Can you recommend a reasonably priced camcorder?
July 18, 2007 7:14 PM   Subscribe

ConsumerElectronicsFilter: Can you recommend a reasonably priced camcorder?

My wife-to-be and I are going to Hawaii for our honeymoon next week, and it just occurred to us that it might be nice to have a video camera for the trip, what with all the beautiful scenery and all. So this is a short-order education request--I do not know thing one about camcorders, yet I am hoping to purchase one tomorrow.

Model recommendations are welcome. Advice such as best brands, critical features not to overlook, what media format is best (tapes, hard drives, solid state memory, lions, tigers, bears), etc. would be nice.

I'm not sure what you exactly get for your money in the video camera space, either. I don't really expect to use this thing more than a few times a year, but I don't want to buy a piece of junk just the same. I think I would be fine paying around $400 or so, but if that's not reasonable please tell me so!
posted by fusinski to Shopping (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd get a MiniDV camcorder. The media is cheap and relatively durable, it's an established technology that will probably be readable for a while (due to the large installed base of equipment) and you should be able to find blank tapes almost anywhere in the developed world. They are not quite as small as, and they have some more moving parts than, some of the newer HD and flash based models, but I think this is more than made up for by the increased quality, flexibility, and capacity (when you consider that you can just buy more tapes).

I've gone through a few in the last few years -- I originally had a Pansonic, and liked it, but for no particular reason one day it started recording everything with a green hue. So I stopped using it and got a tiny Sony, which has worked very well.

It's hard for me to give a model recommendation because they change so quickly, but I'd say that NightShot and optical image stabilization are nice features, as is a powered hot-shoe for a light. I'd plan on buying an extra high-capacity battery for whichever model you buy.

The Canon camcorders also have a big following, but I've never used any of their low-end models (the XL and GLs are nice, though). But you can't go wrong with either Sony or Panasonic -- just beware that with Sony, you're really "buying into" the brand, and all that implies (proprietary power connector, batteries, etc.). Thankfully, they all use the same tapes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:42 PM on July 18, 2007

I agree with getting a MiniDV. The tapes are a great backup, but it's easy to transfer video to a computer for editing and making DVD's. I've been very happy with my Canon ZR500. The ZR850 is only $279.00 at J&R. Worth a look.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:21 PM on July 18, 2007

Big fan of my Panasonic PV-GS150. It's a little bit more than you are looking for, but it's very small, has a great screen. The image quality is amazing (it uses 3CCDs as opposed to a CMOS sensor) with Leica glass, and it has a 2.3 MP camera built in.

Whatever you get, make sure it's MiniDV, has a good lenses, and a reasonably good optical zoom. Don't pay attention to any kind of digital zoom listed in the specs, it looks terrible and is next to worthless. Battery life is also important. Other things like image stabilization are nice, but not critical.

The only thing I don't think the GS150 does well is night shooting. My much older Sony Handicam handles this much much better, but simply add in a decent light and you should be fine.
posted by quin at 9:54 PM on July 18, 2007

I'll second the Canon line. I've had an Optura 20 (it's MiniDV) for a few years, and I've been very happy with it. It was about $400 at the time. (Do shop around for price. is a good place, once you have a model number to search by.)

My recommendation is to get as large an on-board LCD as you can afford. Once I had this option, I didn't look through the viewfinder.

I also second the larger battery suggestion, and possibly a wide-angle lens if you'll be recording groups of people (I have triplets, and trying to get them all in the same shot has been nearly impossible since they learned to crawl 2 years ago.)

The low-light sensitivity of my camera is decent, but not amazing. The outdoor quality in sunlight is seriously impressive. Sharp picture, great color.

There used to be a website called '' where you could read nice reviews. Apparently they're down now. Wish I knew of a replacement.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:17 AM on July 19, 2007

Thanks guys, this has been really helpful. Amazing that you all agreed on MiniDV--no doubt in my mind now that's the way to go!
posted by fusinski at 7:23 AM on July 19, 2007

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