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Old August 24th, 2010, 02:35 PM   #1
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Need camcorder advice

please don't disregard this thread before giving a read. I know it may seem like a rehash of many others but I am looking for some very specific opinions.

I belong to a group that aspires to increase morale in our workplace and our most highly regarded activity is a video that we produce each year. It's usually a comedy and we try to cast as many of the members of the division as possible as actors. It is a seriously low budget project as the company does not fund it at all, so all funding comes down to the 5 members of the team. In the past we have used my old Sony handicam and a newer handicam for both audio and video. We realized quickly over the past 3 years that the audio was far from adequate and the video was marginally acceptable at best. This year we have recruited an electrical engineer into the group whos specialty is in audio and he is helping to solve our audio challenge. We are now looking for a new camera that will provide excellent quality video and we don't really care about the audio. The picture quality is very important but as I said we are very low budget and need to keep the expense under $1000 for the camera. I am unsure the path to take since I have looked at some prosumer quality cameras, as well as some consumer grade cameras. There is so much to consider and I am unsure as to the most important aspects. We are looking at standard def as we do not have the computing power to do the HD editing, or the projection equipment to take advantage of HD even if we could edit it.

So waht is my question? If I am looking for very high quality standard def video (16:9 aspect ratio) and don't care about the audio quality, can I find that in a camcorder priced under $1000? Are there suggestions as to models to consider? Am I being foolish to think that I can find such a camcorder? Should we be looking at prosumer for the 3 CCD rather than the consumer quality that seems to not offer 3 CCD? Is 3 CCD really that much of a benefit that I should make it a requirement? It is difficult for us because we are a team of people who have great creativity and have come up with outstanding material for our scripts and story lines, but rather little knowledge when it comes to the technical aspects of the photography.
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Old August 24th, 2010, 03:41 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Fisk View Post
If I am looking for very high quality standard def video (16:9 aspect ratio) and don't care about the audio quality, can I find that in a camcorder priced under $1000?
No.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Fisk View Post
Should we be looking at prosumer for the 3 CCD rather than the consumer quality that seems to not offer 3 CCD?
No.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Fisk View Post
Is 3 CCD really that much of a benefit that I should make it a requirement?
No.

The problem is that there aren't any standard DV cams that do native widescreen except for the Canon XL2, which may be hard to find at this point, and wouldn't likely be in your price range.

You would be much better off getting an inexpensive used HDV cam like a Canon HV30 or 40 or Sony HC3, 7 or 9 and down converting to SD DV upon capture. This way, you will have very nice looking widescreen at the maximum possible DV resolution, without the need for a zoomy PC to edit HDV.
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Old August 24th, 2010, 10:12 PM   #3
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Forget about SD cameras unless you want to buy a used one. I do have one in excellent condition if you're interested in going that route.

I bought a Canon Vixia HF21 to do underwater work and I am absolutely impressed by the quality of the image it provides. It was about $600. Records to solid state media. Not the best in low light but that's not where most of my shooting will take place.

This camcorder is HD. Of course you can always downscale the video in post. But in the long run HD makes good sense.
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Old August 24th, 2010, 11:23 PM   #4
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Answering the question to is not only about what you are trying to shoot but also what you are going to use to edit (put this little film together with)?

Sometimes phrasing is the problem. Many of us have gotten used to shooting with HDV and AVCHD, so asking about "good" SD video may provoke a lot of responses about that being an oxymoronic question. What may be good for you might seem inadequate to a bunch of folks here, particularly the ones who might respond quickly to your posting. So, bear up and wait a bit for further answers. It may be hard to describe verbally what is "good" or, more exactly, "good enough" for your project.

You say that you have been using older Handycams, whatever they are --- Hi-8, Digital 8, low grade miniDV??? Assuming that you've been working with older formats like that, you'll probably find that a Canon HV40 will astound you with its SD 16:9 video. (Ignore the snickering from those with greater ambitions that you seem to have.) At least it would seem astounding compared to what you've indicated you have been working with. Street prices for a new HV40 seems to be roughly $750. You can find used HV20s and HV30s for less than that. (Although I didn't notice any for sale currenty on the DV info classifieds, keep checking there.)

We've got no idea of what kind of machine and NLE program you plan to use for editing, but an HV40 would do an even better job if you you've got the capability of editing HDV to a DVD.

Another thing to consider would be some of the lesser grades of Sony CX models. If I recall correctly, Costco has a CX350 for under $700. If you've got older editing equipment, you would have to shoot in the SD mode and would need to be sure that your NLE can edit/read MPEG2 (*.m2t) files. If you've got more capable editing programs and computers, and a slightly larger budget, you would probably be astounded at what you can shoot with the CX550v (roughly $1150). Dave Blackhurst and Ron Evans have posted extensively on these and related little cameras. I use two for "b-roll" cams in shooting weddings, and can recommend them highly if --- and this is a big if --- you've got the computing horsepower and NLE capacity to edit AVCHD. Otherwise, I'd suggest the HV40. Check out the postings in the Canon HV/Vixia forum in DVinfo.
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Old August 25th, 2010, 11:17 AM   #5
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Thanks for the advice and I think I am starting to go towards the right direction. I was not aware that the camera could downconvert and give me a non HD file. That is a good thing. We are using Powerdirector 8 for our editing and we seem to be doing well with it. The tool itself is capable of editing HD but we are using low horsepower computers for the task, and mine is a 5 year old XP machine with 2G of RAM. The Vixia line looks interesting and may be good for our purposes. I guess the biggest issue with a camera like that is that there is no choice regarding lenses. You get what you get. We have had times (conference room scenes) where I just could not back up far enough to get all of the actors in the scene. Ended up having to squeeze people together. I would guess that a wide angle lense would help that situation, am I correct? And to get that kind of option I assume I would need to go to a higher end camera.
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Old August 25th, 2010, 01:44 PM   #6
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So what is my question? If I am looking for very high quality standard def video (16:9 aspect ratio) and don't care about the audio quality, can I find that in a camcorder priced under $1000?
Look at the Canon VIXIA cameras. One of these will do what you need. Use the money you save on the camera for lights and audio (audio is way more important than you seem to think, especially to anyone watching one of your productions).

I'm using a Canon HF-200 for some things. It's pretty remarkable for what it is. And yes, even though it can give you full 1080/30p video, it can also give you lesser resolutions. I don't know if it goes all the way down to SD however. But just about any decent NLE will let you down-convert and output at whatever resolution you want. That's where all that stuff on youtube comes from after all.

Many (most?) of the consumer camcorders these days are AVCHD machines. Editing native AVCHD takes some computer horsepower. Since you have a relatively low powered PC to edit on, you'll most likely want to transcode the AVCHD files before editing to make life bearable. An example of such software is Cineform Neoscene. I've not used it myself, but I hear good things about it.
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Old August 25th, 2010, 02:27 PM   #7
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You only read part of my post. I am certainly VERY concerned about the audio in the production. So we have asked an engineer here who's specialty is in audio research to be on our team and guide our audio. We will be recording audio using a seperate recoring system, so the audio captured by the camera will not be used and so is not important.

I am looking at the Vixia line. We may actually be able to get 2 of them since our budget is in the $1000 range. That would allow us to shoot from multiple perspectives which we did in our last movie but with 2 different model cameras. The picture characteristics and audio were different enough that it made the production very awkward.
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Old August 25th, 2010, 02:43 PM   #8
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Your question about wide angles makes me guess that you have been struggling with older cams shooting 4:3 pictures with lenses that are the equivalent of 40mm or 50 mm standard lenses on SLRs. (If memory serves, my Handycam TRV 900 had the equivalent of a 52mm lens at the wide end of the zoom.)

New cameras shoot 16:9 widescreen and also have wide ends of the zooms that are much wider than older Handycams. The new Sony CX line uses 30mm "G" lenses which are quite wide enough for getting everybody in the picture in most conference rooms. Go much wider than that and you are starting to look at fish-eye type lenses.

Even the Canon HV20 goes to the equivalent of a 35mm wide angle. It has a screw adapter, too, so you could add a wider angle lens to it if you needed to go wider than that. DVInfo's forum on Canon HV/Vixia cams probably has several threads on adding and using wide-angle lenses with HV20/30/40 cams. Check it out.

So, you are editing with Powerdirector 8 which has some HD capability but that your available computer hardware isn't enough won't to support that capability?

Frankly, I know nothing about PowerDirector but I suggest you look at Cineform's Neoscene software. It's relatively inexpensive --- $99 from DVinfo sponsors Videoguys.com and BHPhotovideo.com --- and you use it to convert HD video to much more easily edited avi files. You can use it to capture from tape cameras (say, the Canon HV40 which shoots HDV) or convert from files (such as the Mpeg and AVCHD recorded to flash memory in Sony CX cams, for example). When you have some HD video to hand, download the free trial version of NeoScene from the Cineform website, and run a conversion and see how well PowerDirector works with the Cineform avi files on your machine. There's a Cineform forum on DVinfo and you might try searching it for discussions involving PowerDirector.
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Old August 25th, 2010, 11:04 PM   #9
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A couple of additional thoughts.

If you get a couple of Canon HV/Vixia cams, you may also want to look at audio adapter boxes like the ones form Beacktek, Sign Video and Studio One. (For examples, check out this page from B&H Photo Video:
camcorder xlr adapters

The devices you want (often called "camcorder XLR adapters") are ones that allow you to take XLR and 1/8 inch (3.5mm) phono plug lines and feed them to your camcorder's 1/8 inch (3.5mm) mini stereo mike input plug. With one of these connected to one of your cameras, you can take an audio feed from your engineer compatriot's recording system and feed that recording directly to a camera. That will give you a copy of the audio track that is exactly synched to your video. Later, when you go to edit your video and want to add the separately recorded (and doubtless improved) audio from the engineer's system, you will be able to match up the wave forms exactly and have the better audio in synch. (You'll still get pretty good audio from the direct feed; it might or might not be be as good as you or your engineer friend want.) You may find that the separately recorded audio track and your video tracks drift apart a bit. Having a duplicate (or near duplicate, anyway) recorded with the video will allow you to make sure your separate audio stays in synch with the video.

If the audio guy's system outputs with stereo RCA tracks, go down to a store like Radio Shack and buy adapters that convert RCA plugs to 1/8th inch mini phono plugs and you can then plug RCA cables into your XLR adapter.

Second, for synching your video tracks, you could use a clapper board at the beginning and end of each shot. (The "clap" can help with checking audio synch, too.) I find I do quite well setting off a still camera flash when I have my multiple cameras rolling. Most flashes seem to be 1/30th of a second or less, which is one frame of video. Line up the flash frame on each track and your tracks are now synched.
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Old August 26th, 2010, 09:37 PM   #10
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The Sony HDR HC1 goes for about $650 on the used market. I think it would be well suited for what you describe and will give you the option of HD if you go that route in the future.

Hard to beat for the price, in my opinion, and reasonably easy for a novice to operate.

Spend another $100 on a used tripod and I think you'd be in great shape. Additional lenses are also reasonably priced.
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Old August 28th, 2010, 01:29 PM   #11
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Jon --

While the HDR-HC1 was the first HDV cam that I bought, and I like the unit, I think you can do better within your budget for the kinds of things you want to do.

The HDR-HC1 and its "pro" sibling, the HVR-AIU, do a pretty good job but they have quirks and limitations.

For one, it's lens is only a 51mm wide equivalent, so you absolutely would need to add a wide angle lens. There are probably a number of threads in the A1u/HC1 forum where you could find recommendations that you could price out.

For another, they have bottom loading tape cassettes. You have to take the cam off the tripod, remove the mounting plate (and the XLR-Adapter, if you are using one, and any accessory brackets if you are using them) in order to get access to the cassette. Somebody (Canovision??) used to make an offset tripod mount spacer that got around this issue. The A1u/HC1 forum also has a number of threads about adding rails, matte boxes, and the like to make them more useful for film-style shooting. Ivan is making films and maybe could comment about sources.

The shoe mount on top of the cam is a non-standard size for proprietary Sony accessories. While the A1U comes with a shotgun mike mount for the shoe, the HC1 does not accept it. The shoe is too narrow for things like the Rode Video Mike if you wanted to add a shotgun mike. Nor, if you wanted to go tapeless with a unit like a Sony MRC1K, could you mount it up there. You can get accessories brackets that attach via the tripod mounting on the bottom, but that can make the camera be awkward and complicates cassette changes.

On the other hand, they are pretty rugged little units. Mine got knocked over several times while being used as a static b-roll cam. The last fall shattered the lens hood but the cam just keeps on ticking.

Given your budget, you and your crew probably would be happier with a pair of HV40s.
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Old August 28th, 2010, 02:28 PM   #12
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You only read part of my post. I am certainly VERY concerned about the audio in the production. So we have asked an engineer here who's specialty is in audio research to be on our team and guide our audio. We will be recording audio using a seperate recoring system, so the audio captured by the camera will not be used and so is not important.
Jon, The Canon HV40 looks to me to be your best option. You may find that you can record in HDV (hi def) and still be able to edit it. PD8 is less demanding of computer "horsepower" than some other NLEs and if your 5 year old computer has a dual core processor it may not be too "stressful". I was doing some editing of Canon HV20 (same file format) footage on a single core computer and found it could be done but was too slow. Moving up to a dual core with only half a GB of RAM helped a lot.

You can still render to SD from an HDV timeline with PD8. Or you can set the camera for SD recording and stay with that for the whole process, but I would record HDV if possible so as to be able to go back and render to HD formats as desired.

Another plus to the HV40 is that audio can be pretty good with properly placed external mic's. I've used mics that had the small stereo mini connectors with a 16' extension cord and had good luck. Mics used were the Rode SVM, Rode Videomic, Nady CM-2S, and an Azden SMX-10. Such usage with proper mic placement would provide good backup to what your sound guy will be doing.

QUOTE=Jon Fisk;1562712]
I am looking at the Vixia line. We may actually be able to get 2 of them since our budget is in the $1000 range. That would allow us to shoot from multiple perspectives which we did in our last movie but with 2 different model cameras. The picture characteristics and audio were different enough that it made the production very awkward.[/QUOTE]

I think you're on the right track for what you want to do.
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Old August 28th, 2010, 02:29 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Jon Fisk View Post
You only read part of my post. I am certainly VERY concerned about the audio in the production. So we have asked an engineer here who's specialty is in audio research to be on our team and guide our audio. We will be recording audio using a seperate recoring system, so the audio captured by the camera will not be used and so is not important.
Jon, The Canon HV40 looks to me to be your best option. You may find that you can record in HDV (hi def) and still be able to edit it. PD8 is less demanding of computer "horsepower" than some other NLEs and if your 5 year old computer has a dual core processor it may not be too "stressful". I was doing some editing of Canon HV20 (same file format) footage on a single core computer and found it could be done but was too slow. Moving up to a dual core with only half a GB of RAM helped a lot.

You can still render to SD from an HDV timeline with PD8. Or you can set the camera for SD recording and stay with that for the whole process, but I would record HDV if possible so as to be able to go back and render to HD formats as desired.

Another plus to the HV40 is that audio can be pretty good with properly placed external mic's. I've used mics that had the small stereo mini connectors with a 16' extension cord and had good luck. Mics used were the Rode SVM, Rode Videomic, Nady CM-2S, and an Azden SMX-10. Such usage with proper mic placement would provide good backup to what your sound guy will be doing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Fisk View Post
I am looking at the Vixia line. We may actually be able to get 2 of them since our budget is in the $1000 range. That would allow us to shoot from multiple perspectives which we did in our last movie but with 2 different model cameras. The picture characteristics and audio were different enough that it made the production very awkward.
I think you're on the right track for what you want to do.
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Old August 28th, 2010, 02:33 PM   #14
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Sorry for the double post. Partial power failure here.
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Old August 28th, 2010, 11:20 PM   #15
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Sony DSR-PDX10

Jon,

If you REALLY mean SD and 16x9, the Sony DSR-PDX10 would be a great choice. It was a standard definition prosumer camcorder optimized for 16x9 recording. It got excellent reviews, with the reservation that it was only standard def, and who would shoot 16x9 in standard def. Sounds like this is the camcorder you're looking for. Only problem is... it was discontinued a few years ago, But right now, B&H has one in their used department, with a price of $999. (You did say UNDER $1000, right?)

Here's a link to the camcorder being sold:
Used Sony DSR-PDX10 Professional 1/4.7" 16:9 DSRPDX10 - B&H

Good luck,
Ken

Last edited by Ken Hull; August 28th, 2010 at 11:39 PM. Reason: Added link
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