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Old January 18th, 2010, 10:33 PM   #1
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What's the short list of great tiny camcorders?

What is/are the current champion(s) for small cameras that I can tuck in a pocket and take great footage without obsessing over perfect focus? Thing I'd like:

- Really want great image in good light, good image in dim light.
- I care more about image not Solid state or tape. Best image wins.
- Small is nice, but if equal or smaller to HC3. Best image wins.
- Would love a real focus ring. Mechanical would be wonderful vs servo.
- selectable fps would be great. Need 30P, would like 24P also. 60P would be icing.
- LANC controller, if possible
- Mic input necessary
- Good zoom control. At least 5 steps, more better.
- Good lens and good auto focus

I currently shoot with a Canon 7D, have access to numerous XHA1's, and also have a Sony HC3 and access to HC7. The HC3 has been great, but is starting to suffer from several ailments and the image is somewhat noisy by today's standard in any light, especially low light. Dislike the focus "roller", but like "spot focus" feature.
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Old January 19th, 2010, 02:23 AM   #2
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latest releases -
HF-S21 (Canon)
CX550V (Sony)

Those are the two I'd start with, slightly different feature sets, but are going to be mighty close competitors from the looks of it, probably going to be comparable - some people feel Canon is better in good light, Sony will generally outperform in low light, but Canon is supposed to be improving this on the new models...

Both have built in flash, and card capability.
I believe the Sony is slightly smaller, but both are going to be "pocketable" with big pockets - within the range of the HC3 definitely.
Both have small control button/knob arrangements, which can be set to focus. Adequate, but no ring... I think Canon added some form of touch screen face tracking which would mimic Sony's touch focus to this model. Both have big LCD's - 3.5"
Canon will have selectable frame rates, Sony won't.
LANC options available for both - Sony through A/V jack, Canon through intelligent shoe adapter
Both have mic/headphone jacks
Not sure on zoom control...
Lenses should both be good, Sony has gone to a "wider wide" angle in the CX550V and the XR550V. Canon will have the edge in AF as it has the active focus system, Sony should be adequate, if a bit slower.

The HC3 is quite long in the tooth, had a relatively poor rez sensor, and was about awful in low light. Great little package though. You'll find the new control knob more useful than that roller thingy.

Those two will be the "top of the line" this year in the pocket rocket competition, but a lot of good cameras are carrying over (or maybe will be phased out) as well, so depends on your budget and your acquisition timeframe.
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Old January 19th, 2010, 06:00 AM   #3
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Thanks Dave, thanks for the shortcut. I'll be looking at both of these. The HC3 was a breakthrough camera 3 years ago, but things have definitely improved in the market and I'd like to get an "easy" camera for informal family stuff. Is it fair to say these would outperform a Canon HV30/40 in image quality?
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Old January 19th, 2010, 01:50 PM   #4
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If you have to have 30p, the Canons are really the only game in town, and the HF-S series can record astonishing detail (with great low-light performance for a fist-size cam).

For 60i and 24p on the cheap (without using an external mic), the Panny HM250 sure looks to me like a good value at the price (and no need for SDHC cards, with the built in 120GB hard drive, so it's basically spend $600, open the box, and start shooting). It's essentially a (considerably) crippled HMC40 (also capable of recording stunning detail, with excellent low light performance for a consumer cam). I doubt the HM/TM300 are really worth the money, compared to the bang-for-the-buck you can get from the Canon HF-S cams. For that matter, the HMC40 doesn't cost a whale of a lot more than an HM/TM300, when you take the free Edius Neo 2 and Blu-Ray player into account, and the HMC40 is just a whale of a lot more camera (although not a fist size cam).

The Sonys are 60i only, but capable of doing it very well.
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Old January 19th, 2010, 06:52 PM   #5
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Roger -
I'd say it's reasonably safe that the 3 years or so between the HV series and the new HF-S line (intro'd last year) will be noticeable. Generally speaking each new camera brings a few improvements and tweaks (and new improved sensor blocks), and the XR500 upon which the XR550V is based has pretty good image quality, particularly in low light conditions - it's hard to beat, where other cameras will exhibit noise or muddiness, it will be pretty smooth. You can read up on the current Sonys in the AVCHD format part of DVi - the Sony's don't have their own threads, but there are some there!

Just be aware that AVCHD (tapeless) takes some decent computer horsepower to edit, where HDV (tape) is a bit easier. IMO the improvement in image quality, especially in lousy light is well worth it - bad light describes MOST of the conditions I seem to shoot in!

You may want to wait for early reviews of the new models I mentioned, as both cameras have some significant changes/improvements in their press releases/spec sheets. I was ready to give the HF-S21 a serious look-see, and still probably will, but right now the CX550V looks like the direction I'll go. Always liked the CX series for compact size/light weight, but really wanted some of the SR/XR features (VF, big LCD, mic/headphone jacks), without the hard drive... pretty much describes the CX550V.


I'm a little skittish of the small Panasonics, the specs look really great, but the video samples I've seen just didn't hold up, and reviews have been pretty mixed. Don't get me wrong, I had an older Panasonic, and it's one of the nicest small cams I've owned ergonomically - image quality was very good for it's day, but IMO Sony and Canon set the standard right now.

Now if you could put the Sony or Canon guts in a Panasonic user interface package....
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Old January 21st, 2010, 06:23 AM   #6
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I've never tried Panasonic, but have had good results with Canon and Sony. I'm surprised that no one makes a small camcorder with a true focus ring and and manual controls. I think I'd have a blast with such a device and would use it for a lot of informal video.
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Old January 21st, 2010, 01:32 PM   #7
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There just isn't a lot of demand for good manual controls on consumer camcorders. The vast majority of people buying these camcorders simply lack the knowledge to utilize them. To most, aperture sounds like some sort of odd primate and if they need to focus, they grab a cup of coffee. Pretty much, they just want a box they can point and get a recognizable picture out of, to look at later.
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Old January 21st, 2010, 04:33 PM   #8
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Robert, your post made my day. ....grab a cup of coffee.... LOL
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Old January 21st, 2010, 08:19 PM   #9
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I use the HF-S100, HF-S11 and the CX-520v all the time. Most of the pros and cons have already been discussed, but the Sony stabilization on the CX-520v and to a slightly lesser extent the XR-520v are simply amazing. I haven't been able to find much information about this, but several forum posts around the web (nothing official that I have found) indicate that the CX-550v and the XR-550v will essentially inherit the stabilization from the CX-520v.

If your are going to be using the camera handheld at all, it's hard not to get the Sony.
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Old January 21st, 2010, 10:20 PM   #10
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Dan, do you find the 60i much of a detractor on this cam? Lots of ink spent on questioning why Sony hasn't gone to progressive yet and the Canon offers 30P and 24P. I've used 60i previously on my XHA1 and got pretty good renders to 30P, but not quite as good as starting with 30 to start with.

Your thoughts?
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Old January 22nd, 2010, 10:35 AM   #11
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It's a question of priority. I'll take a steady picture that isn't quite as good over the shaky footage. That being said, if there is ever a tripod around - I always use the Canon.

On a side note, I've had much better luck with the built in audio on the Sony and always run the Canon with a JuicedLink.
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Old January 22nd, 2010, 01:49 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger Shealy View Post
Dan, do you find the 60i much of a detractor on this cam? Lots of ink spent on questioning why Sony hasn't gone to progressive yet and the Canon offers 30P and 24P. I've used 60i previously on my XHA1 and got pretty good renders to 30P, but not quite as good as starting with 30 to start with.

Your thoughts?
I think Sony like me like smooth motion so until we get 60p I will stay with 60i. I find the slower frame rates really disturbing.

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Old January 22nd, 2010, 05:57 PM   #13
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OK guys, is the Sony a HDV camera then, since it shoots 60i or is it something else new/better? Is it essentially HDV type footage now encoded in H.264.... or is it .m2t? I'm sure I just violated several sacred concepts in this question! : )

Last edited by Roger Shealy; January 22nd, 2010 at 06:40 PM.
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Old January 22nd, 2010, 06:50 PM   #14
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All the cams mentioned record AVCHD (to SDHC cards or internal flash memory or hard drive), which is definitely not HDV. The Sonys and Pannys record AVCHD at a max bitrate of 17Mbps and the Canons go up to 24Mbps, all yielding better (image) quality compression than HDV.
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Old January 22nd, 2010, 09:22 PM   #15
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Great. I guess that means it's both data and a better compression, which should be significant. I saw on one review that Sony was 24Mbps also. Something about a back-lit sensor to yield better low light. Don't know if that's real or just marketing jargon. Here's the quote from Amazon: Up to 24Mbps AVCHD video
The HDR-CX550V can capture video at up to 24Mbps for amazing clarity and detail, ideal for recording on to Blu-ray Disc media since the AVCHD codec is highly compatible with the Blu-ray Disc format.
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