Buying a Camcorder

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    • #73376

      My old Canon HV20 has died and gone to camcorder heaven. I want to take a step up from that to something better.

      I want good image quality, build quality, lots of control over settings. I especially want control over focusing – focus regions, speed of autofocus, focus behaviour when tracking moving subjects, etc.

      The MAIN use for this will be model and dance photography – see my website at, especially the last few galleries to get an idea of my still photography – I want to start adding motion to those subjects. But I'll probably also take the camera with my when I travel, so it should be good outside the studio, too.

      My price range is $1500-$2000, but probably on the high-end.  I'm looking at the XA20 and AC90, for examples.


      I'm looking for reviews of the caliber I'm used to seeing on places like DPReview for DSLR's.  They have long, detailed reviews where even a prosumer DSLR like the EOS 70D gets 20 pages and it's in a format that can be directly compared to reviews of competing cameras.    I can't find anything like that camcorders.  And I can't find any head-to-head comparisons with these.  But I don't want to spend $2000 and get a camcorder home and then say, "gee I wish I'd known about that!…"


      Thanks in advance.

    • #209858

      Hi PL – the best camcorder comparison site I've found is slashcam in Germany.  They have a great comparison chart that I use a lot.  You can select the models you want to compare, and slashcam will give you a side-by-side of dozens of important features.

      The comparison tool has two downsides, though.  First, it is translated from German, so you have to read it carefully – and second, slashcam has been slow to add some of the newer models to the chart.

      That said, here is a side-by-side of the $1610 Panasonic AC90 and the $1499 Canon XA10 (they haven't added the $1999 XA20 yet):

      Another good site for camcorder comparisons is the camcorder section of – here is a nice review of the XA20's big brother, the $2499 XA25, for example:

      But is a consumer-oriented site, and their reviews of pro camcorders are more the exception than the rule.

      All of that said, a traditional camcorder may not be the best choice for artistic dance and figure work.  Have you considered a large sensor or cinema camera?  Your still photos make excellent use of wide dynamic range and shallow depth of field  – and it would be a real challenge to get the "look" seen in your still photos from either the AC90 or the XA20.

      Here are some examples of what I'm talking about from the $995 (body only) Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (all shot in RAW, as your photographs probably were):





      The BMPCC is more difficult to shoot with than a camcorder, but the image quality makes it worth it (at least for me).  So I bought one and put a loupe and a pistol grip on it and use it like a Super 8 camcorder πŸ™‚



      If you really need fast autofocus and continuous tracking of moving subjects, you may want to consider the $990 (body only) Panasonic GH3.  Here is what this camera can do in a dance setting:




      This camera is very much like a camcorder – with fast autofocus, compatibility with power zooms, a bright, clear video viewfinder, a headphone jack and unlimited (hours long) continuous recording.  I have one of these cameras too.


      Its little brother, the $555 (on sale, with kit lens) Panasonic G6, doesn't have a headphone jack, but can produce images like these:



      Contrast that with the "TV like" images from a small sensor camcorder such as the much more expensive Panasonic AG-AC90:



      Or the even more expensive XA20:



      I have a decent prosumer camcorder (a 2010 era Panasonic TM900), but since I bought my large sensor cameras, the camcorder pretty much sits on the shelf gathering dust.


      Hope this is helpful and good luck with your decision!



      Hybrid Camera Revolution




    • #209860

      Thanks for your detailed response!   I've seen those cameras on B&H and other sites but I don't know anything about them.   How do you view and compose with one of them?    What kind of lenses do they take?


      I think a large sensor conventional camcorder is out of my price range.


      In my still photography I have 3 DLSR bodies, all Nikons, and about a dozen Nikon lenses.   One of the bodies is a D800 which can shoot video and the results are very nice but I find that a DSLR sucks ergonomically for shooting video, especially run-n-gun style outside the studio.


      Thanks for your comments!


    • #209864

      I completely understand your challenge – you want large sensor cinematic quality and camcorder ergonomics  – on a DSLR budget.  Me too πŸ™‚


      To answer your questions:


      1. The Blackmagics are LCD-only cameras (no viewfinders) – so you have to buy a loupe or an electronic viewfinder (EVF) to compose, especially outdoors.   The Panasonics have built-in EVFs – just like camcorders.  


      2. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BPCC) and the Panasonic GH3 and G6 have "micro 4/3s" mounts.  Any Panasonic or Olympus or Sigma micro 4/3 lens will fit these cameras.  So will your NIkon lenses, with an inexpensive adapter.


      I have a traditional camcorder (a Panasonic TM900), as well as the BPCC and the Panasonic GH3.  Ergonomically, the GH3's EVF and autofocus make it just as easy to use for run and gun as the camcorder.


      I saw your separate thread on stepping up from the XA20  – I will try to help with a few thoughts on large sensor camcorders there,





      Hybrid Camera Revolution

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