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Old May 29th, 2012, 09:21 AM   #1
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Recommendation Needed for Newbie

Don't know much at all about video cameras, so I could use some advice. I currently have a Sony Handycam which works pretty well for the majority of my needs. The area where it lacks is clarity when zooming. The picture gets very pixelated when zooming longer distances (25-50 yards). I'm looking for a video camera that I can zoom 25-50 yards and still have crystal clear video.

Two questions:

1) Is that even possible? Do they make consumer or prosumer cameras that take clear and sharp video from 50 yards away?
2) If so, any recommendations as to which video camera may fit my needs?

Thanks!
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Old May 29th, 2012, 10:25 AM   #2
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

How much zoomed in do you want the picture to be? From 50 yards away are you trying to zoom in tight enough so that a person's face would fill the entire screen? The basic answer is yes, there are cameras with lenses with very long focal lengths or zooms. The key is to make sure you're not using any kind of digital zoom. Only use the optical zoom. Most consumer cameras will not have very large optical zooms and will kick into digital zoom when it hits the end of it's optical zoom. You should be able to turn off the digital zoom so you can test to see if you can zoom in enough with just the optical.

The quality of the optics will greatly determine how clear the zoom is at full zoom. It really depends on how much you want to spend. The broadcast lenses used in sporting events such as MLB games have cameras with super zoom where from the top of the stadium in the outfield the camera can zoom in onto the batters eyes. But those are also $100K lenses.
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Old May 29th, 2012, 11:52 AM   #3
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

"From 50 yards away are you trying to zoom in tight enough so that a person's face would fill the entire screen?"...Maybe not exactly that tight, but close.

"Only use the optical zoom."...I'll check the setting on my current camera.

"It really depends on how much you want to spend."...I'd like to keep it under $2,000 if possible. Any recommendations?
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Old May 29th, 2012, 12:37 PM   #4
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

What you are really looking for is the maximum focal length, not zoom. It depends where the lens starts and ends, more specifically ends, that determines how "close" you can get. The "zoom" figures, like 10x, 12x, 30x or a billion x, are mostly meaningless.

The best telephoto end on an HD cam that I know of at the moment is the Sony FX7, which conveniently lists for $1999. It may be too much cam for you. It is an older model which still uses tape and is not the best in low light. But we used these for Little League and from outside the Center Field fence, we were able to get the batters in close from the waist up.

B&H has a used one for $1500 at the moment and there are a bunch of them on eBay (including one of mine).

Beware of cheap tiny Handycams with cheap tiny plastic lenses that boast of 30x optical zoom... the picture will be very soft and blurry because of the low-quality lens.
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Old May 29th, 2012, 12:51 PM   #5
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

Thanks for the info. I'd want something that utilized digital media, not tape.
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Old May 29th, 2012, 01:06 PM   #6
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

Well, DV/HDV tape is digital, but I get your point. You mean card (flash) or disc.

Best bet is to go to the B&H website and compare the lens specs. Look for the "35mm equivalent" numbers in the lens focal length. Sony almost always lists these but not everyone does. Find the biggest number. You may actually have to download the manuals to find the 35mm equivalents.
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Old May 29th, 2012, 01:12 PM   #7
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

yes, that's correct. :)

i'll check that out.
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Old May 29th, 2012, 03:15 PM   #8
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

It is good that you have specified a budget and identified that you want file-based recording, but I want to follow up with what Adam and Garret said, and suggest some ways of narrowing down your choices.

I would like to tell you that there is a simple recommendation, but there is not.

The difficulty in answering your question is that a lot of the terms require subjective judgments without the references that make our answers useful to you and vice versa. Please do not take this as criticsm. I am simply trying to get you a better answer.

When you say you want a camera that "can zoom 25-50 yards and still have crystal clear video," that can mean many very different things to different people in different situations. To add to Garret's question, I will ask if you want to be standing fifty yards away and: (a) be able to zoom in on a golfer's grip on club, or follow a bee on blooming flower?; or (b) maybe you have been shooting childrens' sports or dance and want to get head-and-shoulder shots from 50 yards away; or (c) maybe full body shots are okay as long as you can recognize that dancer in the recital or batter in ballgame?

There are a fair number of sub $2000 cams that can now do a reasonable job with (c). You are climbing out of your budget when you want (b) and, as Garret pointed out, (c) is probably out of your camera budget.

To give you a rough idea of what kinds of differences there are, here's a practical way to think about the differences in how much zoom you want and what you need to get it. This is something I came up with from the multi-cam dance recitals that I shoot with a mix of cameras. From 50 yards away, we'll compare a Handycam CX550v on maximum optical zoom (10x) and a larger NX5 (bigger glass, sensors, 20x optical zoom). (As Adam points out, Sony's 10x and 20x designations will not tell you very much except that the bigger number means a relatively longer reach with the zoom.) With the Handycam at maximum zoom from 50 yards, the five-foot tall dancer will be about half-way up the screen. (That is, with toes at the bottom of the screen, the head will be about the middle). With the NX5 at full optical zoom, at 50 yards, the five-foot tall dancer will about the fill the screen (head to toe shot filling the frame.)

That said, it also might help to know what Sony Handycam you are shooting with now. You indicated that your camera is generally satisfactory, which kind of implies that you might have a model that is shooting HD footage and maybe AVCHD. If you have been using something like a CX550v, there would be no sense in us suggesting something like, say, a CX760 or Canon XA10 or Panasonic TM900. But, if you have been using an older, tape-based HDV camera, say, the HDR-HC1, then there are many more suggestions that might help you get what you want.

Something you might want to consider is buying a telephoto lens for your Handycam. These screw onto the front of your Handycam's lens. Sony makes and sells telephoto lens adapters as accessories for most handycams. There are higher quality ones available from vendors such as B&H. (You just need to know the diameter which should be printed in the camera manual and might be printed inside the lens ring.) One of these would be less expensive than a new camera and might accomplish what you want. However, while screw-on lenses can enhance your telephoto reach, it can be inconvenient if you are also needing to shoot wide shots without having the time to remove the add-on lens. Depending on how you use them, add-on lenses may or may not produce noticeable distortions at the edges of your video. A couple of years ago, I recall seeing a lot of discussions here at DVinfo about add-on lenses for various Canon and Sony cams. If you are interested in this route, try searching the camera forums here.

Another thing that can affect the clarity of your video is how much motion is in the video and also how much there is in the camera. Are you using the camera entirely hand-held or do you have tripod, monopod, or shoulder brace when you are shooting on full zoom. Handheld camera shake can make the video look bad. Some of this is compensated for by the steady-shot mechanisms. The newest Sony handycams have some pretty amazing optical-mechanical stabilizers (as do the new Panasonics and Canons). But the steady-shot does not work so well at maximum zoom and sometimes even seems to make things worse when using the digital zoom.

When you say you want crystal clear video, this seems like an obvious thing, but it actually is not. It depends on what you are viewing on and how you get the video to the viewing screen. Video that seems "crystal clear" when viewed on a computer monitor or, say, a 26 inch tv screen, may seem fuzzy and pixelated when you throw it up on that new 50 inch screen, and look even worse when displayed on a very large projection screen. A new camera may not fix that.

Another thing that affects how good the video looks is the way you set it up for display. If your Handycam is fairly recent, it will have an HDMI port and that feed may look pretty good on your HD tv set because the HDMI cable sends a full high-def signal to the tv. On the other hand, if you are sending the signals from the camera to the tv via the A/v cable, instead --- I'm talking about the accessory cable with the white, red and yellow RCA ("stereo") plugs --- you may be sorely disappointed in the image quality. The video cable (the one with the yellow connector) carries a "composite" which means it has to be down-rezzed to SD, which will about of the resolution of your Handycam's high-def video. If you have been using both the digital zoom when shooting and the composite cable when viewing, then your video may indeed look terrible. Similar things can happen if when converting video to DVDs.

These are all things to think about before you go to buy a new camera. Hope this helps focus your search.
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Old May 29th, 2012, 03:42 PM   #9
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

Jay - Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. That was very informative. To answer some of your questions...

My current camera is a Sony Handycam HDR-CX190.

In your multiple choice question, I'd mostly be looking to shoot letter B. However, for the most part there would not be nearly as much movement as a sporting event. Think more of something like a spelling bee. And I'd be looking to get head-and-shoulder shots from a distance more like 25 yards away with the occasional 50 yarder thrown in there.

I did not know telephoto lenses might be an option for my camera. I'll investigate this as they would not be an inconvenience to use in most scenarios as I would be zoomed in at a steady distance for most of the shooting.

I'm mostly shooting hand held, but can utilize a tripod if that will make a big difference in image quality.

I view videos almost exclusively on a computer screen and usually copy the files to my hard drive.
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Old May 29th, 2012, 05:00 PM   #10
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron Kator View Post
The picture gets very pixelated when zooming longer distances (25-50 yards).
What camera are you using now? It sounds like your digital zoom is on. A digital zoom magnifies the image (and also the pixels and noise) which is probably what you're seeing. Get a camera with a good optical zoom range, and turn off the digital zoom in the menu.
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Old May 29th, 2012, 05:01 PM   #11
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

Tripods can make a huge difference if you need to zoom but may not be convenient if you are, say, shooting from the third row of seats during a spelling bee. You might try using your tripod as a monopod (with the legs all together) for those situations and see if that helps. (I suspect that the CX190 has only a view screen --- no viewfinder --- so having the screen flipped out can be annoying to people behind you, not to mention annoying to the likes of Garrett, Adam and I when we are videoing events from elsewhere in the room).

"Head and shoulders" at 25 yards is much more "doable" within your budget.

If you have the budget for it, an upgrade might be a good thing. I'm not familiar with the CX190, but I'm guessing that, as with other low-model-number CX cams, it has only a " sensor and a very basic lens. (I have no idea if there is a telephoto adapter for that small a lens and, if there is, whether it would be any good.) The CX1xx series were all extremely small, which makes them very hard to hold steady for anything. I think the CX190 has one of the earlier versions of Sony's "active steady" shot stabilization, which will help up to about one-quarter of the range on the zoom. (might be wrong on this). Most CX cams make decent video at slight zooms or full wide (and full wide is very wide compared to what camcorders used to have.) Those same features make them almost as problematic as an iPhone when zooming to any extent. Going further up in the CX model numbers will give you better lenses and handling.

So, I can see where you might be interested in looking at a newer camera.

For Sony Handycams within your budget, I would be inclined to look at the relatively new CX760 -- bigger and better lens, amazing new optical steady shot, bigger (1/3") sensor, shoots 1080/60p, etc. The bigger and better lens probably makes it a better candidate for a telephoto add-on, and also gives a better chance of decent video when using a slight amount of digitally enhanced zooming. If you want more functions, a slightly larger box, and features like XLR mic inputs, plus a shotgun mic, I would check out the soon to released NX30 which is supposed to go for about $2000 ($US) when it comes out next month. (I see B&H is taking orders now.) It seems to be a lot like Canon's XA10.

Speaking of Canon, the XA10 seems to have developed a following here and there is active discussion of it. If you do not need the XLR inputs and more "pro" features, the Canon "Vixia" the HF-G10 uses the same lens and sensor in a similar package for about $1200. I've also been hearing and reading good things about the Panasonic HC-900M which has a 12x optical zoom but otherwise seems similar to CX760 but for about $400 less.

That should get you started with some further research. The best thing would be to get an SD card, take along your CX190, go to a dealer --- isn't Glencoe on the North Shore above Chicago? --- and try recording with some of the cameras at full zoom in the store. Bring the card back to your computer and compare the videos to what you get with your CX190. That's probably the best way for you to get a feel for whether and to what extent a new camera would make a difference for you.

EDITED TO ADD: Warren posted just before I did. "ON" is the default for digital zoom on CX cams. You have to shut off deliberately. So, in case it is not clear, everybody here is saying: go into the menu, shut of the digital zoom, and see if that makes any difference for your video. Also bear that in mind when you go to test out other cameras.
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Old May 29th, 2012, 06:42 PM   #12
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

Good advice all around, Jay touches on the three "top end consumer" models that you may want to look at in the CAMCORDER department. The higher end of the "consumer" lines SHOULD give you a boost in overall image quality over what you've got right now. You could also look at "last years models" in most cases and still have an excellent cam at a better price (like around $1k or less for a good used CX700V vs. $1500 for a new CX760). Go back another year to the CX or XR 5xx series, even better deals are around, AND up to the CX550/XR550, they had a "longer" lens range than the last couple model years (see below)

From experience, I'll suggest a heresy about digital zooming, particularly with Sony, you can usually go about double the OPTICAL zoom (lets say it's 10x) and still have usable "20x" quality in most conditions (but probably NOT in indoor low light with a 1/4" chip camera, i.e. your CX1xx series). SO, you have to watch the zoom on your camera display readout, and there is a little tiny white line in the "zoom bar" that designates where optical ends and digital begins. Don't push too far into the digital zoom, and you won't get as much image degradation.

The older Sony's will have 37mm threads, the latest top end have 52 or 58mm. Not sure about the other brands, but you'd be ABLE to mount a teleconverter by matching the filter thread size... but being ABLE to and wanting to are two different things, IMO. First, you'll have vignetting (fancy word for the corners are all chopped off) in about the first 1/4-1/2 of the native camera zoom range - so you lose most of the "wide" that the manufacturer put in because everyone wanted MORE "wide" - you'll be seeing a lot of the "inside" edges of your teleconverter when zoomed out... Second, unless you get high grade lenses (meaning not the cheap import stuff) the image will likely be degraded by the additional "glass". Personally, I'd take my chances with the native lens and going easy on the digital zoom before mounting a tele lens, even though I HAVE them... decent glass is also BIG, and heavy...it would double the heft of your 190...


I'll also toss out another camera that might give you some interesting options - the DSC-HX200V - yes, it IS a still camera, BUT it also has a 30x OPTICAL lens (roughly 29mm to 870 by Sony specs - "clear zoom" digital is quite a bit more!), AND it shoots 60P full HD video. Limited manual control, of course, and I'm feeling a bit mixed on the stills it shoots, BUT it's a fairly competent video capture device, there ARE adapters for adding a teleconverter to it (same caveats as aboove), and it's sub $500... I had the HX100V (last years model again) and just upgraded, and it's just a sort of handy camera for when you need that "superzoom" lens range. Not the most competent camera in every department, but when you NEED zoom, it does do that rather nicely!! You could keep your CX190 for a wide shot on a tripod and have a nice little "cheap" combo for events...

Hope those thoughts are helpful.
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Old May 30th, 2012, 09:21 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Warren Kawamoto View Post
What camera are you using now? It sounds like your digital zoom is on. A digital zoom magnifies the image (and also the pixels and noise) which is probably what you're seeing. Get a camera with a good optical zoom range, and turn off the digital zoom in the menu.
You are correct, the digital zoom was on. I turned it off and took some videos yesterday, but haven't had a chance to review just yet.
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Old May 30th, 2012, 09:42 AM   #14
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I'll also toss out another camera that might give you some interesting options - the DSC-HX200V - yes, it IS a still camera, BUT it also has a 30x OPTICAL lens (roughly 29mm to 870 by Sony specs - "clear zoom" digital is quite a bit more!), AND it shoots 60P full HD video. Limited manual control, of course, and I'm feeling a bit mixed on the stills it shoots, BUT it's a fairly competent video capture device, there ARE adapters for adding a teleconverter to it (same caveats as aboove), and it's sub $500... I had the HX100V (last years model again) and just upgraded, and it's just a sort of handy camera for when you need that "superzoom" lens range. Not the most competent camera in every department, but when you NEED zoom, it does do that rather nicely!! You could keep your CX190 for a wide shot on a tripod and have a nice little "cheap" combo for events...
Thanks so much for the very thoughtful and detailed replies from everyone. I'm learning a lot.

The above suggestion is very intriguing to me since I'm in need of a new camera as well. Maybe I can kill two birds with one stone going this route? I also like the ability to add a telephoto lens if needed.
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Old May 30th, 2012, 11:01 AM   #15
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Re: Recommendation Needed for Newbie

I checked out the Sony DSC-HX200V. Looks like a great camera. Any thoughts on the Nikon COOLPIX P510? It has a 42x optical zoom vs. a 30x for the Sony. I'd be using these cameras for pics and video, but more concerned about the video quality.
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