Camcorder Advice

Discussion in 'Buying Tips, Advice and Discussion (archive)' started by BWhaler, Nov 28, 2004.

  1. BWhaler macrumors 68030


    Jan 8, 2003
    I am looking to dip my toe into buying a camcorder for the family.

    I really know nothing about them, and have done some basic research, but I still need some expert advice.

    So, if you don't mind helping a novice out, here are some questions I am struggling with:

    (Just to set some context, I want a small and light one, don't care about price, and because I hold on to technology for 3-5 years, I like to buy the best on the market.)

    1. Which brand is superior: Sony, JVC, Canon?
    2. What features are must have?
    3. Any lessons learned from your own purchase experience?
    4. Which brands play best with Macs? (Gotta support the mother ship, even indirectly.)
    5. I'm assuming I should get a MiniDV. Is this correct?
    6. Should I start using Final Cut Express out of the gate?
    7. Any expert websites you can recommend for reviews and education?
    8. Best places to buy in terms of price?
    9. Any model you particularly like?
    10. Is there a good or bad time of year? Example, buying a Mac 11 days before MWSF is generally not advisable. (generally, speaking.) Is there a release cycle to camcorders which I should time my purchase around? (this is not an urgent purchase.)

    I know that's a lot of questions, but I greatly appreciate any help you can send my way.

    Thanks so much.

  2. yoak macrumors 65816


    Oct 4, 2004
    Oslo, Norway
    I only have time for a few answers right now.

    1: I think they all make good cameras. Sony and canon a step over JVC in my opinion. (They have better optics)

    2: You should get a MiniDV, and the camera should have DV inn & out, manual setting for the iris (F-stops) and as many manual settings as possible. The more you use a camera, the more conrol over the image you want.
    Personally I don´t think much of the claim from the producers of cameras of "great in low light level". If there is hardly any light the image will be bad and grainy and I prefer to add light or not shoot at all.
    It´s a feature I would pay least attention too, but the companys often seem to use this in their marketing.

    Sorry, girlfriend is ready and I have to go.
    PS Can´t help you about where to buy as I live in Europe
  3. mpw Guest

    Jun 18, 2004
    2&3. My first port of call in any spec. list would be manual zoom then check for a night shooting setting and then optic quality. DV out is a must, as is DV in but if you're in Europe just get DV out and hack the software, it'll save you 14%.
    4. Should all be fine.
    5. Yes
    8. The US
  4. Alexandernap macrumors newbie

    Nov 14, 2004
    Rochester NY
    I have a Canon ZR75(Ithink) It takes excellent footage outdoors in good light but is horrible in medium to low light. When I read all the reviews on it they claimed the same problem. I did not listen. If you get a Canon (the new ones out are apparently the same as mine, just some different options) I would definitely recommend buying the accessory light. BTW I am not talking about filming in pitch black, I would say just about all indoor footage is grainy. Many of the recent reviews I read say the Panansonic is the best overall. Not sure how accurate that is. Hope this helps.. Todd
  5. RBMaraman macrumors 65816


    Jul 25, 2002
    Prospect, KY
    1. JVC and Panasonic are making excellent camcorders these days. I have a Canon (which I think is great), and most people on MacRumors don't like the Canon's because "they don't shoot well in low-light conditions." That shouldn't be a problem because the first rule of video is "MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH LIGHT!"

    2. Features are going to be based on your needs/wants. Some have night vision mode, but these days, most camcorders have the same features.

    3. Make sure your read the manual.

    4. JVC, Panasonic, Canon, Some Sony's (but not all. I find Sony's are very tempermental. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.).

    5. Yes.

    6. NO! Use iMovie until you've mastered it, then move on to FCE. iMovie can do a lot of things.


    8. Just shop around. Most places charge the same price. I would recommend buying in a physical store instead of online. Go to a store and get a feel for the cameras.

    9. I'm a pro user, but I have a Canon ZR series camera for my little needs.

    10. There are expos for cameras constantly. You just have to go and buy one. Sometimes, at Best Buy, they'll say, "oh, that camcorder is being discontinued, we should get the new model next month." That's pretty much all the indication you'll get.
  6. virividox macrumors 601


    Aug 19, 2003
    Manila - Nottingham - Philadelphia - Santa Barbar
    imovie should fit the bill just fine, i wouldnt go spend much cash on FCE right away until you think you need the features

    but for most home movies that you share with the family and maybe send out to friends on dvd

    imovie and idvd should be just right simple enough to use and its free cant be beat that
  7. Moof1904 macrumors 65816

    May 20, 2004
    Consider analog In

    If you have any existing analog video (VHS, for example) that you think you might want to digitize either for archiving or for further editing, you may want to consider a camcorder with analog video (usually S-Video) and stereo audio inputs. This will allow you to attach the output of the VHS VCR into the camcorder and dub your VHS directly to minDV. I've found such a feature a very convenient way of digitizing analog footage.
  8. quackattack macrumors 6502a


    Aug 13, 2004
    Boise, ID
    8. Best places to buy in terms of price?

    I would get either Sony or Canon, those are the best two brands IMHO. And definately get MiniDV. iMovie is a great way to start, you can do alot more with FCE, but there is a bit of a learning curve.

    I've had good luck with even lower end MiniDV cams, so don't feel like you have to spend alot of money. I would try and buy at a local camera shop, you may pay slightly more, but you get your money's worth in terms of service. Especially if you have problems down the road. Just my two cents.

  9. aswitcher macrumors 603


    Oct 8, 2003
    Canberra OZ
    Image stabilisation is pretty useful.

    Option for external microphone helps minimise motor noise.

    Top loading cassette is great for easy changing, especially when on a trip pod.

    Decent battery life with an optional larger battery is a must.

    Ear phone jack to listen to live recording to make sure sound is right is a good idea.

    AC adapter is a good idea so you dont have to worry about batteries when recording from a fixed position that has power.

    Optional wide angle adaptor is very good for landscapes and buildings.

    Dont buy low range; buy at least middle with 1+ magepixel to tape (mines 1.77).
    Get a big spare battery.
    Get an expensive external microphone for decent sound quality.
    Get a decent case to hold extra bits a pieces with camera I use crumpler.

    My Canon works fine.

    Yep. HDD camcorders are still in the early days.

    I am very happy with my Elura 40 / MVX25i Canon...although the motor noise is a little high and the low light could be better.

    Check out USA Macworld in November for recent reviews which rate this the best.
  10. tamara6 macrumors regular

    Apr 28, 2004
    Seriously, go to and read the info they have there. They've got a lot of it. When you narrow it down to a couple of models, log on to the right forum and read about them. It will save you a lot of trouble down the road.

    Canon camcorders (at least the lower priced ones) do really bad in low light. By low light, I mean a room lit by 4 60W light bulbs. I bought a Canon (a ZR 65, I think) and I was shocked at just how grainy the footage was. My old Sony analog camcorder was way, way better. So I returned the Canon and got a Sony TRV22, which does a lot better in low light.

    But I could have saved myself half the struggle if I had just read before I made the Canon purchase. So that is my advice to you. Go there, read their material and their reviews, and read up in the forum on your favorite models. Go to Circuit City or Best Buy and hold them, and then make your decision.
  11. Darbydoggy macrumors newbie

    Aug 29, 2004
    I can reccomend the Canon Optura 40 mini DV. It is very compact and shoots great video with excellent color representation. My other candidate was the Panasonic PV-GS200, a 3 CCD camera with simialr ergonomics. I had a chance to try one and the color is great, but side by side with the Canon, the Canon looked more natural and was vibrant but not over saturated with the primary colors. This Canon emulates a 3CCD setup with primary color filters and digic processor. Also, the canon menus and menu navigation was heads and tails better (Canon uses a scroll/click wheel to move and select menus and it is great and easy). It also has a true 16:9 mode that uses more pixels and thus doesn't degrade the resolution to strech it onto a widescreen tv. This fact pushed my final decision over to the Canon.

    I also found the camera works great with iMovie and is fully compatible as far as running the tape from the computer for importing. I found the best price (after shipping and tax) to be at They were a fast and reputable online dealer - no hassle, no sales calls and shipped the next day.
    Good luck.
  12. MisterGreen macrumors newbie

    Nov 17, 2004
    Camcorder Recomendation

    For you, I would recommend the Pannasonic gs200, just because you say you want a smaller camera. Its a sweet 3 chip camcorder, and is not as big as its older sister, the gs400 (which is what I would buy). If you don't mind the added size the gs400 is as good as it gets in its price range.

    3 chip camcorders are superior to their one chip cousins as they provide one chip for each primary colour. The Panny gs14 is a decent cheaper camera too. No, I don't work for panasonic... yes I like their camcorders. :)

  13. Whigga Spitta macrumors 6502

    Apr 21, 2004
    Can you say Chi-City??
    my advice-- not iMovie

    I've been editing digital video for about 5 years now (just as a hobby). I learned on non-linear software, which I feel has helped me enormously. I use FCP all the time and I can't even get a decent looking video in iMovie, it seems too big of a step backwards. If you have the patience (and/or the willpower) definitely try to learn FCE, i think it will work out great.
  14. LethalWolfe macrumors G3


    Jan 11, 2002
    Los Angeles
    my 2 cents

    3 CCD vs 1 CCD
    In the consumer world, assuming all other things are equal, there is a trade off for better color instead of better image detial when you go w/a 3 CCD camera. To keep size and cost down a 3 CCD consumer camera will typically have 1/6" chips where a 1 CCD consumer camera will typically have 1/4" chips.

    I have never used the Canon Optura 40, but I read up a bit on it and I'm not clear as to what is special about it's widescreen mode. The blurb about it on Canon's sight didn't make much sense (they refer to "true 16:9" as "letterboxed" which is not correct), and a review I read just made it sound like the camera showed a letterboxed 4:3 image on the viewfinder instead of a squeezed (tall & thin) 4:3 image.
    Unless I'm mistaken (which I very well could be 'cause I don't follow consumer cameras very much) all consumer cameras use the full width of the CCD when shooting widescreen but mask (cover up) the upper and lower portion of the CCD so that only the "middle" 16:9 section of the 4:3 CCD is used to capture image data. A "true" 16:9 image will appear distorted on a 4:3 TV (unless the device playing the video or the TV "knows"/has a switch to letterbox the 16:9 signal) A letterboxed image is not a "true" 16:9 image but a 4:3 image w/an embeded 16:9 image.

  15. aswitcher macrumors 603


    Oct 8, 2003
    Canberra OZ
    Its true 16:9. The chips is so big that in 4:3 it uses a squarer part of the chip but not ful width, but in 16:9 it uses a more oblong part of the chip to full width. They are true ratios. Pity iMovie doesn't support 16:9...
  16. advres Guest


    Oct 3, 2003
    You are correct.

    If you are going to be getting a NLE you don't want to bother with any of these functions on the camera. They are useless. I figure why reduce the amount of information you are recording. Record everything raw and to all your edits/effects or whatever in the NLE. If you were to record using the "16:9" feature you would be stuck with the black bars forever.
  17. LethalWolfe macrumors G3


    Jan 11, 2002
    Los Angeles
    I'm not an expert, but that doesn't sound right. It doesn't seem cost effective to make a CCD that you'll never use the entire surface of. The camera is a 4:3 camera that has a 16:9 mode. Which means, most likely, it has a 4:3 CCD that has the top and bottom masked off (covered up) when it shoots in 16:9 mode so the exposed area of the CCD has a 16:9 aspect ratio and not a 4:3 aspect ratio. While this does give you an actual 16:9 image it also reduces the quality of the image because you are not useing the entire CCD. The typical "problem" w/16:9 mode on a 4:3 CCD isn't that you aren't getting a 16:9 image, it's the quality hit you take. Of course, depending on what you are shooting the quality hit may be perfectly acceptable.

    If you are shooting w/a 4:3 camera and want your final product to be widescreen you have 3 choices:
    1. Soft Matte - Shoot 4:3 but compose the shots for, let's say, 16:9 and in post add a matte to the top and bottom of the video so only the 16:9 image is visible. It looks fine on 4:3 TVs but if you play it back on a 16:9 TV set it will have the black bars on all 4 sides (the horizontal matte you added in post and vertical "bars" because you are playing a 4:3 image on a 16:9 TV).
    2. Hard Matte - Shoot in your cameras 16:9 mode. This will look fine on 16:9 TV's, although you'll have to make a letterboxed version for 4:3 TV's. You'll also lose image quality (how much depends on what camera).
    3. Anamorphic - Use an anamorphic lenses/adaptors. This will squeeze a 16:9 image to fill the entire 4:3 CCD. This is the best route to go (a true 16:9 image w/o loss in image quality), but anamorphic lenses/adaptors aren't cheap and aren't typically made for consumer cameras.

  18. aswitcher macrumors 603


    Oct 8, 2003
    Canberra OZ

    Well that is correct, but it us true 16:9...
  19. LethalWolfe macrumors G3


    Jan 11, 2002
    Los Angeles
  20. iris_failsafe macrumors 6502


    May 4, 2004
    San Francisco, CA

Share This Page