Archive for Monday, September 16, 2002

Shopping for camcorders can be hectic

September 16, 2002


I was getting my old camcorder ready for the next big Lawrence High volleyball game.

And it struck me hard would the VHS-C tapes I was using even be playable in 10 years?

"Only if we still have the camera and if the tapes don't degrade," my wife said. "It's just like right now with a turntable. If you don't have a turntable, you can't play a record."

I smiled. That sounded like a big "yes" to me.

I took her answer to mean it was OK for me to start shopping around for a new digital camcorder.

Keeping up with tech

One of the biggest reasons I want to make the switch is picture quality. The two main digital formats, miniDV and Digital8 (from Sony), offer higher resolution pictures and sound than analog.

You get 500-plus vertical lines, which is higher than the 380 lines you get from standard broadcast quality.

And you lose no quality when you make duplicate tapes. Also, you can more easily make still photos.

But one of the biggest draws is that most of them have Firewire (IEEE 1394) ports that let you transfer your video to and from your computer.

This allows you to edit your video and also convert it to a form that can be transferred across the Internet, such as an MPEG movie. And you can even burn your video onto a DVD, if you have the right computer tools and software.

So I decided to take a look at what was available in a digital camera for under $1,000 about the price I spent when I got my last analog camcorder.

I really wanted to buy a camera with three image sensing chips, such as the Canon GL-2 MiniDV, used by many professionals. But I didn't think I could justify the $2,800 expense, mainly for home use.

So I limited my search to cameras under $1,000, which generally meant I had to settle for a single chip, 1/4-inch CCD image sensor.


My first stop was the Canon ZR family of MiniDV camcorders, which range in price from about $499 to $669.

The base ZR40 MiniDV has a 2.5-inch LCD flip-out screen, 18x optical zoom and 360x digital zoom, with image stabilization. It also has an analog-in port if you want to convert your old tapes to DV format.

The ZR45 MC 9 ($570) has the same features, plus it stores digital still images in either MultiMedia Cards or SD memory cards. You can store up to 60 high-quality images, or 105 standard-quality images, which can be transferred to your computer with either a USB interface or a card reader.

It also has an analog to digital converter, which lets you bring in analog video over composite video or S-video connections.

The ZR50 ($669) has a 22X optical zoom/440xdigital zoom, and a shoe that lets you add a microphone or a video light.

Sony's Digital8

I also took a look at Sony's DCR-TVR series, which uses the Digital8 format, recording on Hi8 and 8mm tapes.

One of its interesting aspects is it allows you to shoot video in the dark by using a built-in infrared system.

It also uses the IEEE 1394 connection for playing back into your computer.

The five different Sony DCR-TVR series of cameras run from $529 to $775. The base model has a 1/4-inch CCD image sensor chip, with a 20x optical zoom and 560x digital zoom lens.

Other companies

I also looked at the relatively low-priced RCA CC7393 ($495), which uses the MiniDV format. It has IEEE 1394 outputs and inputs, plus an S-Video output for playback. It has a USB output for still images. It also includes a light, which is unusual for a camera in this price range.

It features a 10x optical/400x digital zoom lens.

Panasonic offers its own MiniDV series, the PV-DV line, which ranges in price from $497 on up. JVC also has several MiniDV camcorders that range from just under $500 up.

DVD camcorder

If you're looking for something that pushes digital technology farther than MiniDV or Digital8, you might check out Hitachi's DZ-MV230A, for $879.95.

What's different is that it records to a DVD-RAM disk or a DVD-R disk , rather than to tape.

It has a 1/4-inch single CCD image sensor chip, a 12x optical/240x digital zoom lens, a black-and-white viewfinder and a 2.5-inch LCD flip-out screen.

You can connect it to your computer via a USB connection. And you can view the video on a DVD player.

Just shoot it

Time was running short. And I still hadn't narrowed my search to replace the analog camcorder.

"What time are the games tonight?"

"At 5, 6 and 7," Bonnie told me.

I began charging up the battery to the analog camera and started unwrapping a fresh VHS-C tape. I can convert the tape later into a digital format, or even put it on DVD.

Technology might change over the years in how video is recorded and displayed.

But time and volleyball wait for no one.

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