Which one?

Not a life treatening problem by large, nonetheless something eating up brain cycles. Our camcorder is about to retire after some 7 years of honored service. It is a Sony analog device from (then) budget range. It served quite well to the purpouse, until it gave rather bad results in our [/images/photoalbum/Norvegia/200508/index.html|travel to Norway]. Colors were dull and shots seemed nearly black and white. Maybe that Norway summer wasn’t bright enough for the camera, but we had basically no problem with cameras. Next year we [/images/photoalbum/Greece/200608/index.html|traveled to Greece] and again we weren’t quite satisfied with the shots. This summer we’re going to west USA and we don’t want to risk poor shots, so we’re looking for a new camcorder.
From my understanding this is a sort of critical time in several camcorder technologies – media, definition and sensor.
Most of the camcorders uses tape as storage, either in the DV or miniDV formats. Sony, Panasonic and JVC have started selling Hard Disks based cameras. The hard disk mechanic is simpler than tape (have a look inside a video tape slot if you don’t believe it) and more protected. A MEMS accelerometer senses if the camera is falling and parks the Hard Disk heads in order to avoid major damages. Most of camcorder producers have optical mini-disc (DVD/DVC) cameras in their listings. Although the mechanic is simpler than tape, it has to be much more precise and has lenses to be kept clean (and scratch free).
The real winner in the storage area is, at least based on my thoughts, is the digital flash memory, like SD/HC. This technology is quite mature, but capacity is still limited (4G bytes) for video application. Currently only Panasonic has a top range camcorder with SD/HC but it is missing the viewfinder.
Talking about viewfinders, I find a great shortcoming the lack of this interface in a camcorder. From my experience it is impossible to have a decent view of what you are shooting at under the direct sunlight with the camera monitor. Aside of that all the professional camcorders do have comfortable viewfinders. So I find it nonsensical for producer to remove the viewfinders from top range models. Despite of this Sony, JVC and Panasonic do have such items.
New top range consumer models are now high definition (1080p). From one side this is not so clear to me where the “high” comes from since the number of pixels in the sensor are about the same number of the “low definition” cameras. On the other hand my TV belongs to an era when “High Definition” was something related to analog devices only. My TV is still no flat-screen! So high definition is not a plus to me, but it is just a sign of changing times.
Next, sensors. Traditionally CCD sensors were associated with high performances and better quality. From my understanding CCD are not able to scale up to high definition and thus are being replaced by CMOS, traditionally associated with low quality and every sort of trouble. When I asked to a shop clerk about CCD vs CMOS, he answered that as of today’s technology there is no real difference. It maybe, but professional camcorders are all CCD based.
At this point in time it is quite risky to buy a camcorder. You can get too much on the bleeding edge and got burned (e.g. by choosing a new technology that will have no commercial success and will be shortly dismissed), or being too conservative and buy something that isn’t worth the price. But we have to renew the family camcorder department, so I have to take a decision.
Given that viewfinder is a must and the budget is not unlimited, the choice is quite restricted, Sony is too expensive, JVC has no viewfinders. Panasonic has an interesting previous-generation model the NV-GS500 and Canon has the new generation HV-20. Moreover I found an used semi-pro camcorder in excellent state and at a good price, the Canon XM2.
But this is meat for another post…

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