Beyond the Office [Making Movies: Choosing a Camcorder, Part 2 - 05/03/2005]

Discussion in 'DVD Video' started by Ablang, May 6, 2005.

  1. Ablang

    Ablang Guest

    May 3rd, 2005

    Making Movies: Choosing a Camcorder, Part 2

    PC World Contributor Richard Baguley

    Camcorders are rather like people, at least in some respects. There
    are tall ones, short ones, wide ones, thin ones, and ones with
    odd-looking lumpy bits. There are even ones that come in different
    colors, although (much like people) the colors don't make much
    difference to what's inside. And, much like picking a friend, choosing
    the right camcorder can be a confusing business--but only if you don't
    know what to look for.

    Last month, I looked at the different media that camcorders can record
    to, including Recordable DVD, MiniDV, and memory cards:

    This month I'm looking at the different types of camcorders, and the
    pros and cons of each.

    There are three main styles: palm, or pocket-sized models that fit in
    the palm of your hand; hand, which are larger and meant to be held in
    one hand, with a strap; and shoulder, the biggest ones that sit on
    your shoulder. Each of these types has its own strengths and

    Palm Style

    Pro: Small, can be held and controlled with one hand.
    Con: LCD screens are smaller than those on hand models; lesser-used
    controls may be difficult to access.
    Recommended for: People who value portability and ease of use more
    than features.

    Small, svelte, and shiny palm camcorders elicit admiring glances
    wherever they go. Models such as the $600 Sony DCR-PC55 or the $800
    Canon Optura 500 are small enough to fit into a pocket, but can do
    pretty much everything that their larger brethren can. They are also
    light: Most weigh less than 10 ounces.

    But there's a downside: The smaller designs allow for only a small LCD
    screen, typically 2.5 inches or less on the diagonal. The devices can
    hold a limited number of buttons, so while you can operate the basic
    controls with the thumb and fingers of the hand holding the camcorder,
    infrequently used features tend to be hidden away in on-screen menus
    or on buttons on the left side that require using the other hand.
    While this might not be a problem for most people, it can be annoying
    if you frequently change settings such as the shooting mode (for going
    from outdoors to indoors, for instance) and you need to dip into an
    on-screen menu to do it.

    Palm models also tend to have a smaller zoom range than the larger
    ones: They typically have a maximum optical zoom of 10X, while
    hand-style models can go up to 20X.

    Also, while these very small camcorders are well suited for people
    with small hands, they can be uncomfortable for those with larger
    hands, who often find their fingers sitting over the microphone on the
    top. The microphone can be a problem too: If it is located on the top
    of the case, it can pick up the voice of the user, drowning out the
    sounds that you really want to record.

    For pricing and specs on the Sony DCR-PC55 and the Canon Optura 500,
    go to the PC World Product Finder:

    Sony DCR-PC55

    Canon Optura 500

    Hand Style

    Pro: Still smallish, but LCD screens are larger than those of palm
    models; more comfortable for people with larger hands.
    Con: Heavier and bulkier than palm models.
    Recommended for: Those who want more control or a bigger screen and
    don't mind a slightly larger and heavier camcorder.

    The great majority of the camcorders that you'll see on the market
    fall into this category, Models such as the $370 Sony HC21 or the $460
    JVC GR-DF550 are bigger than the palm models, but still small enough
    to fit into one hand. Generally speaking, they use a strap that fits
    around the hand to secure the camera--a nice touch if you're videoing
    a roller coaster ride and don't want to drop several hundred dollars
    worth of equipment when you start plummeting down.

    There are usually a couple of buttons under the thumb, for recording
    and zoom. You can operate the basic controls of the camera with one
    hand, although you may need the other hand to access menus and change

    Hand-style camcorders also generally have big, bright LCD screens.
    Some come with 3-inch or bigger screens for playing back the action or
    showing off the still images that many of them allow you to capture.
    Although the weight of individual models varies, they typically run
    between 10 and 20 ounces--light enough to carry around for an extended
    period of time.

    There are a large range of designs within this category, so it is
    important to try them and see how they feel. Though the larger size of
    these camcorders is an advantage, it can also be a problem: You'll
    need to buy a proper camcorder case to carry this type of
    model--unless you have very large pockets. You can tote a hand-style
    camcorder on a strap around your neck, but this makes you look like a
    tourist and makes a tempting target for thieves.

    For pricing and specs on the Sony HC21 and the JVC GR-DF550, go to our
    Product Finder:

    Sony HC21

    JVC GR-DF550

    Shoulder Style

    Pro: Best video quality; more expandable than other models.
    Con: Heavy; can be awkward to use; expensive.
    Recommended for: Professional and serious videographers and those who
    want ultimate control of the recorded video.

    You might not see shoulder-mounted cameras such as the Canon XL2 at
    your local electronics store, but they are worth considering if you
    are serious about video. These camcorders give you much more control
    over the process of recording video, allowing you to tweak the video
    in a number of ways that aren't possible with smaller camcorders. They
    are also far more expandable: For example, the XL2 has interchangeable
    lenses and can record from professional microphones.

    But this flexibility has a price: Shoulder-mounted camcorders are
    heavier and bulkier than palm or hand models. But putting the
    camcorder on your shoulder makes it much more comfortable for shooting
    for longer periods and helps produce steadier video.

    Speaking of price, however, these models ain't cheap: The XL2 goes for
    around $3500, with extra lenses costing upwards of $1300. But if
    you're working on a serious project (or someone else is paying the
    bill), a professional shoulder-mounted camera might be a much better
    investment than a cheaper one. Canon also offers a $500 adapter that
    lets you use lenses designed for Canon SLR still cameras--a huge bonus
    if you want to use a long zoom and already have one for your Canon
    digital SLR.

    For more info on the XL2, go to Canon's Web site:

    Now you're ready to put your newfound expertise to the test. Go into a
    store that offers a decent selection of camcorders and try several
    models. See how they fit into your hand and how easily you can reach
    the buttons. Think about the features that you want and need, and
    about the recording format that you like. Decide which camcorder is
    right for you--then buy it.

    Congratulations, you're a winner! You've just joined the honorable
    ranks of Making Movies Camcorder Choosers--the select few who have a
    camcorder that's right for them. Now if only friends were that easy to

    Have a question or comment? Write to Richard Baguley:
    makingmovies at

    Read Richard Baguley's "Making Movies" columns:

    "Until last October, Christ had a very limited involvement in my life. I believed in God; I just never had to prove I believed. Belief is an absence of proof."
    -- Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling
    Ablang, May 6, 2005
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