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Old Mar 13, 2013, 08:31 AM   #1
TitanTiger
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Camcorders - AVCHD vs MP4

We are looking to upgrade our camcorder and get out of the dark ages of SD format on Digital 8. But I've discovered that almost all the camcorders prefer to use AVCHD format and iMovie doesn't apparently play well with it. It requires an extra step of converting the file to a format like mp4 that iMovie likes.

Some of the cameras do have the ability to shoot in mp4 from the start alleviating this problem but am I correct in reading that the AVCHD is "full HD" while mp4 is something of lesser quality?

My real question is, if there is a quality dropoff, how much of one is it? It's just home movies but I want the quality to be as high as it can be within reason. Can someone give me a rundown on the pros and cons of the two formats?
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Old Mar 13, 2013, 08:59 AM   #2
mic j
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TitanTiger View Post
We are looking to upgrade our camcorder and get out of the dark ages of SD format on Digital 8. But I've discovered that almost all the camcorders prefer to use AVCHD format and iMovie doesn't apparently play well with it. It requires an extra step of converting the file to a format like mp4 that iMovie likes.

Some of the cameras do have the ability to shoot in mp4 from the start alleviating this problem but am I correct in reading that the AVCHD is "full HD" while mp4 is something of lesser quality?

My real question is, if there is a quality dropoff, how much of one is it? It's just home movies but I want the quality to be as high as it can be within reason. Can someone give me a rundown on the pros and cons of the two formats?
I am in almost the same situation as you, except I have an old cheap 1080p camcorder. It only has a 3x zoom, no stabilization, and well, the optics are crude. I have been looking into buy a new one but am overwhelmed with the options and in particular the one you ask about, as I want to be able to use iMovie to edit. Can't wait to see other opinions.
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Old Mar 13, 2013, 08:59 AM   #3
simsaladimbamba
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AVCHD and MP4 are just containers for the MPEG-4 codec, and both containers deliver "Full HD" with 1280 x 720 and 1920 x 1080 pixel (yes, 720p is full HD too).

As for iMovie, as the MP4 container also uses a highly compressive codec, during import the footage will be transcoded (change format and codec) to an editing friendly codec called Apple Intermediate Codec, thus no matter if you use AVCHD or MP4, it will take time to import it into iMovie.

I prefer MP4, as it does not come with all the shenanigans as AVCHD does, an MP4 file can be simply opened almost everywhere and stored everywhere, while the MTS files AVCHD cameras produce need a bit more work and you have to preserve the folder structure of every card you copy to backup your footage.
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Old Mar 13, 2013, 09:13 AM   #4
mic j
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Originally Posted by simsaladimbamba View Post
AVCHD and MP4 are just containers for the MPEG-4 codec, and both containers deliver "Full HD" with 1280 x 720 and 1920 x 1080 pixel (yes, 720p is full HD too).

As for iMovie, as the MP4 container also uses a highly compressive codec, during import the footage will be transcoded (change format and codec) to an editing friendly codec called Apple Intermediate Codec, thus no matter if you use AVCHD or MP4, it will take time to import it into iMovie.

I prefer MP4, as it does not come with all the shenanigans as AVCHD does, an MP4 file can be simply opened almost everywhere and stored everywhere, while the MTS files AVCHD cameras produce need a bit more work and you have to preserve the folder structure of every card you copy to backup your footage.
YouTube: video
Thank you! Both your comments and the video were very helpful.
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Old Mar 13, 2013, 09:29 AM   #5
HobeSoundDarryl
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AVCHD as THE format for HD in camcorders & cameras seems to dominate though. If that view is correct, more and more equipment will go that way going forward... and thus software compatibility will move more quickly in that direction too.

So I'll counter by suggesting the OP goes with the flow. iMovie is not great for working with HD (other than keeping editing very simple). I've never been able to export great quality HD from iMovie as opposed to using a tool like FCP X with the same footage.

We generally buy camcorders to capture slices of life... someone's birthday, christmas, the family trip, etc. 10 or 20 years later and some of that would be listed among our most precious possessions. So, I suggest stepping up from iMovie to FCP X or similar and rendering those precious home movies at the highest possible quality. Many people think of FCP X as iMovie Plus. It's not that hard to learn to use it for this level of need. And it can definitely export some very high quality HD files that look great on stuff like TV.

One more add-on suggestion: if some of what you shoot is fast moving stuff- like kids playing sports- consider 1080p 60fps camcorders. 60fps is overkill (TV can't even play 60fps natively) but those quicktime renders (h.264) are "buttery smooth" and make for an excellent master file while waiting on TV or something else to gain that capability. You can always render a 60fps version and 30fps (using the latter with TV as it is now). Later on- when a future TV will hopefully support native playback at fps other than 30, you can just swap out the 30fps versions with the 60fps versions.

I've done this for a couple of years now myself with our home movies: Panasonic camcorder 1080p 60ps through Clipwrap to convert the raw video to prores422 files. Import those into FCP X for editing. Export them as prores422 files. Import those into Handbrake and render a 30fps and a 60fps version with the high profile setting. Store the 60fps version as a master file. Import the 30fps version into iTunes and play it on TV3. Quality is wow impressive... much better than I could ever get out of iMovie. If I need to make a SD DVD for someone else (maybe some other family member not yet on the HD train), working from those master files yields the highest quality DVD video too.

Incidentally, how I got here was a desire to preserve Dolby Digital audio shot on some camcorders since about 2006 or so. iMovie can't do that (it outputs stereo) so I went with FCP X for the audio and then found my way to the above workflow. Home Movie DD surround tends to not be that important for most shoots but it is interesting in some home movies- such as sports- where we can clearly hear fans cheering from behind, left & right or big auditorium events where echos and sound is coming from all around where the camera was located. Some vacation sound can be interesting too (such as having ocean waves behind the camera while filming the family on the beach or being in the tropics and having the sounds of nature hitting from all sides). If OP is getting a pretty good new camcorder, odds are high that it will probably have some form of DD record on it (consider taking advantage of that when you make your final renders).

Since then, I've worked backwards through our home movie archives to maximize quality of the earliest HD shoots done on those early Sony (HDV) camcorders that saved a 1440x1080 HD signal to tape (again, output quality is much better than I could get through iMovie). I now think all of our home movies are available at about the highest quality they can be viewed... all quickly accessible via TV3.

Last edited by HobeSoundDarryl; Mar 13, 2013 at 09:48 AM.
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Old Mar 13, 2013, 09:50 AM   #6
TitanTiger
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I'll be honest, if every import is going to involve an intermediate step of converting to a different format to then be able to import and edit in iMovie, it's not going to happen for us. I just don't have that kind of time nor the disk space to deal with all the intermediate files it spawns.

I'll probably look at the Canon HF R300 and just have it shoot in MP4 format to avoid the headache. The one I really wanted was a Sony one, but it won't do MP4 on the camera (shocker...Sony never does anything to support Macs).
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Old Mar 13, 2013, 09:55 AM   #7
simsaladimbamba
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Originally Posted by TitanTiger View Post
I'll be honest, if every import is going to involve an intermediate step of converting to a different format to then be able to import and edit in iMovie, it's not going to happen for us. I just don't have that kind of time nor the disk space to deal with all the intermediate files it spawns.

I'll probably look at the Canon HF R300 and just have it shoot in MP4 format to avoid the headache. The one I really wanted was a Sony one, but it won't do MP4 on the camera (shocker...Sony never does anything to support Macs).
Using compressed MP4 files will do the same, as iMovie does not edit them natively, as I wrote before. If you have watched the video, it should be understandable why that is.

However, you can use FCP X, as it can work with compressed files natively, but if you do not have a fast enough computer, at least an i5 or i7 is required to edit 1080p in a compressed and editing unfriendly format, you might see lots of hiccups.
Anyway, you can always invest 100 USD in an external 2 TB USB 2.0 or 3.0 HDD and let iMovie store the transcoded media there for your editing needs and let the import be done overnight.

Is that understandable?
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Old Mar 13, 2013, 11:55 AM   #8
mic j
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Originally Posted by HobeSoundDarryl View Post
AVCHD as THE format for HD in camcorders & cameras seems to dominate though. If that view is correct, more and more equipment will go that way going forward... and thus software compatibility will move more quickly in that direction too....
I can appreciate what you are saying. Just not sure I can justify the expense of FCP X for the hour of video I shoot each year. And most of that video has only minor editing e.g. in/out point, cuts, etc.
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Old Mar 13, 2013, 05:35 PM   #9
HobeSoundDarryl
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No offense here but if you really shoot only an hour of video each year, you can rent a really high quality camcorder for many years before you reach what you would spend to buy one now. I'd save your money and just rent until you get to some point in time where you would use it more. H.265 is not that far away now and it will be a significant improvement for camcorders.

Even better, check around with friends & family and you can probably borrow a good one to shoot that hour and it might not cost you anything.

That said, you are right. I wouldn't buy FCP X (or a camcorder) if I was only shooting about 1 hour each year.
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Old Mar 14, 2013, 08:51 AM   #10
mic j
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Originally Posted by HobeSoundDarryl View Post
No offense here but if you really shoot only an hour of video each year, you can rent a really high quality camcorder for many years before you reach what you would spend to buy one now. I'd save your money and just rent until you get to some point in time where you would use it more. H.265 is not that far away now and it will be a significant improvement for camcorders.

Even better, check around with friends & family and you can probably borrow a good one to shoot that hour and it might not cost you anything.

That said, you are right. I wouldn't buy FCP X (or a camcorder) if I was only shooting about 1 hour each year.
Renting is actually an idea I never thought of. I will check out where in my area I can do that from. Borrowing isn't an option, though. I don't know anyone with an HD camcorder. Thanks for helping me think "outside the box".
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Old Mar 14, 2013, 01:16 PM   #11
HobeSoundDarryl
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And don't forget an newer iPhone, iPad, etc can shoot HD too. If you have either, consider using that "for free". I see lots of people shooting lots of stuff on their iPhones and iPads. There are tripods for iDevices and even add on lenses for special needs.

I do think a dedicated camcorder would capture better video but again, if you only need an hour or so each year, that might not matter that much to you.
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Old Mar 14, 2013, 01:54 PM   #12
mic j
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Originally Posted by HobeSoundDarryl View Post
And don't forget an newer iPhone, iPad, etc can shoot HD too. If you have either, consider using that "for free". I see lots of people shooting lots of stuff on their iPhones and iPads. There are tripods for iDevices and even add on lenses for special needs.

I do think a dedicated camcorder would capture better video but again, if you only need an hour or so each year, that might not matter that much to you.
What I am really looking for is more zoom (I only have 3X now) and image stabilization so I can handhold with better outcome. I film my daughter horseback riding at various competitions and am usually far away and shooting a moving target. So the iPhone/iPad route isn't going to work for me. But thanks for the suggestion.
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Old Mar 14, 2013, 02:55 PM   #13
HobeSoundDarryl
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In that case, you have a lot of fast moving action so a good quality camcorder is the way to go. And I do suggest seeking out a 1080p 60fps one for something like that. Again, look around and you might be able to find a rental option. And don't forget many good quality cameras can shoot 1080p 60fps with image stabilization and better-than-camcorder zoom. You might be able to rent a camera with those capabilities more readily than a camcorder.

Also, my camcorder has image stabilization but as good as that is, it's not even close to the quality gain you get by turning it off and using a tripod. Tripods are pretty cheap and work great for sporting events.

And, there is stuff like this: http://photojojo.com/store/awesomene...elephoto-lens/ out there. 8X zoom for iPhones, tripod for stabilization. I see lots of people using these at the sporting events I shoot.
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Old Mar 14, 2013, 03:54 PM   #14
kohlson
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Our family video camera is a Canon Vixia HF20 (?). Nearly 4 years old. I believe it uses AVCHD format. Works well with iMovie9 and iMovie 11. The workflow is very similar to our previous Sony tape camera: when you are ready to load onto the Mac, you transfer the content (old way- tape, now-SDHC card) into Mac. This takes some amount of processing time (roughly 1:1) as it transcodes to a format that iMovie can work with in near real time. Cuts, transitions, captions, and so on. (If you worked with older versions of iMovie, you remember this was not the case -- you waited while these edits were processed.)
I want to emphasize this is part of the iMovie experience: You open iMovie, connect the media, and click import. Just like always.
Note that you will need an Intel Mac to do this. Nothing special.
My point is, it works. Yes, transcoded files take up space on your drive. If I understand your requirements, 1 hr (at 30GB hr) times 10 years is 300GB. That's if you don't delete them along the way, after you no longer need them.
Unlike tape, don't plan on using SDHC cards as long-term storage.
Perhaps something to try is see if you can borrow an AVCHD camera from someone and do a 10-minute test video.
I agree with the previous poster's comment about iMovie not producing great HD output. It's not easy to do, and there is that minor matter of how you get it to your TV (Blu-Ray, maybe bit not DVD).
Remember the adage about what's the best camera? It's the one you have with you. iMovie and low-priced HD camcorders are a solid part of that scenario.
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 06:55 PM   #15
TimothyJohn
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Originally Posted by HobeSoundDarryl View Post
No offense here but if you really shoot only an hour of video each year, you can rent a really high quality camcorder for many years before you reach what you would spend to buy one now. I'd save your money and just rent until you get to some point in time where you would use it more. H.265 is not that far away now and it will be a significant improvement for camcorders.

Even better, check around with friends & family and you can probably borrow a good one to shoot that hour and it might not cost you anything.

That said, you are right. I wouldn't buy FCP X (or a camcorder) if I was only shooting about 1 hour each year.
So, in referencing another thread I started, Please Recommend DSLR or Camcorder, and Mac Editor for Music Ed and Demo Vids, are you suggesting holding off on the purchase of either a DSLR or camcorder until H.265 arrives? Will it be that good? Are we talking a few months, or next year?

Thanks,
Tim
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 07:11 PM   #16
HobeSoundDarryl
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No good answer. It is coming but when it shows is up in the air. I've seen a few rumors implying Apple might roll it out. My guess is that it might show up in camcorders, etc at the CES show in Jan 2014.

In the OPs case, he's shooting less than an hour each year. I'm thinking he can rent a great camcorder for that hour and not buy one at all. For others that shoot more or want to buy one, the choices are entirely subjective to each person's situation. I've got an AVCHD 1080p 60fps version myself. When h.265 arrives (assuming it's as good as implied), I'll likely upgrade then.
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