How to decide which digital video camera format is right for you.
The most important decision that someone can make when purchasing a digital Camcorder is. What digital format should I get? Mini DV? HD SLR? DVD-R? Hard Drive? Flash Media? HDV? ACVHD? Which is best for a Chicago wedding videographer? I will help to explain which format is best for different uses. What would be best for one user is not best for all. Please read below to compare recording formats.
MINI DV camcorders:
The earliest digital recording medium. 6MM matchbook size tape cost $3 for a one hour tape. Record time 60 minutes Standard SP speed 90 minutes LP speed. Camera cost range: $250-$3000. Designed for someone who wants to shoot video to be edited later (Maybe months or years later) on a non-linear editing system IE: Imovie, windows movie maker & Adobe Premiere. The footage is digitized into Imovie by hooking the camera up to the IEEE 1394 “Firewire” connector on a computer and digitized onto a hard drive on the computer in real time.
Advantages: Oldest Digital recording format yields the most compatible equipment and software for editing. Highest quality picture and sound (in standard resolution) least compression than the other recording formats. There is not signal loss when digitizing mini DV footage. Lower battery drain because the tape drive uses less power than DVD-R and Hard Drive units. Easy and inexpensive archival of footage IE: The tapes are inexpensive and they do not need to be re-used for another shoot. With other formats (like Hard Drive recording) the media in the camera is reused and the footage must be archived before editing (or re-shooting on the reusable media) can commence.
Disadvantages: The tape must be played on the camera itself to watch the footage, unlike DVD-R cameras. The tape has to be digitized in real time IE: 1 hour of footage takes 1 hour to digitize into the hard drive of the computer. You have to pay $3 for camera tapes; record time is either 1-hour in Standard Play or 90 minutes on Long Play. The picture quality is the same for both record lengths, but Long Play gets a glitch during edits done in camera.
Bottom Line: Mini DV is great for someone who is going to edit their work and they do not have to archive the footage elsewhere if editing is not going to commence soon. People who do video for a living or can’t edit stuff right away and work on more than one project at a time will like mini DV. Most Professional videograohers who shoot wedding videography use Mini DV or the next category HDV Mini DV. This is the norm in Chicago, New York, L.A. and most of Illinois and the Midwest.
HDV Mini DV Camcorders:
HDV is a high definition version of mini DV. The cameras range from $950 to $9,000 for a high end pro model. HDV cameras can shoot on standard mini DV or HDV High Definition using a more expensive special Mini DV tape that costs $13 to $20 as opposed to the $3 tape that mini DV uses. The Camera shoots a special version of high definition that is compressed using “MPEG2” compression that allows 4 times the resolution of a high Definition signal to use the same 25 megabytes per second data rate that standard mini DV uses. There are several Professional camcorders from Sony, Cannon and JVC that shoot HDV on a mini DV tape they range in price from $2600 to $9000
Advantages: Same as mentioned for Mini DV, The picture is quality is better and is more compatible with editing systems than “ACVHD” (a different version of compressed High Definition). HDV footage can be converted to standard resolution for viewing or standard editing. HDV footage can be converted to either HDcam, HD DVD or Blu-Ray DVD so it is the most compatible or the High Definition formats and editing systems.
Disadvantages: Uses more expensive tape than Mini DV. The cameras are more expensive than “ACVHD” high definition camcorders. Battery drain is more than mini DV but is still less than Hard Drive and DVD-R cameras. All high definition cameras (HDV included) are worse in low light than standard definition cameras because they have more pixels (4 times more) sharing the same amount of light coming through the lens. Editing HDV footage puts more strain on the computer, so there are more technical problems on computers that edit HDV footage, many times computes must be upgraded to edit HDV footage. In order to enjoy the footage in full high definition you must burn either a Blu-ray or HD DVD Disc and both the burners and the blank discs are pretty pricey.
The Bottom Line: HDV Cameras are for the professional or serious video consumer who wants to “future proof” his camera purchase and be compatible with high definition technology. The purchaser should bring extra lights for High Definition shoots because the camera needs more light. Milestone Photo and video an expert wedding videographer in Chicago uses HDV.
Hard Drive Camcorders (HDD)
Hard Drive Cameras are a newer technology than Mini DV. They range from $400 to $1500. The Hard Drive camera replaces the tape drive of the Mini DV with an 8 Gigabyte to 80 Gigabyte non-removable hard drive for recording. These cameras don’t require media because you reuse a built in hard drive every time you shoot video. When you want to edit a your footage, you hook a USB2 cable to the camera from your editing computer and transfer the footage into the computer’s hard drive at 4 times “real time” or you can edit using the built in hard drive on the camera. These camcorders can shoot at different quality levels. On a 30-gigabyte camcorder, you can shoot 7 hours of High quality footage, 15 hours at standard quality & 37 hours at economy quality. Some hard drive cameras can also shoot on High Definition as well. These cameras are knows as “AVCHD” which is yet another compressed version of High Definition that uses “MPEG 4” which is a lower quality type of compression than the previously mentioned “HDV”. More about “AVCHD” later.
Advantages: variable quality levels variable record times. Some of these cameras can do simple editing without a computer connected. The record time without changing tapes is the longest. You can shoot a 12-hour concert without changing tapes or missing a beat. No discs or tapes to buy for a shoot. Footage is transferred to an editing non-linear computer editor at four times “real time” or better (on lower quality settings).
Disadvantages: Since you are re-using the record media for every shoot, once you have used up the camera’s internal hard drive, you cannot record any more footage until the internal camera hard drive is transferred to another hard drive for archiving. If the editing session is delayed for months the footage must take up valuable space on the hard drive of the editors computer. There is no non-volatile archive of the footage like tape based shooting (mini DV) If the camera is bumped while recording, the hard drive can “crash” which may ruin all the footage that is recorded on the internal hard drive on the camera. The battery drain is worse than Mini DV, Mini DV HDV & flash memory but is better than DVD-R
Bottom Line: Consumer or hobbyists who want to record long programs without interruption, and are only working on one project at a time will like Hard Drive Camcorders. It would be nice if the hard drive on these cameras was switchable by the camcorder’s user to make it easier to archive footage since hard drives are getting cheaper and cheaper. Alas these camcorders require a technician to replace a hard drive. There are some external professional hard drive units that can attach to mini DV camera’s “firewire” connector to make a camera be both a Mini DV camera and hard drive camera that gives those cameras the best of both worlds.
Flash Memory Camcorders: SD, Compact Flash, Memory Stick, P2 cards
These are the, smallest, newest and most robust technology for camcorders available. Although HD SLRs use flash memory too, I treat them separate below because they are quite a different animal. They range from $60 all the way up to $12000 for the newest High Definition Flash memory pro camera from Sony and Panasonic and RED. The recording device of these camcorders is flash memory, identical to the memory used in consumer digital camcorders. This solid-state chip records footage digitally similar to (previously mentioned) hard drive. This chip has no moving parts and the data is not lost when the re-usable media is removed from the camera and replaced with a fresh card. Secure Digital (SD Card), compact Flash or Memory Stick are the most popular types of cards used. Since flash cards (at the time of this article) can be up to 32 gigabytes (cost of an 8 gig card $85) the record time is less than with hard drive cameras (also they usually compress the video more to fit more data). They are loaded into a computer for editing much like a digital camera loads photos. Once the footage is in the non-linear editing computer the card may be erased and reused to shoot something else. The media is reused similar to a Hard drive Camera except the media can be switched with a blank memory card when blank media runs out. Some flash memory cameras can also shoot on High Definition as well. These cameras are knows as “AVCHD” which is yet another compressed version of High Definition that uses “MPEG 4” which is a lower quality type of compression than the previously mentioned “HDV”. More about “AVCHD” later.
Advantages: This technology makes it possible to make the smallest and most robust camcorders possible. Similar to hard drive cameras these cameras have variable quality levels variable record times. The advantage over hard drive camcorders is that flash Media camcorder’s record media is user replaceable, so multiple SD cards can be used to archive footage, with hard drive camcorders you can’t switch hard drives. Also you can either transfer footage into a computer using the camera and a USB 2 cable or you can put the actual secure digital card into a fast card reader for lightning fast transfer into a computer. Since the chip has no moving parts it has the least battery drain of all camcorders; sharply hitting the camera while recording cannot cause the flash memory chip to “crash” like on a hard drive. This is the most robust of all recording media but the cost per gigabyte (or minute) is the highest. Some of these flash memory units can also do some simple editing without a computer. Some expensive plasma TVs have a slot for flash media, some units can play video directly from the flash memory onto the plasma screen. The price of flash memory is dropping faster than the cost of hard drive memory, so media will cost much less in a year or so.
Disadvantages: These cameras use expensive reusable memory that must be purchased before using the camera; unlike hard drive camcorders that come with the hard drive media included. The price of an 8-gigabyte memory card is $84 and it will record at the highest quality for about 3 hours and the lowest quality for 15 hours. Because the reusable media must be archived on the editors computer; that means the if editing session is delayed for months, the footage must take up valuable space on the hard drive of the editors computer. Because flash memory is more expensive than hard drive camcorders, most users shoot at lower quality levels than users who use hard drive camcorders. If you want to shoot a lot of hours without downloading to a computer in between shots, be prepared to spend a lot of money for memory. This may be a moot point because the prices of flash memory are falling very fast.
Bottom Line: Flash media is the future of digital video and music; just look what it did to digital cameras and MP3 players. Consumers and hobbyists who don’t need a lot of record time, want a small camera that is robust and inexpensive, and can archive their footage on an external hard drive, will love flash media camcorders for their speed, simplicity any small size. One note: When flash memory drops to the point of being less expensive than a hard drive memory, hard drive camcorders will be obsolete. In the future all camcorders will use this technology for recording.
HD SLR Still Cameras that also shoot super high quality HD Videos (Newest addition!)
HD DSLRs have been around since January 2008 and are the latest technology for the Wedding videographer, photographer or filmmaker working in Chicago New York or LA. DSLR’s This type of Camera shoots Photos and high quality HD video using the same camera and the same flash based recording media. DSLR’s have a HUGE image sensor that is 20 times the size of many professional 3-chip digital video camcorders. The difference is the DSLR has only ONE CHIP, a really BIG chip that enables the use of higher optical quality glass lenses that are used in SLR digital photography. The advantage is that since the image sensor is larger, the video created has better resolution, better dynamic range and less lens distortion than smaller chipped 3-chip camcorders. Since the Photo/Video cameras can take all Canon Or Nikon photo lenses (depending on camera model), many different photo” looks” (using photography lenses) can be applied to wedding videography. One of the best uses of these dual use cameras is to shoot using a wide open F-stop that yields a shallow depth of field. This feature makes the wedding videographer capable of having a bride and groom be in focus in the foreground and have the background be very out of focus. This out of focus area is called Bokeh. The wedding videographer can also rack-focus from a close foreground object to a distant giving a cool cinematic look that is difficult with a standard 3 chip video camcorder. Most of these dual use cameras record onto SD or Compact flash using the AVCHD format (see AVCHD below) which is a version of MPEG 4 and H264. These cameras do not record very good sound quality (some cheaper units have no external mic input) and most wedding videographers use a separate audio recording device and sync the sound latter. The Canon 5D mark II is the highest quality HDSLR from Canon it is the only HD SLR that uses a full size image sensor. The Canon 7D and the Nikon D3100, D5100, D7000 all shoot HD video but have a smaller image sensor with a 28.8 mm diagonal image sensor. The Canon 5D mark II has a 33 mm diagonal image sensor.
Advantages: HD SLRs get better raw picture quality than any other type of video camera. The ability to change lenses and use incredible capable photo lenses makes these cameras only as good as the lenses you are using. The ability to control focus and aperture is better than most video cameras. The ability to switch between shooting photography and videography with the very same camera makes a wedding photographer able to shoot photos and video with the same camera and same expensive lenses. This shooting photo and video with the same camera is called “photo and video fusion”. Milestone photo and video is one of the fist companies to shoot both photo and video fusion with the same camera!
Disadvantages: HD SLRs us a photo CMOS sensor. These sensors can get hot from extended video shots causing the sensor to overheat for longer shots. The first generation HD SLRs could only record for up to 5 minutes per shot, like the Nilon D90. The newer HD SLRs can shoot up to 20 minutes, this is a problem for shooting longer programs. Also some of the AVCHD files these cameras create, can be difficult for some non-linear editors to handle. Other things that may pose a challenge for a videographer are: the cameras do not record very good sound, so most wedding videographers opt to record the sound on a separate camcorder or sound system. Also, since still camera zoom don’t have a power zoom, you can’t smoothly zoom into our out of an object. Zooming should be done between shots. The autofocus system on the Nikon HD SLRs have autofocus that is not as well adapted for video than a real video camera. All the Canon HD SLRs can’t use the autofocus on the camera or lens at all. This makes the wedding videographer/cinematographer have to focus constantly to keep the objects he is shooting in focus. These cameras work best when used with other conventional camcorders. Also the form factor is not made for shooting video. The ergonomics of these cameras are not made for shooting video. You must get a LCD magnifier (hoodman or Zacuto) or hood for shooting outside and to see if you are in focus.
Bottom Line: These cameras get better picture quality than anything else out there. The ability to use (and change) photo lenses gives these cameras great optical powers. There is a trade-off with the disadvantage of recording on separate audio equipment, not being able to zoom smoothly and the limited recording time. These cameras are best used in conjunction with other types of camcorders on this list.
AVCHD Compression used in flash, HDD and DVD-R camcorders:
advanced video codec high definition. This is a high definition compression format that compresses the high definition video so it can be recorded (for presentation) to an inexpensive DVD-R media instead of the much more expensive Blu-Ray media. This is the only way to record a video for presentation, without using a pricey blu-ray burner, which costs $800. Also the blu-ray media itself costs $20 for a 25-gigabyte disc. This less expensive type of high definition video uses inexpensive .40-cent discs but they can be played on expensive ($400) Blu-Ray high definition disc players at a lower quality than HDV footage converted to Blu-ray disc. These AVCHD recordings are intended to be played on a Blu-ray payer or on a computer equipped with special software. This compression technology is incorporated into some of the more expensive hard drive, flash media and DVD-R camcorders so you can burn a direct output of your unedited footage directly onto a standard inexpensive DVD-R burner at high definition quality.
ADVANTAGES: AVCHD enables the cost conscious consumer to shoot and present unedited high definition video without needing expensive blu-ray media ($20 per disc) or an expensive blu-ray burner (burner cost $800) Because the data rate is low, an inexpensive AVCHD flash media camcorder can shoot 43 minutes of high definition on an inexpensive 4 gigabyte secure digital card.
Disadvantages: AVCHD signals are not intended to be edited later although imovie intends on adding AVCHD support to their next upgrade. AVCHD is much lower quality than HDV compression for high definition discussed earlier. ACVHD has a data rate of 15 megabytes per second and HDV has a data rate of 25 megabytes per second. ACVHD is not compatible with blu-ray competitor, HD-DVD. However HDV high definition MPEG 2 compression is compatible with BOTH blu-ray AN HD DVD. Like all High definition camcorders, you need extra light to get an acceptable picture from these camcorders.
The Bottom Line: Although AVCHD is a cost cutting way of presenting high definition videos without the cost of Blu-ray media, when blu-ray becomes more popular and cheaper. I think that AVCHD may fall by they wayside except with small flash media camcorders that need a lot of compression to record to a small flash memory card.
Mini DVD-R, Mini Blu-Ray optical drives:
These camcorders are meant to shoot a finished product that is ready to play on a standard home DVD or Blu-Ray player. MINI DVD-R camcorders use media that not meant to be edited later. They use a mini 1.4-gigabyte mini version of a full size 4.7 gigabyte DVD. They range in price from $250 for a basic DVD-R model to $1400 for a Blu-Ray high definition model. If you are the kind of person who just wants to shoot video and enjoy it right away without doing any editing, this is the camera recording format for you. The record media is reasonably inexpensive for the Mini DVD-R about $2.50 for a disc that will record for 30 minutes the cost is $5 per hour (media cost) compared to $3 per hour cost of mini DV. The media for Blu-Ray discs is not readily available but when available it will be quite expensive. All Blu-Ray disc camcorders can also burn Mini DVD-R discs.
Advantages: These camcorders can play on any home or computer based DVD player the mini DVD-R sits in the inner ring of any DVD player. These DVDs can be copied and archived to any other DVD media in minutes including less expensive full size DVD-R media. These camcorders have a similar purpose to full size VHS camcorders of the 90s whose convenience is popular because homeVHS and DVD units are ready to watch the footage almost instantly.
Disadvantages: These Camcorders are not for shooting programs that will be edited later. It is a pain in the neck to try to digitize DVD footage and some non-linear systems force you to hook up a DVD player’s analog output to the analog input of the non-linear computer for editing purposes. If you will edit do not get DVD-R or Blu-Ray . DVD-R camcorders have the worst battery drain because the constantly spinning DVD uses the most power than any other camcorder format including hard drive camcorders.
Bottom Line: Although DVD-R camcorders are among the best selling in the consumer market, many people get them because they are impatient and want to see the footage on a home DVD player instantly, for these people DVD-R is great. Some of these impatient people may later realize that they want to edit their footage with imovie or some other non-linear system. It is then; that these people who choose DVD-R realize that one of the other recording formats would have been a better choice.
Multiple Format Camcorders:
After all this information is thrown at you, you might be thinking: I am confused, do I want flash media or DVD-R? Do I want DVD-R or hard drive? Some companies answer this question with versatile multiple format camcorders. Hitachi makes camcorders that record on both DVD-R AND Flash media; they also make a model that records on both DVD-R and Hard Drive. Sony makes several camcorders that record on BOTH a hard drive and flash media when the hard drive is full. Panasonic has a flash media camcorder that has an external 40 gigabyte hard drive that runs on batteries and it can back up the footage from a smaller flash media card in the field. Sony makes a battery operated external portable DVD-R recorder that can be hooked up to any mini DV camcorder so you can record on DV or DVD-R or both. For professionals, Panasonic makes a $6000 camcorder that shoots on mini DV tapes for standard resolution. If you want high definition you can shoot on “P2” 32-gigabyte flash cards at various high definition resolutions.
The Bottom line: Before everyone switches to the latest technology: Flash media, many people will be buying digital video cameras that give the amateur or professional a choice in recording formats. This feature will make the choice of which camcorder to buy easier for the wary consumer.
8 Millimeter and Digital 8 camcorders:
8MM is the last analog format to die a slow death at the stiff competition from the many digital video formats listed above. 8MM camcorders are similar to mini DV camcorders but the quality is much worse because they are analog. The cost savings over mini DV camcorders is only $30 so I would not recommend 8 Millimeter cameras or their bastard brother “Digital 8”, which uses analog 8 MM tapes and records them digitally using mini DV’s type compression. The problem with Digital 8 camcorders is very few people have digital 8 so if you break the camcorder, you have to find someone that has this unusual camcorder to do anything with the footage. People who have alot of old 8mm tapes may like this type of camera because it can play their old tapes, but the lack of compatibility may spell the end of digital 8.
Hopefully I haven’t confused people who are trying to decide which camcorder to get.
Copyright 2011 By Robert M. Busch and Milestone Photo & Video All rights reserved. No Part of this article my be used without written permission from Robert M. Busch.
Copyright 20011by Robert Busch no copying or reprint without my written permission.