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Old May 8th, 2005, 03:29 PM   #1
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The Golden Path

Hi there!

I am entering the world of digital video and need some good advice. At the moment I am considering whether to start with a cheaper small sized camcorder or to go for a high-end prosumer camera that will deliver superior video and audio. If you could give me some advice from your own experience I would appreciate it. I am aware that most videographers have at least two cameras, a smaller one for convenience and holidays and a lager high-end for more production-like shooting.

Here is some information on me and my intended use of the camera:

For the past 13 years I have been taking pictures with my beloved Nikon SLR camera and since last year with my new digital still camera. For about a year now I have also been wanting to add video to my resources. I will turn 30 this summer and next month my mother and I will be visiting the States together for the first time in 20 years. I would like to make a video of our trip. This project includes travel- and landscape scenes, my mothers 50th high school reunion, a baseball game and family get-togethers. Secondly my grandmother, here in Denmark, will turn 93 in December. Naturally we do not know how much longer she will be with us - although she was still driving at the age of 90! What I have in mind is making some interview style recordings with her at her home and in the town where she grew up – and perhaps eventually put together a narrative of our family background and turn it into a DVD. My father has suffered from MS for the past 24 years, and I would like some videos of him as well. Other than this, the camera would simply be my all-purpose personal camcorder. My first priority is picture and sound quality – followed by solid build, ergonomics and a certain degree of portability.

My head tells me to start with something like the Panasonic GS250 or GS400. This size camcorder is ideal for travelling and would probably be a good choice for starters like myself. It seems they have a decent picture quality in good light and an external microphone can be attached. By beginning modestly I could also gain precious experience without spending a fortune. Both of these cameras have threads so I can mount a UV filter to protect the lens. The GS400 is reported to have had tape transport problems; I wonder whether this has been remedied? The European price for the GS400 with an extra battery is around 2000 USD.

As I have always loved quality I have also looked into more expensive camcorders. I discovered the Panasonic DVC-30/32E and Canon GL/XM2 which deliver better picture quality than the aforementioned high-end consumer camcorders. These can also be equipped with XLR adapters for attaching professional microphones. The European price for a GL/XM2 with an extra battery is around 2650 USD. The Panasonic is around 3000 USD with an extra battery, Mack warranty, shipping from Singapore, import duty and the Danish sales tax of 25%. While there are plenty of GL/XM2’s around in Europe it’s real hard to find the DVC-30/32E.

As I was looking into the high-end of the prosumer category I was so lucky as to find a place where I could actually hold both the Panasonic DVX-100A (4563 USD) and Sony’s lowlight performer PD170 (4732 USD). The DVX shoots native 24/25 fps and I like that look and the ability to tweak the image. The PD170 excels at lowlight performance and clean gain. These fine cameras really deserve a better build quality than the marketing strategists have allowed. I did not have the opportunity to hold an XL2 (5700 USD) but I’ve done voluntary audio and photo work at conventions where they were filming with XL1’s, so I know they are heavier and with the XL2 I hear that they have increased the strength of the chassis. I also liked the footage done with them. The prices in (brackets) include an extra battery.

Presently I am in the fortunate situation that I can afford any of the camcorders I have mentioned.

I’ve viewed quite a bit of films on the internet and like the 24/25p look. I get all sorts of ideas of what I could do. Yet I also know that only experience will teach me what video- and film production is really like. So I remember the saying: “A little bit of something is better than a lot of nothing.” Also, going for 24/25p would probably mean the XL2 for me as I prefer the heavier build quality.

This is a long post. I hope you’re still with me? All of you have at some point entered this world as I am doing now. At what camera-level did you enter? What has your experience taught you that you would have liked to have known when you started? Knowing what you know now what would you start with if you were to re-enter? Presently I am gravitating toward a high-end consumer camera although I am a bit worried about what the audio will be like.

If you would share a bit of your own story I would be grateful.


Last edited by Halfdan J. Damskier; May 8th, 2005 at 03:35 PM. Reason: Wanted each word in the title to begin with a capital letter
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Old May 8th, 2005, 04:16 PM   #2
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Have you looked at the Sony PDX-10? It doesn't have any progressive modes, but it shares many of the nice features of the PD-170 as part of Sony's professional line. However it has high resolution CCD's which deliver excellent 16:9 quality, and at $1,600 (after rebate) it's a great value:

I used both Sony and Sharp hi-8 consumer cameras for several years but never got very serious. When I decided to make a real investment in equipment I got a VX-2000 and was amazed at the quality difference. I don't regret this at all, and given the exact same circumstances probably would do it over. At that time (2001) the PD-150 was new and you couldn't buy one anywhere; everyone had waiting lists. I would have spent the extra on the 150 but couldn't wait. Then when I undertook a project a couple years later I wanted good 16:9 which the VX-2000/PD-150 couldn't deliver. I thought I'd get an anamorphic lens but was put off by all their limitations. Then I "discovered" the PDX-10 which seemed to be exactly what I needed. It's served me well for over two years.

Next I'll probably move up to something HD or HDV capable. I like the Z1 since it would probably be a good match to the PDX-10 for SD work, and the PAL capability would be a real plus for me. I could then migrate to HDV a bit later using the same camera.

So my advice... do you research, don't make any sudden moves, know your budget and don't forget the cost of all the accessories you'll need.
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Old May 8th, 2005, 08:25 PM   #3
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For family videos, I would just get a cheap camcorder because quality doesn't make a big difference. Will your children (or target audience) care if it was shot with a 3CCD prosumer camera or a cheap consumer camera?

If you go with a consumer camcorder, the most popular recommendations here seem to be:
(old models)
Optura cameras with RGB filter, i.e. Optura 20, 40, 60 (these are generally considered just slightly better than the Panasonics)
Panasonic GS70, GS120, GS200, GS400; the GS400 is a higher end camera with slightly better image quality and more controls.

(new models)
newer model versions of the cameras mentioned above. I haven't followed these discussions too closely so I don't know the model #s. If you do a search in the sub-forums for the optura and panasonic cameras, you should be able to find lots of threads and such.

If you are comfortable with eBay (there are reasons not to be, such as fraud, mailperson not finding your house, hidden charges from brokerage fees + customs) you can find new sealed-in-box camcorders. I would be wary about buying used, because camcorders can run into a number of problems.

2- With a consumer camera, I would also add a microphone (i.e. Rode Videomic if it's not too big) and a wide-angle adapter (correct size threads). These items may have high mark-ups at camera stores (mainly filters and adapters), so it may pay off to shop around.

3- If you buy a prosumer camera, it may lose value quickly due to obsolescence. I would probably just get a consumer camera for now and test the waters. It's probably good enough for your needs too.
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Old May 8th, 2005, 08:51 PM   #4
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Halfdan, I agree with the others that a small, less-expensive (relative term; I know) camera is a good bet for "video snapshots." Mainly because they're lightweight (hence more likely to go with you on side-trips), easy to raise to the eye for spontaneous shots and many offer perfectly acceptable image-quality.

For more considered footage (which I think of as "solitary shooting"; when you're out exploring the world with your camera) I recommend the XL2 without reservation, esp. on trips where you'll have the room for equipment like a tripod and accessories ... and not only because of its intelligent design and near-professional quality imagery. Almost every miniDV camera in the XL2's price range has comparable image-quality.

No, I think the XL2 is preferable for you because of your experience behind that Nikon SLR.

I taught myself to shoot film (& then video) by shooting stills, a million years ago. For better or for worse, I still think as a stills-man when exposing and composing shots. The XL2 thus has one feature none of its competitors can match: interchangeable lenses. For you, this means the availability of two first-rate Canon zoom lenses with actual manual f-stop control and true, hefty focusing helicoids.

The difference is startling, to someone with SLR experience. Among the current crop of top-end consumer miniDV cameras, the XL2 feels the most, to me, like a "real" camera. I predict you'll have more fun exploring this big, weird country with the XL2, and you'll be happier with your footage.

The owner of this site, Chris Hurd, often advises shoppers to judge a camera by how it feels in your hands. And this is a good example. I recommend you borrow or rent an XL2 with Canon's manual 14x or 16x zoom, and compare it to the feel of its direct competitors. I'd bet you my lunch money that, when you're on the road here in the USA, the XL2 will feel more solid, reliable and responsive to your control than any of the other models you're considering.

I'm delighted that you reference the Golden Path. I think this camera will be your best eye on the journey.
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Old May 9th, 2005, 12:05 AM   #5
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I just have to jump in.

I think that the true test of a good camera is not only how it feels in your hands but what the picture looks like under many different conditions. I know the Cannon XL1 and XL2 are good cameras but I can't understand why someone would buy one on the basis of it's "solid feel". I think they are just too big and heavy. I remember working on phones and finding that the manufactures put weights in the handset so that it would have a more solid feel. It might have felt more solid but it wasn't more solid.

The Panasonic DVX-100a so example has a magnesium alloy diecast chassis which is strong and lightweight. The picture looks very good and it can be used to shoot 24p as you have stated.

The Sony VX2100 has a superior low light capability and a very good picture. I would own one if it would shoot 24p. (Dumb Sony)

I think The XL series of cameras strong point is the interchangeable lenses but I think the weakness for me is their size and weight. Why do you need the size of lens that is on the XL2? Obviously it is a bit better on a tripod but for somone doing quick way.

He's only mostly sDEADy.

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Old May 14th, 2005, 03:43 AM   #6
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Thanks for your help!

Thanks to all of you for having taken the time to give me feedback. This is really a great community!

Boyd Ostroff: Thanks for sharing your story, sounds like you made the right choises all the way through. It may also be best for me to start with a consumer camera like you did yourself. Then after having gained some experience, I could better judge just how far I will take my videography. Thanks also for the information on the PDX-10; for some reason this camera hadn't caught my attention. I like its 3.5" LCD and the fact that the XLR-breakout box is included. I also like its 16:9 mode - and the comparison pictures you have on your site really show how much better it is in 16:9 compared to a camera like the VX2000. I'm not sure how I would like a touch-screen though - and I do find it a bit beauty-challenged, but that aside I will take it into consideration, thanks. The European PAL version is priced quite a bit higher than its NTSC sibling at B&H + I have to consider import duty and the hefty Danish Sales Tax of 25% - however that would count for any camera I buy outside the EU. - "So my advice... do your research, don't make any sudden moves, know your budget and don't forget the cost of all the accessories you'll need." This is probably some of the best advice for anyone entering the game. Thanks and good luck with your own shooting!

Glenn Chan: Yes, buying a consumer camera is probably the safest, wisest choice for someone like me who's entering the DV world - not knowing just how far I will take it. Thanks for your advice on the Canon camcorders; I will look into that. Yes, my target audience probably wouldn't mind whether my videos were shot on a consumer camera or not - as long as the quality is good enough. I'm still trying to figure out what noise levels I can expect from a decent consumer camera and in what lighting I will be shooting most of the time. I guess the task for me is to find a camera that provides quality and functions enough to satisfy my discerning eyes, ears, and curiosity - without being so sophisticated that I would be disappointed with myself for having spent a lot of extra money on advanced functions I might never use. When I make my purchase I will definately buy new and probably directly from a reseller. Thanks also for the note on the Rhode Videomic and wide-angle adapers.

John Sandel: Thanks for the words and story of an old photographer. You write: "For better or for worse, I still think as a stills-man when exposing and composing shots." - I would guess the golden rule of thirds and your feel for depth of field etc. still comes in handy when shooting video? And yes, the XL2 is really a tempting camcorder, do you use one yourself? If I decide to go top shelf, this camcorder is one of my top contenders. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most customizable camcorders available today - and its weight and shoulder mount would probably make it easier to get footage free of camera-shake when recording without a tripod. At the moment I am considering many things - also just how much money it is wise for me to spend on my first step into the DV world. I know there will be extra expenses like a program for NLE, perhaps a decent microphone and whatnot. I am finding myself shifting between cool modesty and logic - and the more adventurous side of myself. It is really hard to find high-end prosumer cameras here in Denmark, but perhaps I might just call Canon to hear where I can see and handle an XL2. I'm glad you like the title of my first post - whatever step I take; I hope it will be on the Golden Path that was meant for me. Thanks for your input!

Terry Thomson: Also thanks to you for jumping in. You write: “I think that the true test of a good camera is not only how it feels in your hands but what the picture looks like under many different conditions.” I agree with you and I am pretty sure John Sandel does as well. For me, the feel of a camera really becomes important when comparing cameras whose image and sound quality are comparable – and as I understand John Sandal’s post that is also what he wrote. I have seen quite a few films shot with the Panasonic DVX100A in 24p and I really like the looks of it – also I hear its audio system is supposed to be very good. However, I must admit that my first impression of the DVX and also of Sony’s PD170 when I picked them up at the store was disappointment. I hope I won’t offend anyone by writing this, but it felt like I was handling a toy replica of the real thing. To me, their plastic parts made them seem fragile as if they weren’t built to last - that did bother me somewhat when you consider that these cameras cost almost 5700 USD here in Denmark (about 4600 USD when imported from Singapore.) That having been said, the high quality videos I have watched and the numerous reviews and posts I have read, clearly testament that both of these camcorders are excellent. Sony’s VX2100 was one of the first prosumer camcorders that I considered as it is has 1/3” CCD’s and is priced like a ¼” CCD camcorder. As you state, it also has superior low light capabilities like the PD170, and yes, I also wish it would shoot 24p. I guess there is a camera that suits every purpose and my task is to find out for what, and just how much, I will be using my future camcorder. Good luck with your indicam-system, I checked out your site.

Again I would like to thank all of you for having taken the time to share your thoughts with me! This is really an excellent site - so many friendly people wanting to help.

See you around!
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Old May 14th, 2005, 08:12 AM   #7
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Hi again Halfdan,

Sorry I missed this thread earlier in the week; I was out of town at a conference and had very limited opportunity to log on. Only got a chance to look at your other thread in the XL2 forum. These older threads I participated in should give you a fair idea of my (limited) perspective:

Given all of that and what you've shared about yourself so far, here are my thoughts:

- If you do intend to shoot mainly 16:9, your choices are a lot more limited. Only a few cameras do a really good job of 16:9 SD. Otherwise, the prosumer level 4:3 cameras pretty much all shoot nice sharp narrow-screen DV; pick one with the features you like.

- You're in PAL-land (25p, 50i), so I don't think for the purposes of your travel video and family interviews, you need to put a priority on a camera that does 24p. That's mainly if you're wanting to get serious about indie films etc, and in my opinion provides no value added for the type of stuff you're talking about doing in the near term. I do enjoy playing around with my XL2's 24p, really just because I can...but actually almost always shoot family stuff, like my brother's wedding recently, in 30p (NTSC)...personal bias: I like progressive and don't like interlaced. If you're interested, I have a quickly thrown-together 30 second trailer from the wedding on my web site...XL2 + 20x lens using ONLY poor ambient lighting and no color/brightness correction in post...that'll come later. 17MB, uprezzed to 720p/30

- Compared to smaller cameras, the XL2 is definitely a chore to lug around. Taking it as a carry-on is possible (fully taken apart), but a much greater pain than a smaller camera. It'll limit your mobility and ability to get quick shots in unusual places while you are traveling and touring. Once on my shoulder, I find the XL2 as easy or easier to use as the GL2. But getting it on the shoulder in the first place while traveling can be a bit tougher. Yes, it CAN be done, but getting the shot becomes much more the, uh, focus rather than the actual sight seeing, as compared to a smaller camera.

- Since the depth of field on video cameras is so much wider than typical 35mm photography, I don't think it is something to consider too much when buying a camera for travelogues and family interviews. However...

- When you're working on your first indie production, then depth of field and the exceptional image control of something like the XL2, or one of the new HD cameras, will matter.

- Unless you are going to shoot primarily in places with poor lighting over which you have no control -- which mainly does not seem to be the case for you -- I wouldn't put low light performance at the top of my list of requirements. For your family interviews, you'll certainly want to set up at least basic 3-point lighting so the shots look nice, regardless of the camera used. And of course, shooting conditions while traveling could be anything. Low light capability isn't unimportant, but you'll get a lot of travel shots with a smaller camera that you would have missed with the XL2 because of the bulk, and some of the smaller cameras do very well in low light, as you know from your research thus far.

- If you want to get video interviews of elderly relatives, pick a camera and get on with it right away. My wife and I were going to do just that this summer with a couple of her uncles who fought in World War 2. They both died in the past couple of months; anything we might have recorded never will be.

- If you do go with the XL2, I've only used the 20x and 3x lenses, not the 16x. I would think, though, that for travel shooting, you'd want a lens that has image stabilization and will allow you to "cheat" with an autofocus. The 20x is VERY good at image stabilization; I get surprisingly smooth handheld shots in some rough situations.

I'd say, get one of the good, smaller cameras for your interviews and travel this summer. Then, if you want to move up to a more expensive indie-film type camera in the autumn or winter, the XL2 and some new HD cameras will be waiting for you.
Pete Bauer
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Old May 14th, 2005, 09:45 PM   #8
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What everybody else said....

For me, I woudl buy a gs400 for travel. Manual focus and iris will become more important to you. My first camera has a weak manual focus (hard to use)and a Sony touch screen exposure system that is cumbersome to use. The gs400 has a separte focus/iris ring, just make sure that switching modes works for you (I do not own one, but wish I had bough one for my first camera).

I would stay away from all the bigger cams like the DVX,VX,pr, XL/GL etc. They are bigger, will possibly caus eyou some undue attention when travelling, and are harder to keep secure. A GS400 or consumer cam can go ina small handbag.

I wona DVX100, and 24p is certainly fun. But I would say keep your life simple fo rnow, 24p is the least important thing for you to worry about for your immediate plans, and teh gs will make nice backup camera later on.
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Old May 19th, 2005, 05:49 AM   #9
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Thank you for the latest feedback!

Pete Bauer: Hello again; and thanks for all your helpful information! Thanks also for the links to the other threads with interesting information.

- Yes, I am becoming aware that if I chose to go for high quality 16:9, it will limit my choice of cameras significantly. To my knowledge, most or probably all televisions sold in DK larger than 20" are widescreen. I also think our broadcast standard is 16:9 - so high quality widescreen should probably be one of my priorities.

- I think you are right that I won't need 24/25p for what I am planning to do in the near future. Actually I will probably have enough to do just leaning the basics of videography. And yes, should I later get interested in doing short films in native 24/25p, there will probably be an even wider choice of cameras out there. I even hear there are tricks called "de-interlacing and post-production pull-down" for achieving a film-like look without a native 24/25p camcorder. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on progressive vs. interlaced capture. I've watched your wedding-trailer - what a beautiful chapel! To my eyes, the footage really looks good and I'm also impressed with the audio - I couldn't spot any lavalier microphone on the priest. How did you capture that audio? It looks like all of you had a memorable day and I am sure your family and friends will really treasure your DVD.

- Yes, I am aware that a camera like the XL2 would not be easy to travel with. If I were to choose it for my trip to the US, I would certainly be more of a cameraman than anything else. Thanks for your personal comments on handling the XL2 and for your notes on when depth of field and image control become important. As you suggest, I think I will be going for a smaller camcorder, probably the GS400, which would be more suited for my immediate plans. Then, as you propose, I could later buy a more production-like camcorder - should the need arise.

- I am not yet sure as to what degree good low light capabilities are important for me. What I am a bit worried about is getting what they call "murky grainy images" when shooting indoors. I found your XL2 wedding footage very nice and I hear that the XL2 only does ok in low light. So perhaps even a camcorder like the GS400 will do fine for me. For shooting an interview in a more controllable environment, I would naturally look into lighting as you suggest.

- Yes, I know what you mean Pete. I have had the idea of making those interviews of my grandmother for quite a while. Every time I hear she's not doing too well my heart sinks - naturally not just because of some interview that might be lost, but because she has always been a part of my life. In a way she is the branch on our family tree that links all us twigs and leaves together. Sorry to hear about your wife's uncles and the lost videos, I hope she has some other fond memories of them.

- Thanks also for you comments on the standard lens on the XL2. It does indeed seem to be an impressive 20x lens and I love a long reach. I'm pleased to hear that you are real happy with it. I really like having image stabilization, and I must admit that on my still camera I have only used manual focus to do a few macro shots. I like a quick auto-focus; although it may not be what the pros use.

As you and most of the people on this forum have suggested, I will be joining you in the world of digital video with a smaller camcorder, probably the GS400. The new models are reported to be free of the tape transport issue.

Thank you for all your help Pete; I'll see you around, and good luck with everything!

Bob Costa: Thanks also to you. As you can hear, I am actually going for a GS400. They are in backorder most places in Europe, but I hope to get one before I go. Sorry to hear that you got something that didn't quite live up to your expectations. Maybe one day soon you will find something you really like. Yes, I agree with you that a small camcorder like the GS is much easier to travel with - for all the reasons you mentioned. And yes, if I should later chose to buy something like the DVX or XL, the GS will be a nice backup and travel camcorder . Thanks for your comments!
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