Help? Which camcorder for under $1500 for narrative projects? at

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Old March 4th, 2006, 02:55 PM   #1
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Help? Which camcorder for under $1500 for narrative projects?

I am looking to purchase a "new" (to me) camcorder soon (so actually new or used) for $1200 to $1500.

I want to use the camcorder for narrative projects but I will also use it for outdoor/nature shots and other purposes if possible.

The end product will be DVD but I would also like to use it for festival entries as well. I have absolutely no delusions of creating a film out print of my movies! However, I would like to produce the best footage that I can (wouldn't everybody?) and I would like to be able to enter a film festival without being embarrassed by the quality of the footage that the camera produces --- I'll take full blame for the content and cinematography. :-)

I have read a considerable amount on cinematography over the years and I have practiced what I can with the equipment that I have (I have made several DVDs, shot 3-cam wedding, etc). So I feel very comfortable with technique but somewhat hampered by lack of finer control over the camera and image.

I am satisfied with my editing and with post-production and I have (or will purchase) most of the software I need and I know how to use it fairly well. I am also not worried about computer hardware (I work with computers for a living).

I currently shoot with two (aging and surpassed) Canon Optura Pi camcorders. I admit my preference for progressive scan images (though 30P can be limiting) but I have also seen good results by shooting interlaced and then using DVFilm Maker to produce 24P content (which is what I usually do).

I must also consider that this may be the last camcorder I purchase for a considerable time; when I bring up the purchase with my live-in "financial adviser" she rolls her eyes and reluctantly agrees that I can even spend this much. ;-)

I admit that I am taken in by the allure of HDV for "future-proofing" my footage (as I said, this may be the last camcorder I purchase for a considerable time) and for a higher definition for festival footage.

I really want a camcorder that allows 16x9 framing (I just like it better) and prefer a lens with optical image stabilization (though perhaps the new EIS is adequate? I don't really know). I would prefer more manual control over the image than I get with the Optura Pi. While I would like a camcorder that looks more "pro", it really doesn't matter to me --- the footage it produces is what matters. I do like the look of 24P but I can produce that (well... mimic it) in post with products like DVFilm Maker.

I have had my eyes on the following camcorders:


+ True progressive Scan
+ 60P (though this may be a one-trick pony. How much would I really use it? Also, this is only SD and if I shoot in SD, I might as well get a better SD camera).

- Poor low light performance
- Poor latitude
- Lack of some manual controls found in SD cams
- Only 30P (advantage or disadvantage? can't convert well to 24P or successfully produce a DVD that takes advantage of progressive for viewing on standard TV)
- *I haven't really seen anyone post any outstanding footage from this camera now that I think of it...

2) Sony DCR-HC1

3) Various 3-ccd camcorders (such as the PV-GS400) with greater manual controls.

Well, sorry for the L-O-N-G post.

Any advice or comments that might help me narrow my choices?

Thanks for your time.

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Old March 4th, 2006, 03:11 PM   #2
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It really is a difficult choice and you're not the only one trying to figure it out. In all honesty though, apart from the extra resolution from the JVC HDV camcorder, I don't think you'll notice much of a quality difference between these cameras you list and the optura you said you have used. That mentioned, you will get better colour with the small 3CCD panasonics, but the sensors are pretty tiny, which limit low-light quality and control over depth of field which I think is essential for what you're planning to do.
Considering that, if you are able to raise the budget a tiny bit or look in the used market, you can probably get a Panasonic DVC-30, Canon GL2 or Sony PDX10 all for just under 2000.00 and the DVC-30 for around 1800 (all new for that price). They're all great cameras and have 1/4 inch CCDs which is a bit of an upgrade from the tiny consumer ones. I would read up on those 3 cameras and see which one you like best - each has different things that make it good for certain purposes.
If you have any questions about any of this, feel free to ask. Hope this helps.
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Old March 4th, 2006, 04:00 PM   #3
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Well if you can spend $1,700 you might consider the PDX-10. It is native 16:9, has XLR inputs and the same mike as the PD-170, BW viewfinder, DVCAM recording and comes from Sony's Pro division so you get better warranty support than a consumer camera.

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Old March 4th, 2006, 04:16 PM   #4
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My personal vote is for the Sony A1U. It's a little above your budget, but with the phantom XLR adapter, you'll be using it for a long time to come.

I'd already have bought one if I wasn't such a fuss bucket about the bottom loading tape mechanism.
"Ultimately, the most extraordinary thing, in a frame, is a human being." - Martin Scorsese
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Old March 4th, 2006, 05:01 PM   #5
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If 4:3 60i SD would be acceptable, I'd suggest looking at the GY-DV300U. You can get them used, in good shape, well under $1500, and the quality is very tough to beat at that kind of pricing. 3 1/3" CCDs, robust image acquisition control, XLR, etc.
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Old March 4th, 2006, 10:04 PM   #6
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Thank you for the responses.

I guess that I'm as fickle as the next guy and seem to be asking the same questions as everyone else.

The whole point is to get something that provides as significant and noticeable a benefit over what I currently have as possible (otherwise, what IS the point?).

My girlfriend has to constantly remind me that I need to remember which features I "must have" and then go from there, since my choices apparently change depending on the time of day and which reviews I'm reading. :-) So...

I feel that I must have true 16x9. It just provides much better framing choices. Even all the new low-end consumer cams have it. This essentially eliminates the GL2, the DVC-30, and the GY-DV300U. A part of me is pretty bummed by that because these cameras have so much going for them (the DVC-30 looks like a really awesome little camera) but they lack this "essential" feature. I already have 4x3.

I need more manual control and information than I currently have. Of course, that isn't saying much since the Optura Pi doesn't have a focus ring (it has a little dial that works so-so), it doesn't allow true aperture control (a little exposure dial), or have zebras, or really provide many advanced features.

The PDX-10 looks like the perfect camera for me but... I still can't help wondering if DV is to HDV as VHS is to DV. How many people would want a high-end VHS camcorder over almost any of the consumer DV cams available now? Will I feel that way about the PDX-10 in a year or two when my neighbor has his consumer HDV camcorder and will my footage look bad compared to all the HDV entries in a festival? By the way, that is not a rhetorical question, it is a real one! :-)

If I'm considering a new PDX-10 for $1,700 then the HDR-A1U, which seems to be sort of the HD version of that cam, isn't that much more expensive (after rebate). (Isn't it amazing how the price just creeps up on you?!) Would it be a better choice or would I be trading control and image quality for more pixels?

I know that every camera has its weak points and I am used to working within the constraints of my equipment and just getting the best picture I can with what I have. Actually, I am still surprised at the image quality I get from my Optura Pi's, but it is time to upgrade.

I really like progressive scan, but it seems that the consensus is that the JY-HD10U has TOO MANY constraints to make it a good choice (though, for some reason, I am drawn to it).

Well, I guess I have to keep thinking and reading (and saving my money)...
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Old March 4th, 2006, 10:24 PM   #7
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consumer cameras with "widescreen" don't have true widescreen - manufacturers wouldn't add it to any of those until all their pro models have it. I could be wrong about that, but I'm pretty sure about it.
I'm about to buy my own camera, but I'm waiting until NAB - I have a feeling we'll see some cool new stuff. If I don't see something new that meets my needs, I'll just stick with SD. I've decided to just stick with SD for a couple of reasons, the most important of which is that it isn't popular enough yet and I don't think people will switch to it as quickly as they did from VHS to DVD. I think it'll be a few years. I don't really want this to be one of those HD-now-or-later discussions, but that's what I think. The other issue is that there isn't really an HD camera that meets my personal needs yet at a price I can even stretch myself to.
Unless you're willing to stretch your budget even further (which as a student I personally wouldn't do) and get one of the higher end ones, I think getting a consumer HD cam will be more limiting than buying a good pro SD cam. With film festivals, it's content, acting and cinematography skill that really impress people. In most festivals, there will always be people with better gear - some might even have enough money to be shooting in film which will look better than the HD cams currently out, so it's best to just focus on story and other parts of your movie and choose the camera you are most comfortable using and that will allow you to bring your vision to life.
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Old March 4th, 2006, 10:27 PM   #8
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Personally, I don't think you would be satisfied with an SD camera, from what you've said. Most likely, you would find yourself wishing you had an HDV camera, no matter how well the SD camera performed.

The HD10U is probably worth considering, unless you need the ability to shoot in low light situations. You can get wonderful images from the HD10U, but it is challenging, mostly due to a somewhat less than "professional" level of control over image acquisition (no simultaneous manual control of iris and shutter, no push auto focus, etc.).

Within (close to) your budget constraints, an A1U would seem to me to be a likely best choice.
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Old March 4th, 2006, 10:34 PM   #9
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Several consumer camcorders now are capable of shooting "true" widescreen. Many of the consumer cams coming out nowadays have CCDs quite capable of resolving an image at 720x480 resolution (regardless of CCD shape), and record the image as full 720x480 to tape (not letterboxed 4:3, at effectively 720x360 for the "widescreen" effect). A GS400 is probably a good example. There are a number of others.
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