HD Camcorders

Well, time for another look, Jim asked me about camcorders once again. Six months ago, the tradeoff was really great HD quality but only on miniDV tape with the Canon HV20 (now updated to the “HV30”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Canon-HV30-Camcorder-Review-34401.htm) or you could go with the convenience of a hard disk in standard definition like our Sony SR-100 but quality was pretty bad (in fact, the Sony has worse quality than the tape based Canon Elura I had for years). So has anything change? Here’s a stack rank list of the top camcorders:

“Canon Vixia HF10”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Canon-HV30-Camcorder-Review-34401.htm. This has a removable SDHC memory cards and 16GB of internal flash. It uses the same AVCHD format as the HG10 (hard drive based) and the HR10 (DVD based). It records in 1920x1080i at 17Mbps so uses the latest chipset. That being said, the HG10 and the HR10 have 1/2.7-inch sensors while this one has a 1/3.2 inch sensor. But many folks think that this might be the one to beat. As an aside, they have an identical camera called the HF100 that doesn’t have the 16GB of internal flash and is $200 cheaper. In the long run that seems like a better deal given thatSDHC cards are $90-140. The other drawback is there is no viewfinder at all, so you better hope it is not bright sunlight. That being said, image quality is the key open issue.

“Sony HDR-SR12”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Sony-HDR-SR12-First-Impressions-Camcorder-Review-34178/Performance.htm. This is a 120GB hard drive (!!!) camcorder that records in true 1080i at 16Mbps. It has a 1/3.15 inch CMOS sensor with 3.8 megapixels in 16:9. So again the sensor is smaller and there are more pixels which probably means more noise. Reminds me of the state of pocket digital cameras. Everytime the pixel count went up noise goes up and low light performance goes down. It is also AVCHD, so we’ll have to see how motion artifacts are. To save money, you can also get the otherwise identical SR11 which has the 60GB drive. BTW that is 14 hours of hi-def vs. 7 hours respectively. Personally, on our 20GB camcorder, we never really use it all up. 3 hours is a lot of video! It is also nice now that on the Mac Final Cut Express supports AVCHD and on the PC Sony Vegas 8.0 (what I use) does as well. But as usual, there are tons of incompatibilities so you have to research what works with what. It also have xvYCC which doubles the color depth if your HDTV supports it.

“Panasonic HDC-SD9”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Panasonic-HDC-SD9-Camcorder-Review-34650.htm is really the next generation that is coming along. It records AVCHD (that’s the new MPEG-4/X.264 derivative that Sony and others are pushing). It now records at 17Mbps vs. 13Mbps of the original systems and at the full 1920x1080i resolution. It does use three 1/6 inch CCDs which theoretically should be better although like many things in camcorders (for some reason this is true for this category), they are actually smaller than the three 1/4 inch CCDs in the first generation HDC-SD1. To get the nicer CCDs, you have to go to the professional Panasonic AG-HSC1U which gores for $2K which is more accurate in color and higher resolution. The Sony HDR-CX7 is also sharper and has a nicer picture. They also apparently have a new color mode called xvYCC which is higher reoslution but you need a brand new HDTV to enjoy it. It still shows motoin artifacts, but the new Canon HF10 does not. Interestingly, even though it now records a full 1920×1080 vs the stretched 1440×1080 that the previous models used, resolution was identical (makes sense, the pixel count of the CCDs didn’t change). Finally, in low light it is pretty bad and in fact doesn’t look as good as the SD1 because smaller CCDs are usually noisier.

Sony HDR-SR7 and HDR-CX7 not quite there yet

Well, I hope folks waited if you want an high definition hard disk camcorder. Sony just announced the HDR-SR7 that seems to deliver according to “Camcorderinfo.com”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Sony-HDR-SR7-First-Impressions-Review-29388.htm. It is an AVCHD camcorder so you need to update your video editing software to the latest version to edit it, but it does have a 60GB hard drive.

It has a 1/3″ ClearVid CMOS sensor that does OK in bright light. It still has trouble like all current generation AVCHD cameras with motion artifacts (things blur because the codec is still new) and more noise. All AVCHD camcorders have trouble. From all previous Sonys like the HDR-SR1 as well as the Panasonic HDC-SD1 (it has three 1/4″ CCDs, so it is not an imager problem). Basically, if you care about quality, you still have to stick with the HDV format of the Canon HV20 (“Pricegrabber”:http://camcorderinfo.pricegrabber.com/search_getprod.php?masterid=32868415&mode=cci_mlink_FPA000000070 $1040) . The biggest issue will be low light performance since the imager is smaller and the AVCHD format is itself noiser. Again from a performance standpoint, the miniDV tape using HDV is higher quality if less convenient.

As an aside Panasonic HDC-SD1 and the Sony HDR-CX7 both use memory cards (HDSD and Memory Stick Pro) respectively instead of a hard drive. I don’t quite see why you’d want this as currently a 4GB memory card only has 30 minutes of high definition footage on it. The hard drive idea seems way better at least until flash cards get into the 60GB range.

Technically what is happening is that HDV is based on MPEG-2 and AVCHD is based on MPEG-4 (which is the same as H.264 if you like acronyms). MPEG-4 is about twice as efficient in terms of compression, but the current hardware isn’t mature enough to really take advantage. Thus, HDV runs at 24Mbps while AVCHD runs at 15Mbps but the new codecs aren’t as good. If you can hang on, wait for the next generation AVCHD camcorders (I’m sure they’ll get better), otherwise, get the tape-based miniDV HDV based on MPEG-2 (or for the simple minded, buy a Canon HV-20).

The one good news is that at last editing programs support HDV, you need to buy Sony Vegas 7.0e (this by way is a great program).

In another sad aside, for standard definition, it looks like the Sony “DCR-SR300”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Sony-DCR-SR300-Camcorder-Review/Performance.htm actually has worse low light performance than the SR100 we have. Has to do with a new imager, so beware.

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Professional DV Cameras

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about getting a high definition DV camera. Kenny has some good suggestions on the Sony line. Right now, the Canon HV20 probably makes the most sense, but the big brother or the Sonys mentioned like the HVR A1 are probably best for prosumers if they are really producing high quality audio and want the control versatility. Amazingly, the actual video quality on the HV20 is about the same as the big brothers. All are tape based, so that means its a little bit of a pain to get them into a PC for editing.

bq. Further to your HD video camera blog, I’m about to switch from the Sony HVR
Z1 to the HVR V1 because it is just more versatile and my shooters who are used to the Sony 170 have a lower learning curve. However, for half the price, the HVR A1 is amazing especially if you’re serious about sound quality. http://www.dvuser.co.uk/content.php?CID=34

HD Camcorders

!>http://images.camcorderinfo.com/images/upload/Image/Canon/Canon%20HV20/Product%20Pictures/Canon_HV20vsSony_HDR-HC7_Right.jpg! What a difference just a month makes. Since the last HD Camcorders, Sony, Canon and Panasonic have all introduced new models, this changes the decisions quite a bit. Using Camcorderinfo, here are the latest tradeoffs and selection:

# “Canon HV-20″:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Canon-HV20-Camcorder-Review.htm. $1100 MSRP. Canon announced a bigger camera called the HV-20. Unlike the HV-20, this one isn’t a skinny one, but more like a small box. The big deal is that it has much better low light performance and retains the very high quality high light. Also, it has a true 24P (24 frame progressive) at 1080i which has much truer colors. At $1100, it is $100 more expensive than the HV10 and bigger, but it has a much higher picture quality. The main drawback remains that it is not a hard disk camcorder, so you still have those pesky tapes to deal with. Again, if you can hang on, I just feel that there is a hard disk HD camcorder coming in say by Christmas 2007. It btw beats the new Sony HDR-HC7 because of better picture quality and it is $200 less.
# Canon XH A1 ($4000 MSRP). Ok, this is if you really are a professional and semipro. It is larger and gigantic and is also tape based, but it has amazing low light performance. It has three 1/3” CCDs and it also doesn’t have that really saturated look, but is more film like professional in quality.
# “Panasonic HDC-SD3”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Panasonic-HDC-SD1-HDC-DX1-HDC-SD3-and-HDC-DX3-AVCHD-Camcorders-Compared.htm This is a SD or SDHC card based camcorder, so it doesn’t have a hard drive, but is 1920x1080i with three CCDs. cost is $1275. The older HDC-SD1 is the only one available outside of Japan but I wouldn’t recommend it, it is not true 1920x1080i, but is actually 1440x1080i. The biggest issue is that it uses the new AVCHD codec (like the new Sony’s) which is pretty immature. It is noisier than the older HDV format used in the HV-10. It has more in-camera sharpening than the HV-20 and about the same as the more consumer-grade image of the HDR-HC7. The bright light noise is quite high at the same levels as Sony’s offering (DVD-based HDR-UX1 and hard-drive-based HDR-SR1). The second is that it has lots of motion artifacting (this is really because the new H.264 codec hardware used in AVCHD is still maturing) is really noticable in the Panasonic compared with the Sony HDR-UX1 for instance. BTW, this also means low-light performance is pretty bad as well.
# “JVC Everio HD7”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/JVC-GZ-HD7-First-Impressions-Review.htm. $1800. This is the dark horse that we just have to wait for.This is a hard disk camcorder that is about to come to the US. It records in MPEG-2 at 30Mbps onto a 60GB hard drive, so it has a higher bit rate than HDV MPEG-2 (limited to 25Mbps) and isn’t as efficient as the AVCHD (15Mbps maximum, so it is about twice as efficient to go H.264 vs. MPEG-2). Also it has a broadcast quality Fujinon lense and has 3 CCDs. BTW, it is using a variable bit rate MPEG-2 up to 30Mbps which is nice since MPEG-2 works with DVDs, Blu-ray and most video editing systems.

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Camcorder Recommendations

Only I could go from looking for a simple camcorder for someone to suddenly finding myself on a professional film production site, looking at 4 pound broadcast quality cameras, but heck, that’s me. “Videomaker”:http://www.videomaker.com/article/12964/ has a great list of top products for video types at the high end. A pretty good list of things if you are nerdy enough to want them.

By the way the great resources are “Camcorderinfo.com”:http://camcorderinfo.com, but also “SonyHDVInfo.com”:http://sonyhdvinfo.com where all the Sony geeks live.

* “Canon HV10”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Canon-HV10-Camcorder-Review/Performance.htm. Mainly because it is very small. Weighs less than a pound. Main drawback is that it doesn’t use a hard drive. $1200 list. The “Sony HDR-SR1”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Sony-HDR-SR1-Camcorder-Review/Performance.htm is tempting as it has a hard drive, but it is quite noisy in taking HD pictures and not as high resolution as current miniDV-based HD camcorders. So as I said before, if you can stand it wait a bit for the true camcorder that is both HD *and* hard drive based, but if you can’t then you have a hard choice, get the HV10 with better picture quality (in fact, very close to the XH A1, its $3,500 brother) or have the convenience of hard disk with the SR1. “SonyHDVInfo”:http://www.sonyhdvinfo.com/showthread.php?t=8909 say that while the SR1 is good, editing the new AVCHD format is a pain. Most packages support the HDV which is HD on a miniDV right now, so if you are editing current stuff and need it right now, the miniDV is right. That’s going to change fast, so if you can hold on.
* “JVC Everio GZ-MG505”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/JVC-GZ-MG505-Camcorder-Review.htm or the “Sony DCR-SR300”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Sony-DCR-SR300-First-Impressions-Review.htm. $1300 list. It is standard definition but it does have a hard disk with 30GB and most importantly it uses a 3-CCD design, so images are much better and these are 16:9 format imagers according to Videomaker, although Camcorderinfo found the SR100 (now the SR300 updated) to have much better picture a quality and it also has optical image stabilization like the older “SR100”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Sony-DCR-SR100-Camcorder-Review/Performance.htm which they liked quite a bit at Camcorder info.
* “Sony HDR-FX7”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Sony-HDR-FX7-Camcorder-Review.htm or the “Canon XH A1:”http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Canon-XH-A1-Camcorder-Review/ComparisonsConclusion.htm $3500. This is a prosumer HD camcorder, it uses three sensors as well and has an HDMI interface. It is still tape based though. Its main competition is the really good XH A1, which is about the same price and Camcorderinfo liked the Canon better because the FX7 didn’t do well in low light (because it uses CMOS not CCD sensors) and the XH A1 has more manual controls. As a technical aside, both a 3-sensor systems, but the FX7 isn’t native 16:9 so it stretches pixels whereas the Canon is a native 16:9 chip. The tough tradeoff is that the Sony has more sharpness but more noise, while the canon has less sharpness, but has very little noise
* Manfrotto 560B Monopod $210. I really love the Gitzo that I just bought, but there times when a monopod is just lighter. This one actually has a little stand at the bottom so it will standup.
* Steadicam Merlin $849. OK, this is a true geek gadget, this makes the camera gyro stabilized. What a cool idea.
* AKG Perception 100 $200. This is a really high quality microphone for those studio podcasting situations.
* Sony Vegas 7 + DVD Architect, $700. This is what I use, I have to say it is amazingly good.

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HD Camcorders

Well we are the cusp of a camcorder revolution. In thinking about the next generation to get, the Canon Optura 100MC really did last a long time. It was 480i/60 standard definition that used miniDV tapes. I actually made quite a few videos considering what a pain it was to capture. A fast computer really helped. Last year, I got the Sony SR100 (the new model is the SR200), unlike the tape based, the amount of evolution in hard disk camcorders is just amazing. Sony is doing a new model every year.

The bleeding edge though is HD or high definition. This is 1080i/24p and the technology is just evolving for consumer camcorders. The picture quality promises to be great, but the use of a new codec, the AVCHD, has got lots of teething problems. The best model looks like the Sony HDR-SR1, but its quality isn’t as good as the miniDV-based HD camcorders yet because the codec (H.264) is still maturing compared to MPEG-2. So what’s a nerd to do. Well, other than wait for the follow-on to the SR100, its too look at the really heavy professional or prosumer camcorders that cost $2-3K rather than $1.5-1K. You get four pound monsters rather than one pound, stuff into your pocket, but the picture quality is amazing. So here’s my advice:

# Wait for the SR1 follow-on (SR2?). If you can stick it out, wait for the next generation of hard disk drive AVCHD camcorders. Sony and Canon are neck and neck as usual in producing these. The SR100 is just about done and the Canon folks don’t have a hard disk based camcorder yet. Too bad.
# SR1. If you really have to have it right away, you can still get the SR1 for about $1000, but hurry as they seem to be stocking out
# “Canon HV10”:http://www.camcorderinfo.com/content/Canon-HV10-Camcorder-Review/Format.htm. If you don’t mind the miniDV format and I really do, the HV10 is probably the best of the current ones, even compared to the Sony HC3 that it competes directly with and beats it by a nose because of better color balance. It weighs less than a pound, the miniDV makes it hard for me to recommend it.
# “Canon XL H1”: . Turns out that the color quality is actually about as good as the HV10, so you only need this bigger brother if you want manual controls and you care about low or available light shooting where having 3CCDs makes a difference.
# “Sony HVR-V1U”:http://www.videomaker.com/article/13184/. OK, if you’ve got $4,000 to splurge and don’t need a new car, the Sony 4 pound professional camera has a great review. It is a 3CCD system so has great color accuracy and also low light capability. It shoots 1080i in 24p, and 30p modes. So, its ready for you to make real movies. The biggest drawback is that it still uses the MiniDV format cassette.

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