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Best HD Camcorder For Indie Filmaking!

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Maurice Ali

Joined: 14 Nov 2003
Posts: 7715
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

PostPosted: Sun Sep 09, 2007 7:49 pm    Post subject: Best HD Camcorder For Indie Filmaking! Reply with quote

Best HD Camcorder For Indie Filmaking!

By Maurice Ali

With the decisions like that of the Toronto International Film Festival to only accept High-Definition video as minium standard in 2008; small production houses like Fortress were forced to accept this new standard and prepared for it. With that in mind, I had to pick a camcorder that could give us the highest quality image at the lowest cost, not an easy task.

The Contenders:

The Sony HVR-V1U

1. Sony Sony HVR-Z1U/Sony HVR-V1U - The Z1 was one of the earliest HDV camcorders and at almost three years of age was a bit too old to purchase. The V1U was the new camcorder with the new CMOS chips and this was why I purchased the camcorder first. I should tell you that I was biased to Sony as our PD170 was perfect in all aspects of operation. Such was not the case with the V1U. This camcorder had the small quarter inch sensors and CMOS is noisier than CCD and the smaller chips (as opposed to one third inch). So you had poor light gathering CMOS sensors because of size and noisy by nature equals poor performance. This camcorder lasted only one day before rejection. At the end of the day, it is only the image that matters and a poor image is unacceptable. I remember looking carefully at the image on a large 48" HD TV at my parent's place and having my dad say that I should move back and it would look better - nope.....

2. AG-HVX200 - The Panasonic was the evolution of the indie filmaker's favorite camcorder - the DVX100. The HVX200 records on DVCPRO which is not as compressed as HDV found on Sony and Canon camcorders. Because of this, the camcorder cannot fit all the data on mini-DV tape (that is still used in the HVX200 for Standard Definition and Sony and Canon HDV camcorders), so you must either capture to a portable hard-drive or Panasonic P2 cards (each at 800 to 2,000 dollars for 18 - 32 minutes per card). This camcorder has the best lens and the most format choices (we will spare you the details) and control of any other contender. Since the camcorder averages and extra 1,500 for the camcorder alone and you must add P2 cards along with everything else, the camcorder becomes the most expensive in our group and almost double the cost to operate than the cheapest. Because of this cost and the unavailability of P2 cards and work flow hassles; the Panasonic was discarded, but ultimately would have been our second choice.

3. JVC GY-HD110U - the camcorder used on the hit series 24! But listening to users gripe about the problems of accurate image reproduction in less than contrived situations is troublesome. I had a chance to buy a used one at a very attractive cost, but I noticed a few things. First is the the cold shoe was well used for a new camcorder, this told me the CCD's really needed the light and graininess or darkness would occupy much of our shots as we live in the dark at FOF! Generally most HD camcorders need much light but in some cases it is just too much hassle. This was the only shoulder mounted model, though large shoulder mounted camcorders are slowly losing the notion of superiority over the smaller forms..... The JVC was third.....

The Canon XHA1

4. Canon XHA1 - This was the camcorder I got after returning the Sony. This is the one you slowly read between the lines and see as the giant killer of camcorders. This is the one you see people who work in the industry using. I was hesitant to buy the Canon as quality control was always an issue unlike the Sony. However the image is king and the Canon gives the best image short of a 60,000 dollar camera at the present time! The plastic is questionable and such - but that image. I showed some video on the HD TV and came to within inches of the screen and it looked like the camera's resolution was better than the TV's ability to display! The camcorder had it's problems. First was that the camera only had onboard microphones unlike the shotgun that was found on the Sony and JVC; but is did have XLR inputs and a shotgun microphone holder. I spent extra dollars on a Rode NTG-1 microphone and had one week of grief. The camera has some horrible internal harmonics when used and no matter much isolation material I used to mount the shotgun microphone, a very noticeable hum would be heard. I resolved this by buying a suspension for the microphone that fitted in the camera's shotgun holder as can be seen below.

The new mount!

The other gripe was the bad zoom ring, but for newbies like us, the servo zoom is one of the best with 16 speeds and variable! The Canon seems to be the best in low light , but I included a low slung permanent light on the cold shoe. I don't need it all that often but it is there all the same and puts out 10/20/30 watts, a dispersion dome seems an easy fit to this unit (we shall see). The camera also has the most adjustments second to the HVX200 and as such it is rapidly becoming the favorite selection of indie film makers.

So the Canon was it, and so ends my two weeks of hell making sure our purchase was the right on. Buying camcorders is an exercise in obsolescence as the technology keeps changing. However, after the Sony CMOS fiasco; I will stay clear of these sensors until they get the technology right. Anyway, that was my experience buying at this moment in time. I now go back to my usual duties and the camcorder goes into the equipment pool for use in our productions.
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