel's worth...

Thanks for the insight. You've definitely helped me narrow down my choices. After researching a little more, and finding some surprisingly very low prices, I'm leaning toward the Canon XH-A1, but also considering the Sony V1U and the Panasonic AG-HVX200A P2HD Camcorder. I've seen all three of those on selling for about $2900. I'm still leaning toward the Canon, but I'm going to investigate the other two a little more.

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Scratch That...
by JavaJed / October 14, 2008 9:53 PM PDT
In reply to: Thanks! And...

In my haste and excitement, I didn't notice that the Panasonic's P2 cards are prohibitively, back to the Canon and the Sony.

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Go with the Canon.
by Kiddpeat / October 14, 2008 10:23 PM PDT
In reply to: Scratch That...

It is a phenomenal camera with most controls within easy reach on the outside surface of the camera. It has an excellent lense, and very impressive low light performance. I haven't seen the Sony, but Sonys tend to be menu driven rather than controls on the camera surface.

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The Sony prosumer and pro line is
by boya84 / October 14, 2008 11:11 PM PDT
In reply to: Go with the Canon.

different from the consumer line... The FX1/FX1000/Z1 and FX7/V1/Z7 - and all the others in the pro HVR series have all the controls on the outside - there are some menu items, but not too many of them.

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I've used at least one fairly advanced Sony, and I've
by Kiddpeat / October 15, 2008 8:51 AM PDT

checked them in the stores. I have never been impressed. The controls are either not present or cumbersome. However, here are a few readily available on the XH-A1;

aperture (can be changed while shooting)
shutter (ditto)
white balance including presets and white board setting
mic attenuation
mic channel selection
audio volume including AGC

I could go on, but the Sony that that has all those might be worth a look.

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Most of that is available on
by boya84 / October 15, 2008 9:36 AM PDT

my consumer grade HDR-FX1.

If you enlarge the image...

Iris (Aperture) is the silver knob on the body (can be changed while shooting)
Shutter is the third (of the four buttons in a row at the bottom of the body) - press once takes you in/out of the menu shutter speed selection (can be changed while shooting)
White balance including presets and white board setting are the fourth of the four buttons and the button and toggles just ahead of the four button array.
Mic attenuation is not on my FX1 but available on the pretty much all the HVR series. I use a juicedLink CX231 as an XLR adapter and it has mic att.
Mic Channel Selection is not on my FX1 but available on the pretty much all the HVR series. The juicedLink CX231 has mic channel selection, L/C/R pan control, Stereo/Mono selection, phantom power, and all the other stuff one normally finds in a field mixer.
Audio Volume (in) control on the FX1 is a single thumb wheel at the rear of the camcorder to control both channels, but the juicedLink takes care of the channel separation. Getting in and out of Auto Gain Control (audio) is a slider above the thumbwheel.

Also on the right side of the camera body - which I have found pretty useful is the built-in neutral density filter selector, various auto-exposure preset buttons. I know the XHA1 came out after my FX1 did, and the zoom is a lot better and it has a host of other improved features. I do expect the the Sony HVR-Z7 to be closer to the XHA1... but is also newer.

I actually nearly got the XHA1, but decided that my HDR-HC1 wanted a Sony companion... I guess if I had the HV20 or HV30, I would have augmented it with the XHA1...

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You said the magic word a couple of times.
by Kiddpeat / October 15, 2008 12:55 PM PDT

The button takes you in/out of the menu. That's exactly what I was objecting to. With the XH-A1, the shutter, for example, is controlled by a rotary dial on the camera's body. The shutter changes by thumbing the dial up or down. The shutter speed is displayed in the viewfinder, so you thumb the dial until the desired speed is reached. No menu.

Aperture is even easier. Aperture is changed by one of the three ring adjustments that wrap around the lense. Thus, aperture is changed in exactly the same manner as the manual zoom or focus which are the other ring controls on the lense.

It's all very intuitive in one camera rather than a feature here and another elsewhere. Audio, by the way, is also mainly switches on the body for things like AGC or attenuation. Volume is adjusted by a volume dial with one for each channel. Attenuation, BTW, was a life saver in getting the camera to work well with my audio setup. Yes, it has phantom power, but, for me, that is supplied elsewhere.

Speaking of audio. Camcorders are known for crappy mics. Not the XH-A1. It does excellent audio with the built in mic. I could detect no camera sounds in its audio. I had to fall back on the camera's audio one time when my usual audio setup was not working correctly. It was excellent for a solo singing performance with piano accompaniment.

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Ah... well... semantics...
by boya84 / October 15, 2008 1:30 PM PDT

The Shutter button on the side of the camcorder toggles between auto or manual. When manual, the shutter speed appears on the large LCD panel or viewfinder. There is a wheel at the back of the camera body for adjusting faster or slower.

The Iris (Aperture) button on the side of the camcorder toggles between auto or manual. When in manual, the silver knob adjusts and the F-stop setting is on the large LCD panel or viewfinder.

It actually sounds like they are similar - with slight variances. These option selections are VERY different from my HC1 which does have LCD touch screen menu driven shutter and audio control. Though the "Exposure", manual focus and manual zoom selection switches and selection controls are on the side of the camcorder. And by all rights, the XHA1 is more in the "pro" environment than the FX1. I'm thinking it is what you learn to use and what you get used to using.

On the same page that the FX1 has no detectable camera audio picked up by the built-in mics - and the built-ins are actually pretty good. In both cases, the mics are over the lens and ahead of the handle - not like the consumer built-ins that are less than an inch or two away from the tape transport mechanism and built-in to the main body of the camcorder (like my HC1).

I do prefer the 3.5 inch diagonal LCD panel on the FX1/Z1 (I'm old... big letters easier to read). The XHA1 LCD panel is a bit smaller - though it does tuck away nicely on the top part of the camcorder body.

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by boya84 / October 14, 2008 11:06 PM PDT
In reply to: Thanks! And...

... the lowest advertised price *might* be the cause of more headaches than the initial $ savings. Personally, I can give high marks to, and And I shop the Fry's Electronics brick/mortar shops. If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

I have no experience with zoommania but a quick search for complaints would be a good idea.;forum-threads

I agree with kiddpeat - between the V1U and XHA1, go with the Canon. I agree with you - the P2 cards are pricey. BUT - you will be fine with any on this new short list.

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by JavaJed / October 15, 2008 5:17 AM PDT

Thanks for all your input. It seems pretty clear that the Canon XH-A1 is the way to go, providing I can find a good price. And thanks for the advice about searching the forums for any issues regarding Zoommedia or other resellers. Wish me luck!

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