Picking a new compact video camera
June 27, 2009 1:43 PM   Subscribe

I have a Canon PowerShot G10 taking great pictures and VGA-resolution videos. I'm now looking for a video camera that will allow me to capture videos in HD. Any ideas?

There are a few video projects I have. One of them is to document my one-year stay in Japan starting this October. And maybe, if everything goes well, I'll turn all of what I've recorded into a documentary, but I don't want to plan too big.

I know someone else asked for advice here for choosing a camera for filming documentaries, but the answers were a bit general. Last year, the community here recommended me the PowerShot G10 when I was asking for recommendations for a good compact photo camera. Today, I am hoping for someone to point me in the right direction with their recommendations in brands or models of video cameras. So far, I've enjoyed my G10, and I'm sure I'll get great advice here for a video camera.

A few years ago, I was the proud owner of a JVC GR-DVL725U camera. By today's standards, of course, it was a bit bulky, and transferring video from its MiniDV tapes via RCA cables or Firewire to my computer was a time-consuming process. However, its picture and sound quality was satisfactory.

Now, I'm also sure I can buy something that is smaller, works better, and is more efficient. A few months ago, a saw a Panasonic 3CCD camera, which looked interesting. I like Canon digital cameras, but I don't know what to think about their video cameras. I shy away from the Sony brand because of its proprietary technologies -- including their Memory Sticks, since I'm a heavy user of SDHC cards.

As for specific features, I'm not too certain what I should look for. I'll probably need a camera that stores videos on SDHC cards with HD video, manual zoom and focus, remote control, RCA/S-Video/Firewire output, light, internal stereo microphone, external microphone port, etc., but I think these features are usually the standard. I saw some cameras which have some interesting special effects, like time lapse, but I want to focus on quality video and audio, while having a camera that is easy to bring with me anywhere (i.e. not a large and heavy camera like those used by news reporters). The cost is not a problem.

Finally, unlike before, I have some video editing software on my Mac, including Final Cut Express. (I was previously using Linux for editing video. It was really painful at times.)

Any suggestions on what camera I should buy?
posted by remi to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Canon's camcorders are excellent. A friend, who normally shoots with the Sony Z1 or the Panasonic HVX 200 (big semi-pro beasts) has an HF11, and reports that it cuts perfectly well with the Z1. He's rather enamoured by it actually. I believe the newest camera in this line is the S100 (camcorderinfo.com review)

An option that may make sense, given that you are travelling, is to look at the recent trend of DSLRs that shoot video. Canon's 5D Mark II is the premier example of this. See this short film and this short film shot by the excellent videographer Philip Bloom. Unfortunately, the other Canon video DSLR (VDSLR?), the 500D, only shoots at 20fps and offers not manual controls, making it next to useless. The Nikon D90 and D5000 shoot at 24fps, which is nice, but offer no manual controls. However, the Panasonic GH1 does offer decent quality video with manual controls and a good frame rate.

One problem with using solid state cameras is that the videos all need to be transcoded to Pro Res 422 in FCP, which is rather time consuming. If you're open to using tape, then there are still high-quality options, like the Canon HV20/30/40 and possibly others. But tapeless is the future, and the software will eventually catch up with it.
posted by Magnakai at 3:12 PM on June 27, 2009

Best answer: I saw this review for the Canon SD960 that might help you. It's not as advanced as what you described, but you may like the idea of one device for both still and video, especially with HD.

Also, since you have a Mac, iMovie 09 has a feature that will stabilize your video, which is helpful when shooting with a small handheld camera like this.

Good luck!
posted by GoshND at 5:42 AM on June 28, 2009

Response by poster: Based on your recommendations, and after reading the reviews, I bought a S100 and a SD960 yesterday.

The SD960 is a lot more portable than my A720, which I'm going to sell. It's sleek, smaller, and fits right in my pocket (and not about to rip it open). The video resolution is clearer on the SD960 and has a widescreen resolution. There are some tradeoffs: no lens mount (although I never used it), 4x optical zoom instead of 6x, no manual focus, no aperture settings, uses proprietary battery instead of 2 AA batteries. But my G10 is better anyway with its manual focus, zoom, aperture settings, etc. Besides, when I had enough space for the A720, I had enough space for the G10, so I ended up bringing my G10 more often than the A720 anyway.

It's too early for me to say what I think of the S100. I didn't have any time to play with it yesterday. So far, I can say the video quality is impeccable (compared to the camcorders I used before) and has HD quality. Given the large sensor, the camera is small and fits easily in my hand. A viewfinder could be useful, but I can deal without it. I love the menus and controls of the camera and find them easier to use than many other camcorders I've used before.

Magnakai and GoshND, thanks again for your suggestions!
posted by remi at 6:59 AM on June 30, 2009

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