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So many Canon's, so little time! Help buying a camcorder!

by elmsley4 / October 12, 2008 3:49 PM PDT

Okay, I'll break it down:

I'm looking for a camcorder to primarily record a video documentary of my grandmother before she dies.

I'll use the camera occasionally in the future for Youtube uploads, etc... This will be my first camera, and I'm ready to spend $400 - 650 for it. These are the candidates:

1. Canon FS100 - $306. Seems good and the price is right, but I hear low light (indoors) is bad.

2. Canon HG10 - $649. Strong Amazon reviews with 4.5/5 w/ 141 reviews. Hmmmm....

3. Canon FS10 - $355. Strong ratings of 4.5/5 with 7 reviewers. Good price and image stabilizer.

4. Panasonic HDC-SD5 - $579.50. Great reviews of 4.5/5 with 43 reviewers. Good price point. Maybe a top choice? Yes, I know it's not a Canon, but I'm tricky like that.


Any tips/suggestions would be great. Easy uploading for editing is good too. I was looking at the Panasonic GS320, a 3-CCD camera that got good reviews, but I think it's best to go digital now for ease and future support of the format.

Please help. Happy

Thanks!

-JRG

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All consumer grade camcorders
by boya84 / October 12, 2008 11:00 PM PDT

In that price range will have similar low light capabilities. Small lenses and small imaging chips are the cause. Learn to use the white balance and turn on some lights.

What do you plan to edit with? Can the video get in to your computer easily? Will the selected video editor be able to deal with the file format?

Personally, I would stay away from DVD based or hard drive based camcorders and look at flash memory and miniDV tape - The PV-GS320 is a miniDV tape based camcorder and probably provides the best video of the lot. Clarification: the "DV in MiniDV = Digital Video. It is as digital as the others and with the least amount of compression applied to the digital video stream when stored to that digital tape, it is the least "lossy". MiniDV tape continues to be the choice of the pros for many reasons covered previously in theis forum - it is not going away anytime soon.

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Reply to editing and usage
by elmsley4 / October 13, 2008 1:54 AM PDT

I'm a complete newbie. I'd like the camera to last me 5+ years (at least). Here is my background (I find lists are easier to read):

-Pure amateur with no editing software or background
-Never owned a camcorder before
-If making an analogy with camera, I'm looking for more of a "Point & Shoot" as compared to an SLR. I basically want something where I can hit "RECORD" and have the video look good out of the box, and easy to upload and share with friends.

My anxiety with MiniDV is I read 1hr of recording = 1hr of transfer time. What's the problem with HDD? I think Flash would be smaller (similar idea to Ipod - no moving parts). So maybe that's the way to go?

I'll continue to research. I think Image stabilization and ability to add a light (for indoor shooting) will be nice.

CONCERNS:
1) Intricate conversion to computer
I've been reading that downloading videos to a computer for editing (I have an older Sony WinXP laptop) can be a pain. Video images can be awful if converted in the wrong file format, etc...

I thought you could connect a cable and voila! Isn't it supposed to be this easy?

2) Editing files
I've been reading that most software that's included is garbage, and to get something that's a) Good; and b) EASY TO USE will cost some $. I'm okay with spending a LITTLE money if it's worth it. I can use some recommendations on this end. I do NOT need a pro-level program. Again, I'm a complete amateur newbie.

Thoughts and suggestions are always welcome!

Thanks again,

JRG

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In the range you are looking at,
by boya84 / October 13, 2008 2:52 AM PDT

all are consumer cams and all are "point and shoot". But, just as with photos, if you want improved imaging, you need to make a bit of a learning investment. White balance is a menu selection in the camcorder and two or three button pushes away... and... turn on some lights.

If you want nothing but point and shoot, then perhaps video is not a good idea. Audio with stills in a montage can be very effective.

Why is transferring 1 hour of miniDV "anxious"? Click import or capture, and go do something else. Lock the miniDV tape and it becomes a stable long-shelf life archive - especially of the video that gets cut. Your statement of the one hour transfer has nothing to do with your original statement of the digital format.

With HDD and flash memory, the FIRST step you should do, presuming you want to be complete, is to make an archive up of the video. This way, if you need to (or want to) go back to the original video it is there for you. What are you planning to store this archive on? Another hard drive? Optical disc? From my IT manager background, neither is an acceptable digital archive method... but digital tape is. SIOnce the original miniDV tape is the archive, there is no extra step to make an (unacceptable) backup.

From what you described in the original post, this initial project would be an interview with an older person. The camcorder should be on a tripod or tabletop or some other steady device. Humans were not built to be steady. Take a hint from the pros - never shoot handheld. Just because you are a newbie does not mean you don't need to learn how to capture good video.

Intricate conversion to computer:
MiniDV requires a firewire port. Connect a firewire cable. Lock the tape. Camera in Play or VCR mode. Launch video editor. Click Import or capture. Store original tape in cool dry place.

HDD and flash memory requires USB. Connect a USB cable. Camera in Play mode. Copy video to computer. Make copy of files to whatever back-up media you think will last more than 10-20 years. Launch video editor. You may need to convert the video file format to something the video editor likes.

In my opinion, these steps are approximately equivalent. I do not see the real time transfer as "easy or difficult" and with the added step of a back up needed for the flash and HDD environment, the time savings is not that big.

I agree that the editors that come in the box with the camcorders is useless. Some might say that the video editors bundled with the major operating systems are useless. Since you have not told us which computer or operating system... I think the low end tools can be very useful for the sort of editing to which you refer.

Windows XP (SP2) and newer (including Vista) has Microsoft MovieMaker. Not anything stellar, but for importing, trimming clips, adjusting audio and simple cuts and crossfades, it took me about 15 minutes to figure out this weekend. I started using Apple's iMovieHD about 4 years ago. That took me about 20 minutes to figure out for basic use. I was actually very pleasantly surprised at the ease of use of both applications. I use FinalCut Pro for higher-end editing requirements, and as with most higher end applications, there is quite a learning curve. For Windows, Sony Vegas and Adobe Premiere typically float to the top. For your stated purpose, I'd say you probably already have what you need. (And, to continue that part of the discussion the second paragraph, it is very easy to combine video and stills... just drag the stills in to the editor).

Other issues with HDD camcorders which probably will not impact you for this stated project are known issues with vibration (and loud audio) and high altitude. In both cases, there are sensors in the camcorder which detect the condition and park the hard drive heads to protect the platters - so no recording gets done. This could be a future problem so why bother... MiniDV tape and flash memory do not share these issues.

Another suggestion: Many people are not comfortable with a camera in their face. Since the built-in mics operate best when they are close to a (normal audio level) source, you have no choice but to have the camcorder near the person speaking. If you use a camcorder with a mic jack to connect an external mic, you can place the camcorder anywhere (within reach of the wired or wireless mic). The Canon FS10 and 100 and the Canon ZR900 and ZR930 have mic jacks. Neither have manual audio control, but the least expensive camcorders with that function Canon HV30 or Sony HDR-HC9) are more expensive.

The Audio Technica Pro88W-R35 or ATR288W are decent, affordable, consumer wireless mic systems.

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miniDV=least amount of compression
by Pepe7 / October 13, 2008 4:36 AM PDT

As the previous poster pointed out, it's more compressed w/ a DVD or HDD camcorder. The potential loss of quality might be one factor steering you towards miniDV.

-Pedro

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Narrowing down the choices - no HDD
by elmsley4 / October 13, 2008 6:35 AM PDT

I'm steered away from HDD now b/c 1) Flash is cheap enough now and 2) I won't have to worry about vibration, etc...

I'm on an older Sony Vaio laptop, running Windows XP. I might switch to a mac down the road, but as long as the laptop works (no firewire port), I'll keep it.

So I think I'm down to Flash or MiniDV.

Thank you to the previous poster who brought up storage issues. I hadn't thought of that, and I can appreciate not wanting to lose videos of my grandmother / children /etc... through the years. So maybe MiniDV is the way to go, although when I'm done editing footage, I'll more than likely burn the finished file to DVD, which I would imagine should last as long as the MiniDV's?

Flash is appealing due to speed and ease. I think the camcorders I'm looking at are all flash / MiniDV. A new contender came on my radar, so I'm down to the following choices:

1) FS100
2) HG10
3) HDC-SD5
4) Vixia HF100
5) GS320 (only MiniDV I have listed).

I'm leaning toward the Vixia HF100, the HG10 or GS320. Thoughts?

Thanks all!

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They are all very different camcorders...
by boya84 / October 13, 2008 7:16 AM PDT

Since you said you are steered away from hard drive, that drops the HG10.

The Canon HF100 is AVCHD high definition flash.
The Panasonic HDC-SD5 is AVCHD high definition flash.

The Canon FS100 is standard def flash.
The Panasonic GS320 is standard definition miniDV.

Since you were not specific with the model of the "older Sony Vaio", it is difficult to know for sure, but be advised that AVCHD wants LOTS of CPU power and RAM. MovieMaker cannot deal with AVCHD encoded video. (Apple iMovieHD08 - if the most current and updated version - can deal with AVCHD video).

If you are considering high definition, I would suggest HDV in the way of the Canon HV20 or Sony HDR-HC9. Both have a mic jack and manual audio control. Both can capture either standard definition or 1080i high definition. MovieMaker cannot deal with HDV encoded video. (Apple iMovieHD - going back to version 6, I think - can deal with HDV).

In either case, it is strongly suggested that you get an external hard drive just for video editing. 250 gig if standard definition, 500 gig if high definition.

Do not assume that DVDs will last as long (archive) as miniDV tape. there are too many dependencies. Regular consumer DVDs are not a generally acceptable media for long-term archiving.

One more advantage for miniDV tape: When the project is done and you have burned the DVD for sharing, export the video project back to the camcorder onto miniDV tape. Then you can connect the HDV camcorder to your HDTV for high definition playback if you want. Plus make a copy of the finished project for archive... If you ever get around to getting a high definition burner or player connected to your HDTV, import the project from the tape and re-burn to high definition on the optical disc.

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Correction... HV30
by boya84 / October 13, 2008 7:17 AM PDT

the HV20 has been discontinued for a while.

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question regarding the external drive
by Pepe7 / October 14, 2008 2:57 AM PDT

Would you recommend it for storage of the DV footage, or for use as temp space during the conversion/editing(?) I was always under the impression that if the drive wasn't SATA/7200 or higher and connected directly to the Mobo that the performance would not be as good. Or is firewire really adequate enough(?) Comments on this are greatly appreciated.

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The external drive
by boya84 / October 14, 2008 3:05 AM PDT

is for the editing project only. I export back to miniDV tape for archival... and export to DVD for day-to-day use or make copies for sharing with others... I do export to another external drive so I can connect it to a laptop which is connected to an HDTV via XGA cable because I don't have a "media pc" or AppleTV (or similar) device. I have been considering a NAS for the house, but I'm not quite there, yet.

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Narrowing down further
by elmsley4 / October 20, 2008 7:11 AM PDT

Well, you guys are great and have given me a lot of food for thought.

Ideas so far:

Sticking with SD b/c I can get more bang for the buck, and if I really want to go HD down the road, I'll hopefully be making more $$$ to afford it.

Staying with Flash or MiniDV. MiniDV seems to have the longevity benefit, and I'd hate to lose footage of my grandmother in 10 years b/c I forgot to backup. Flash seems to have the benefit of no noise (some people complain MiniDV has noise issues due to the moving tape heads), and easier/faster uploads. Also, there's the issue of not accidently recording over previous data.

All in all, I'm leanign toward flash due to size, speed and ease, but MiniDV could still win the race!

Camera considerations:

The FS100 seems close to the lead, but I've been reading about the JVC M330 (they make one w/out a hard drive, I think the MS100? which is the same camera w/out a hard drive - I think...). I hear teh JVC is MUCH better in low light, but the laser point interface is awkard. That, and I'm a bit anxious buying a camcorder from JVC, in my mind, a non-camera company. The FS100 might not be as good in low light, but supposedely has a better interface. Amazon rates the JVC has a higher customer rating by a marginal 1/2 star.

Ideal camera benefits:

1. External Mic - for interviewing G-ma.
2. Low light ability - good for indoors.
3. Low price point - sub $500
4. Ease of use

So the contenders are (in no particular order):

1. GS320 - MiniDV but 3CCD. I've heard good things.
2. Cannon FS100
3. JVC M330 or MS100
4. FILL IN THE BLANK __________.

Suggestions?
Thoughts?
Conclusions?

I'm excited I'm close to buying a camera soon!

Best,

JRG

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Comparing your requirements to the short list...
by boya84 / October 20, 2008 7:32 AM PDT
In reply to: Narrowing down further
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Good to know - how about recommendations?
by elmsley4 / October 20, 2008 8:25 AM PDT

So the GS320 is out b/c no mic jack.

JVC has some issues with quality.

That leaves with the FS100 and.... anything I'm missing?

What about Sony or Panasonic?

I'd love the FS100 if the low light were better, but maybe that's what I'm getting with a sub $400 camera.

It appears this is the best bet for my $$$. Please respond if I'm wrong!

I've also been asked about my computer, where I'll be editing the video. It's old, so AVCHD has been avoided, but the computer is:

Sony S-150P laptop, running Windows XP. I think I have 1Gb of ram, and 60GB drive. It has a DVD player, but no DVD burner. My dad on, on the other hand, has a top of the line Mac desktop with 2Tb drive, DVD-burner, etc... so push comes to shove, I'll send it to him to edit (although he has no experience editing video either, or any software to do it!)

My thoughts are that I can get a DVD burner for cheap, and a user friendly software for cheap. Candidly, I'd like to first shoot the video, edit the video, and then burn it on DVD with my dad's computer, or be able to email the video/post video online so people can view it.

Thanks again all for any help.

Best,

JRG

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I agree that you seem to have painted
by boya84 / October 20, 2008 8:46 AM PDT

yourself into the FS100 corner - but I also do not think that is a bad thing. Your next step is a mic...

Audio Technica ATR55, NRG Research SA-568 or RODE Video Mic. I don't think the FS100 has an accessory shoe, so just add one (in the example link, add two) with a camera bracket http://www.amazon.com/Bower-Shoe-Video-Light-Bracket/dp/B000NL5X5S/ref=pd_bbs_2?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1224541958&sr=8-2

If you do not want to be so "in your face" with those shotgun mics, a clip-on wireless lavaliere (like the Audio Technica Pro88) would work fine. So would a "boundary" mic (more commonly used for audio conference reinforcement - but they can be expensive).

You are shy on RAM and hard drive space on that laptop... and you may need to convert that video on the memory card from MPEG2 to something MovieMaker likes. Presuming you are on Windows XP (SP2) or newer, MovieMaker was bundled. Free download if not installed on yuor computer from Microsoft. An external USB connected DVD burner is possible.

Most new Macs have iMovieHD bundled (though the 24" iMacs are bundled with FinalCut Express), so your dad's Mac can edit (StreamClip may be required for video file conversion before importing to iMovie - StreamClip is a free download and use software utility - check the apple.com downloads area). As well, iDVD should be bundled on all Macs for DVD authoring.

For posting requirements, check the instructions at Vimeo.com. They are very handy.

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Cheap / good mic!
by elmsley4 / October 20, 2008 8:57 AM PDT

Jumping Jupiter batman....

I looked at the link you gave me, and I'm assuming this clips ON the camera? I then searched "video microphone", and the cheapest one I saw was around $70.00! Hmmm... I guess my initial thoughts area:

1. I picture my G-ma on her couch, with the camera set up on my dad's tri-pod about 3-5 feet away. Do I really need a mic?

2. If I mic is THAT much better, I'll buy one used via ebay. I'd like to spend < $20.00. What do you suggest?

3. In my mind, my G-ma is on her couch in front of the coffee table, the camera is on a tripod on the other side of the coffee table, and the microphone is ON the coffee table, outside of the camera view, held up by a "V" shaped device. I have NO idea if this is a) the cheapest method or b) the best method.

Thoughts: I'll buy the camera alone, and TRY out the sound. If people post back that a mic will make a HUGE difference, I'll suck it up an buy one.

Thanks all!

-JRG

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I don't know how
by boya84 / October 20, 2008 9:40 AM PDT
In reply to: Cheap / good mic!

spry Grandma is. If the camcorder is only 3-5 feet away, you will likely be just fine with the built-in mic. Good idea to try it first and see what it sounds like. Some people don't like a camera lens in their face. An external mic allows you to back the camera up - and wired or wireless, the mic is close to the audio source so the camcorder's internal mics are bypassed. The ATR-55 is almost $50 at Amazon.

I have no idea what sort of eBay gear you might be referring to. You will need a mic (or a wireless mic with a base station) that uses a 1/8" (3.5mm) plug to fit your camcorder. Please be careful. "You get what you pay for." There are very good reasons why companies like Shure, Sennhiser, Audio Technica, and many others do what they do and have been doing it, successfully, for so long.

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Just to clarify something...
by whizkid454 / October 14, 2008 6:51 AM PDT

The "vibration" issue is not as big or widespread as people may have you think. This is just simply the way of protecting the hard drive in case of a drop. The drop sensor is included in hard drive camcorders for that reason. From the amount (or lack thereof) of posts of people complaining about "vibration problems", I have seen very few.

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I agree... though I don't typically know
by boya84 / October 14, 2008 7:36 AM PDT

where and what I will be capturing to video. Minimizing the number of potential issues is the key. I was recently capturing video at a local parade - and the marching bands were pretty loud (tubas, bass drums, cymbals). One parent cam running over to me in a panic because they were trying to capture video to a shiny new JVC hard drive camcorder that was not recording - he scribbled my email address so I could provide him some video from my miniDV tape camcorder.

We have also had posts here with folks trying to capture video at auto races and a loud crowd at another parade and could not get the video onto their hard drive based camcorder. The reported symptom was "buffer overflow" and the manufacturer's recommended workaround to turn off the drop sensor did not work.

Rather than deal with the disappointment, it is more efficient to reduce the potential for problems. I agree, it does not happen very often - neither does being in high altitude, but better to know of the potential issue before buying than buy something that cannot be used for that once-in-a-lifetime event and find out at the worst possible moment (when the video capture capability is required).

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