Digital Video Evolution

From Mini DV to HDV… today's camcorders are cutting edge and top quality for every wallet.

When I sold camcorders to put my way through college, they were bulky, heavy, and the best video picture was still just VHS quality. They rested on one's shoulder, and the experience was like lugging around its broadcast equivalent without the technology boost. That was over twenty years ago. And since then, camcorders have steadily evolved, from two piece behemoths with camera and recorder, to handheld Mini DVs, HDs, and even digital cameras which take 30-second clips in TV quality style, all the while, boosting video and audio quality to broadcast standards and beyond (thanks to high definition). Today, even the modest hobbyists have literal TV studios in the palms of their hands.

Family Style

Those interested in merely capturing those "Kodak moments" on video may not have to look further than their digital still cameras. Today, many digital point and shoot still cameras, like the Kodak Easy Share One or the Canon PowerShot S3 IS, have VGA video capability or 640×480 resolution. Fine for the average television viewing. Grabbing up to 30 frames per second video in and saving to one's SD card is easy, doesn't require another unit when on the go, and can be saved and edited together on a PC using a simple card reader.

But if you're reading Videomaker, that's simply not your style. Even if you are sharing moments with family and friends as opposed to audiences at Sundance and Cannes, you want to have more control while acquiring your image and sound, which requires a camera with more advanced features.

If you're the family producer looking for a sub-$400 camcorder, you don't need to look farther than cameras such as the JVC GR-D350. This Mini DV camcorder has several new features, such as a 32X optical zoom, 16:9 modes and a built-in tele-conversion lens. As users grow into it, the GR-D350 can go from manual to automatic operation at the touch of button. When a video light is not handy or appropriate it has the Auto Illumi-Light feature that illuminates dark scenes. Panasonic's PV-GS32 is all about the zoom. At 28x optical zoom, users can enjoy a full range from wide angle to telephoto. It also has a delicious new feature called Simultaneous Motion Video & Still Picture Recording, where one can capture a still shot directly to an SD card while still videotaping onto Mini DV. A very cool feature. It also comes with a low power LED video light for low light situations, and the standard image stabilization features.

Hobbies to Pass the Time

The all-consuming passions of the hobbyist may cause them to look to the next level. Canon's Optura S1 comes with true widescreen (16:9) capability, 10x optical zoom, image stabilization, and a 2.2 Megapixel CCD. It comes with a built in video light, but also has a Night Mode, where the sensitivity of the camera's CCD is automatically boosted and the shutter speed is lowered in conditions where a video light is not practical.

Based on its Everio hard disk camcorder, but tailored to the Mini DV user, JVCs 3-CCD GR-X5 features individual CCDs for red, green and blue which makes for more vibrant colors, vivid images, and a 5 megapixel still camera. It's a hefty $1,900, but that's what hobbies are all about: spending money in the pursuit of passion.

Major Leagues

Trying to reach the major leagues of feature film production while keeping on a shoestring budget is closer than ever. Canon's XL2 is still a go-to unit in this regard, but Panasonic's AG-DVX100B is turning heads.

At a price of just south of $4,000, the 3-CCD AG-DVX100B offers 24p image capture, camera-to-camera time code sync (great for multi-camera shoots) and a rich film look through Panasonic's CineGamma technology. The AG-DVX100B also has an upgraded on-camera mic for greater sensitivity and a 16:9 Letterbox Display Mode. Other whistles and bells include remotely-controllable focus and iris settings, improved low light recording compared to its predecessors and higher resolution LCD monitor (210,000 pixels) and electronic viewfinder (235,000 pixels).

HD-wise, Panasonic's AG-HVX200 touts itself as the world's first hand-held solid-state Hi-Def Camcorder. Capturing in a mind-boggling 21 video formats, the AG-HVX200 records in high definition 1080i and 720p modes, as well as DVCPro HD quality of 100-mpbs. The camera records video on 8GB P2 cards 64 minutes in DVCPro, 40 minutes in 720p, 16 minutes in 1080/60 and 720/60. P2 cards mount like a regular hard drive from a NLE system's point of view, which eliminates the time-intensive task of transferring footage. That saves tons of time in the edit bay.

The XL H1 is Canon's entry into the Hi-Def market. The XL H1 shoots in 1080i HD resolution, along with frame rates of 60i, 30F and 24F (promises the look and motion of film). One native 16:9 CCD for each of the three primary colors gives the XL H1 1.67M pixels of resolution. The XL H1 uses Mini DV tape to record HDV and standard-definition DV while an SDI out lets you record uncompressed HD (to a connected capture device that can handle uncompressed HD streams). Plus, as with its standard definition cousin the XL2, the shooter has the choice to change lenses.

JVC also gives the cinematographer the added ability to change lenses at will with its ProHD GY-HD100U. Like the XL H1, the HD100U is a small shoulder mount 3-CCD camcorder but features 720p instead of 1080i.

So whether you are just getting your feet wet recording family memories, are ready to move up to the next level of equipment, or are perhaps planning for a future in video production; camcorder technology continues to evolve, offering users superior images, crystal clear sound, and finally solid state recording options at consumer/prosumer price tags. It's a great time to be in the game.


James DeRuvo is producer and editor for a broadcast production company.

Sidebar: Hard Driving in Fast

Cameras are evolving away from tape to the hard drive and more solid state options like memory cards. Sony just came out with its first hard drive camcorder, the DCR-SR100 with Dolby Digital 5.1 channel recording, while Sanyo surprised everyone with its sub-$800 high-definition HD1 which records to SD card (over 40 minutes per 2GB card.) Samsung, too just jumped into the card-based pool and recently released two flash memory-based sports camcorders with 2 LCDs, the 512MB SC-X205L ($500) and the 1GB car SC-X210L ($600.) And JVC has the Everio G series Hard Disk Drive camcorder with models offering wide screen mode.

Toshiba has returned to the consumer camcorder world with its recent release of the gigashot hard drive camcorder, and Hitachi has the 3.3 megapixel DZGX3300A and DZGX3200A, both of which burn on all DVD formats.

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