Help needed in buying a Camcorder
June 5, 2006 3:13 AM   Subscribe

I need your suggestions for choosing a new camcorder. My purpose will be to shoot home videos, vlogs but not for still image shooting. Budget is around $500. Which format should I go for - MiniDV or HardDisk ? What other features I should consider before buying one ?
posted by labnol to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You want MiniDV. The rest of the features? Minor.

Mini DV permits editing by most software You then convert to DVD (MPEG-2) after the fact.

A DVD camera causes the headache of having to convert from the highly compressed format of MPEG2. While it's possible, it's time consuming and a major quality hit.

The only reason to go with a DVD camcorder is to be able to "instantly" play the footage on a DVD player.

Last, the "hard drive" cameras (at this sort of price point), store footage as the even higher compression of MPEG-4; again, a pita to edit.

Next up, 3 chip vs. 1 chip, for the CCDs (charged couple devices) capture the picture. Bigger is generally better....but 3 chips to capture color trumps a single chip.

I don't know if you'll find a 3 chip camera for less than $800 (Last time I was at a best buy I was stunned to find one at that price).

The rest of it? Optical zoom (forget digital zoom, it's pretty worthless), some level of stabilization.

Almost all capture for stills are useless (Very low resolution - video here is 720x480)
posted by filmgeek at 5:00 AM on June 5, 2006

I've never worked with HD or direct-to-DVD cameras, but my instinct says to stick with MiniDV, if for no other reason than because its a known quantity with well-understood functionality, and tapes are dirt cheap. If you're using a MiniDV camera, you can simply connect your camera to your computer via firewire and capture DV into any video editing package you like. I know in the case of direct-to-DVD recorders, it isn't nearly this simple, since the video stream is encoded to MPEG4 (I think) on the fly. The same goes for the little "mini-cameras" that record onto solid-state memory (SD/CF/et) as far as I know. I'm not sure about hard drive recording, but I've never seen a consumer-level camera that records direct to a hard drive. In my experience, that's limited to high-end HighDef cameras, or direct-to-disk packs for high-end MiniDV/DBeta/etc cameras.

Within "consumer cameras that take MiniDV tapes," I'd reccomend something from Panasonic -- I use a PV-DV953 (since replaced by the PV-GS400) for my personal shooting and love it. That one costs about $800, but the lower-numbered GS family cameras can be had for under $500, I believe. What you get by going with the GS line is a 3-chip CCD assembly, which gets you better color accuracy and less image-noise, as compared to a single-chip solution.

In general, the more manual control you can get, the better. Manual focus and exposure controls are HUGE when it comes to getting consistant video.

If you're doing video blogging, you'll probably also want something with an external mic input. On-camera mics tend to suck, and they're also located next to a major source of vibration (the tape transport motor), which makes them suck more. Sennheiser makes some nice short shotguns that mount to your camera's "hot shoe" (which typically isn't hot, but, looks the same) and plug into a 1/8" mini jack.

Hope this helps; good luck! For further information, I suggest you check out The forums. There are a lot of threads from people comparing various cameras and asking for comparisons..
posted by Alterscape at 5:07 AM on June 5, 2006

MiniDV. Easy to archive, cheap media, widely supported, mature technology.

You can probably get by with a cheaper camera if you put aside part of your budget for a good external mic and tripod. I've got a Sony Handycam (a gift) but the hardware is flakier than the Panasonics I've seen. Plus, what others have said about the CCDs.
posted by holgate at 6:56 AM on June 5, 2006

Within "consumer cameras that take MiniDV tapes," I'd reccomend something from Panasonic -- I use a PV-DV953 (since replaced by the PV-GS400) for my personal shooting and love it. That one costs about $800, but the lower-numbered GS family cameras can be had for under $500, I believe.

If you have a Costco card and are willing to go a little over budget, they have a Panasonic GS180 for $520. This is the one I'm really considering.
posted by dw at 8:26 AM on June 5, 2006

One of the Sony's has a bluetooth mic. Any other camcorder have that feature? It looks very cool and easy to use.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:04 AM on June 5, 2006

My two cents: having used a number of different camcorder brands over the last few years, I'm now of the firm opinion that buying anything but Sony is foolhardy.
posted by dmd at 11:08 AM on June 5, 2006

MiniDV. Absolutely. There's no simpler, cheaper, smaller, higher-quality backup solution for storing your original videos than those little tapes.
posted by designbot at 11:17 AM on June 5, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you everyone.

As most of you have suggested, I would go for a MiniDV Sony Handycam with a 3CCD chip if the budget allows.

Are there anymore suggestions about specific model before I mark the best answer here.
posted by labnol at 12:53 AM on June 6, 2006

Response by poster: Based on the suggestion, I have now to choose between a Sony DCR HC46 and DCR HC96. I am really confused between the two. I do not require to shoot still images. Does HC96 anything more ? Please suggest.
posted by labnol at 5:19 AM on June 6, 2006

The 96 has one other feature worth mentioning:
Digital Passthrough.

If you want to edit stuff from, say, older VHS (or any non digital medium), you can use the camcorder to pass the signal through (making it digital.)

That and the difference between a 1 and 3 megapixel stills that you noticed.
posted by filmgeek at 9:15 PM on June 10, 2006

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