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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Chunky for a punky

Do I look big in this?

Where it wasn't at

Year zero for HD

Mistakes, there were a few, part I

Mistakes, there were a few, part II

And not a moment too soon either

Where it's at, part I

Where it's at, part II

Would you pay two thousand smackers for a camcorder that's chunky, heavy and only records in standard definition? Don't laugh, were this 2004 that's exactly what you would be doing, if you were in the market for a top quality camcorder that is.

When

Caption by / Photo by Panasonic

Even the compact miniDV models, such as this Sony Handycam DCR-PC330, were still pretty thickset.

Caption by / Photo by Sony

Back in 2004, flash memory wasn't quite ready for the big time. This Panasonic D-Snap SV-AV100, for instance, was certainly dainty, but its eye-watering AU$2200 price and bundled 512MB SD card, good for only 10 minutes of footage, made it less than ideal.

Caption by / Photo by Panasonic

2005 marked the first year for HD consumer camcorders down under, and leading the charge was Sony's Handycam HDR-HC1. Priced at AU$3500 the HC1 crammed 60 minutes of footage onto the same size tape as used on standard-def cameras.

Caption by / Photo by Sony

Naturally there were, and will continue to be, a few missteps along the way. We could point and laugh at cheap cameras trying to punch far above their station, such as Kogan's Full HD camcorder, but that's not really fair. Yes, we know that the sum total of Kogan's R&D is limited to getting the best price from a generic Chinese factory, securing some branded boxes and shipping it here, but just look at that price!

Caption by / Photo by Kogan

No, the funniest ones are the products that tried to be ahead of their time by incorporating features that no one really wants nor needs on a camcorder. Your Honour, we submit for you Exhibit A, the Vivitar Eek from Ricoh. The name and concept could only have come from an alcohol and drug-fuelled planning meeting — at least, we hope that that's the case.

Still photos were rubbish, as were videos, and to play music on it you required the patience of an army of genetically cloned Mother Teresas. For instance, music had to be stored in a folder named, intuitively, \\DCIM\100AXH10\, and there were no random or repeat modes. Oh, and it ran at a temperature that would put most nuclear reactors to shame.

Caption by / Photo by Vivitar

The rise of hard disk and then flash memory camcorders has not only all but killed off tape, but also our most hated format, mini-DVD, as used on the otherwise acceptable Canon HR10. At a glance it makes sense: record video straight to a medium that can be played in a DVD player. Unfortunately, a mini-DVD can hold about 20 minutes of SD footage and 10 minutes of the full HD variety, which is four-fifths of not much. Other issues include the format's susceptibility to skipping, the RSI-inducing vibration and the interminable waits during disc initialisation or finalisation.

For more information on camcorder formats, check out our helpful guide.

Caption by / Photo by Canon

Here's a not-so-bold prediction, as long as hard disk capacity is cheaper than flash memory there will be a place for hard disk camcorders, such as the Sony Handycam HDR-XR200. This is especially true for high-def models, which require vast amounts of space.

Caption by / Photo by Sony

Now that flash memory has fallen to the point where a few gigabytes is the same price as a Value Meal — not to mention its low power consumption and minimal space requirements — it has become the dominant storage medium of camcorders. This is especially true further down the food chain, but with high-def cameras, like the Canon Legria HFS10, now sporting 32GB of built-in storage they're becoming viable at the top end too.

Caption by / Photo by Canon
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