Digital video camcorders/cameras by Matt Ottewill (Oct 2010)

A Panasonic ACVHD consumer camcorder

AVCHD camcorder

At the time of writing, consumer and professional hi-definition camcorders and cameras are evolving and replacing SD formats. There are many types in terms of codecs, file formats and recording media, and we have attempted to summarise them on this page.

One thing is for sure, HD is the future and unless you are planning low res internet delivered video only, or are on a budget, you should be thinking about buying and using HD technologies.

A top of the range Red camera

AVCHD camcorder

Hi-def consumer camcorder models

If you want to make video but are not a professional, here are a few useful pointers to consider when buying a camcorder ...

  • Your video editing software must be able to handle the codec/file format your camcorder creates so check before you buy
  • Also research the minimum specification for an editing system, some file formats/codecs can be very challenging for a desktop PC or Mac without additional hardware acceleration
  • Range of recording media includes, tape, hard drive and memory cards
  • Camcorders that record to DVD should be avoided if they use the old MPEG2 codec/file format
  • Its a good idea to buy a camcorder that can record at the full 1920w x 1080h resolution
  • CCD is being replaced by CMOS which work better under low light conditions.
  • If you do buy a CCD model, single CCD models have vastly inferior colour fidelity to 3 CCD one.

A word about DSLR's

Unless you've been living in a cave it can't have escaped your notice that many Digital SLR's offer a HD video recording mode and many video makers a choosing them in preference to a video camcorder. Here's some pros and cons ...

DSLR's
Pros Cons

CCDs are typically larger than camcorders, therefore ...

  • they are better in low light conditions
  • colours can be more vibrant
  • they can handle a shallower depth of field (important for film work, where focus is used to direct the viewers attention)
  • can't record for extended periods of time (file size limit)
  • can overheat
  • poor audio facilities (no professional XLR mic ins or level controls, headphone outs etc)
  • hard to hold for extended periods of time

 

Sony Z1 HDV camcorder

AVCHD camcorder

Camcorder/camera round-up (Oct 2010)

The following table shows most of the primary current camcorder technologies in rough order of quality (worst at top). Individual manufactures have developed a wide variety of file format, storage and codec "types". Because a camcorder/camera is where video is first captured and compressed, the codecs they use often determine the codec used throughout the complete edit.

 

 

 

Type Record medium Codec Data rate (max) Res-olution CCDs Edit on PC/Mac? Comments
Consumer - standard def
Consumer - DVD DVD Meg-2 - PAL & NTSC interlaced 1 & 3 CCDs No Pros ... Useful if you want to watch recordings immediately on your DVD player & TV. Cons ... can't easily transfer to a computer to edit.
Consumer - Flash memory Flash memory cards Mpeg-2 / Mpeg-4 - 640x480 interlaced 1 CCD Yes & no Pros ... Compact, easy to transfer but low quality and not compatible with all editing software
Consumer - Hard disk Hard drives Mpeg-2 - PAL & NTSC interlaced 1 CCD Yes but awkward Pros ... Non linear access to recordings. Good quality. Cons ... Awkward to transfer.
MiniDV (up to £500) MiniDV tape cassette DV 210Mb per min PAL & NTSC interlaced 1 CCD Yes Pros ... Good tried and tested format. It works! Computers fast enough now to offer real time rendering. Great compatibility.
MiniDV (over £500) MiniDV tape cassette DV 210Mb per min PAL & NTSC interlaced 3 CCD Yes Pros ... Good tried and tested format. It works! Computers fast enough now to offer real time rendering. Great compatibility. Great colour fidelity.
Prosumer - standard def
DV-Cam DV-Cam and MiniDV tape DV - PAL & NTSC interlaced 3 CCD Yes Pros ... Good tried and tested format. It works! Computers fast enough now to offer real time rendering. Great compatibility. Great colour fidelity. Robust tape format.
DVC-Pro DVC-Pro tape DV & high quality mode - PAL & NTSC interlaced 3 CCD Yes Pros ... Good tried and tested format. It works! Computers fast enough now to offer real time rendering. Great compatibility. Great colour fidelity. Robust tape format. Broadcast quality.
Pro-sumer - hi def
DSLRs Memory card MOV (Video: H.264 / MPEG-4 AVCSound: 16-bit linear PCM at 48khz) 48Mbps 1920×1080 (1080p, Full HD, High Definition, 24p) CMOS Yes Many manufacturers are adding HD video capabilities to their stills cameras and many can offer image quality comparable or greater than entry level camorders albeit with limited sound and accessory options.
AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec Hi Definition) Memory cards & hard drive MPeg-4/H.264 17-36Mbps 1920x1080 1 & 3 Yes Excellent cost effective entry level prosumer Sony/Panasonic format supported by Final Cut Pro. Used for Blu-Ray, Sky etc
AVCCAM / NXCAM (Panasonic & Sony) Memory cards AVC 24Mbps 1920x1080 3 large chip Yes Good for low budget shoot.
HDV (Sony & JVC) DV tape sized tape & MiniDV tape MPeg2 19-25Mbps 1440x1080 1 & 3 Yes Most popular camcorder is Sony Z1. Not really good enough for hi-prod value stuff like drama, but is used by BBC for news gathering, wildlife and documentaries.
Professional - hi def broadcast
XDCAM (Sony) Optical discs and memory cards MPeg2 25-50Mbps 1440/1920 x1080 - Yes with intermediate codec Entry level true broadcast quality.
DVCProHD (Panasonic) Memory cards AVC intro 100Mbps 1920x1080 - Yes with intermediate code Used by BBC
HDCAM (Sony) Tape cassette MPeg2/4 144Mbps 1440/1920 x1080 - Yes with intermediate code Used by BBC
Professional - hi def broadcast and film
Red Memory card Redcode / Wavelet 336Mbps 4096x2304 - Yes with intermediate code Superb quality, awkward transcode/edit process
Arri Hard drive ArriRAW / Apple ProRes 422HQ, 4444 or uncompressed 3Gbps 2880x1620 - Yes with intermediate code