North American buying Camcorder in Europe

Discussion in 'DVD Video' started by Skookum, Jun 27, 2006.

  1. Skookum

    Skookum Guest

    I am on a brief visit to Germany and England (I normally live in North
    America). I was considering buying a DVD Camcorder but heard that there
    may be a compatibility problem since most of Europe uses PAL format
    while the Americas rely on NTSC. I am completely ignorant of what this
    means though I did have a look at the relevant Wikipedia articles.

    My bottom line question is whether I should forget about buying over in
    Germany or Britain (I have found some great deals on Sonys and
    Skookum, Jun 27, 2006
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  2. Skookum

    PTravel Guest

    You'll need an NTSC camcorder for use in North America, and, to the extent
    they're available, will be more expensive in Europe. NTSC and PAL are
    incompatible video standards, the latter being common in most of Europe
    (SECAM being a less common, but equally incompatible, European standard).

    Since you're buying a DVD camcorder, I assume neither video quality or
    anything more than minimal editing is of concern to you.
    PTravel, Jun 27, 2006
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  3. Skookum

    Skookum Guest

    Thanks for the information and I also am interested in the last comment
    you make. I do not know much about competing formats: are you saying
    that the Mini DVs or some other format os preferable? Although I won't
    be into editing much (I suspect), image quality is important and I'm
    wide open to your advice on this.
    Skookum, Jun 28, 2006
  4. Skookum

    Skookum Guest

    In previous reply, I forgot to ask: if I went for the other format
    would that still involve the problems with PAL versus NSTC or is that
    not applicable to other formats?
    Skookum, Jun 28, 2006
  5. Skookum

    Alpha Guest

    This applies to any format, DVDR or other DV formats. Further, your charger
    may not be a universal frequency and voltage type. This idea is frought
    with the potential for buying something useless.

    You would need to find a universal format device, and these, on any
    continent, are expensive!
    Alpha, Jun 28, 2006
  6. Skookum

    PTravel Guest

    DVD is a delivery medium, not a capture medium. Video DVDs store video
    using mpeg2 compression. Mpeg is a lossy, temporally compressed format.
    "Temporally compressed" means that the transcoder uses frames both ahead and
    behind a reference frame, calculates what has changed, and then stores only
    the changes. For mpeg2 to yield high-quality video, it must do multiple
    analysis passes to calculate optimum compression. Commercially-produced
    DVDs use multiple analysis passes on high-quality transcoders, which is one
    of the reasons they look so good. The built-in hardware transcoders on
    camcorders do single-pass analysis and do not result in optimum compression,
    so video quality suffers. DVD-compliant video also tops out at a bit rate
    of approximately 8-10 mbps and uses compression ratios of about 10 to 1 (or
    more). Note that when a camcorder manufacturer claims "DVD quality" video,
    they do not mean you will get the same quality of video that you're used to
    seeing on commercial DVDs. What you get is "DVD quality," all right,
    because it comes from a DVD. It is, however, degraded video and does not
    remotely approach commercial DVD quality (or even what you can get burning
    your own on your home computer using good quality consumer software).

    miniDV uses the DV-25 standard. It is not temporarlly compressed, i.e. each
    frame is compressed individually, without reference to preceeding or
    forthcoming frames. This allows for very efficient, optimized compression
    in the camera. DV-25 compresses at about a 5 to 1 ratio. DV-25 has a data
    rate of 25 mbps, i.e. 2.5 to 3 times more video data per second than DVD.
    Accordingly, miniDV is considerably less compressed and captures
    considerably more data than DVD.

    If you looked at _only_ the format in which the video is captured, miniDV
    yields an obvious and rather dramatic advantage, i.e. all things being
    equal, video from a miniDV camcorder will look significantly better than
    video from a DVD camcorder.

    However, there are other factors that determine video quality besides
    bit-rate, compression ratio and temporal vs. non-temporal compression.
    Video quality is also determined by such factors as sensor size, quality of
    electronics and, most significantly, quality of the lens on the camera.

    DVD camcorders are designed to appeal to the same consumers who purchase
    disposable film cameras, i.e. those who are "technically challenged," and/or
    want a very simple and inexpensive solution to capturing images. As a rule,
    DVD camcorders have tiny CCDs, low-quality lenses and sell themselves on the
    basis of gimmicks, e.g. built-in "special effects," "digital" zooms that
    produce an unusable and degraded image, long optical zooms that further
    reduce light sensitivity and introduce all sorts of optical defects,
    distortions and chromatic aberrations, etc. Note that there are plenty of
    miniDV cameras with these characteristics as well -- crappy cameras aren't
    confined only to DVD camcorders, and manufacturers produce low-end miniDV
    camcorders that will produce video every bit as bad as that from a DVD
    camcorder. However, miniDV has evolved into a stable prosumer/professional
    format -- feature films have been shot on miniDV ("Open Water" and "28 Days
    Later" are two that come to mind), the BBC uses miniDV cameras for
    electronic newsgathering (ENG), and good miniDV cameras can produce video of
    the the highest quality. Note, too, that, while there are prosumer miniDV
    camcorders, e.g. the Sony VX2100 and Canon XL2, there is no such thing as a
    prosumer DVD camcorder.

    If you care about video quality, get the best miniDV camcorder you can
    afford. Sony and Canon make some pretty decent mid- to high-end consumer
    machines, but you won't find them on sale for $300. If you really care
    about video quality, get a 3-ccd machine (3 sensors, one for each primary
    color, instead of a single sensor with a mosaic filter on top). However, do
    _not_ get a low-end Panasonic 3-ccd machine -- these were designed
    specifically to sell to consumers who had heard about the advantages of
    3-ccd, but didn't want to spend the money for a prosumer machine (the VX2100
    has a street price of around $2000, the XL2 around $3,000), and represent
    good marketing rather than good engineering. You'll get better video from a
    comparably priced single-ccd Sony or Canon.

    Things to look for:

    The bigger the CCD the better -- 1/6" is too small, and will have absolutely
    dismal low light performance. You won't be able to use it indoors or at
    night. 1/4" is better, but still not very good. A camera with a 1/3"
    sensor would be best (again, for comparison, the VX2100 uses 3 1/3"

    The bigger the physical size of the lens, the better. More glass passes
    more light, which will improve the low-light performance. Also, to get a
    reasonably wide field of view requires a large lens.

    Look for Zeiss optics -- not required, but an indicator of a good-quality

    OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) provides smoother looking video than EIS
    (Electronic Image Stabilization). On Sony machines, OIS is called "Super
    Steadyshot," whereas EIS, in Sonyspeak, is just "Steadyshot." I don't know
    whether there is such a thing as a camcorder without stabilization of some
    sort, but it's an absolute requirement if you don't want your video to look
    like Dad's 8mm movies.

    DON'T get more than a 10x or 12x zoom. As I indicated, long zoom ranges on
    consumer camcorders degrade the image and lower the light transmissivity of
    the lens. Also, no one can hand-hold more than 12x without the image
    shaking so badly (even with image stablization) as to render the resulting
    video unusable, so this is useless feature.

    DON'T be fooled by gimmicks like built-in special effects, wifi, BlueTooth,
    USB connectors, so-called "digital zoom" (which merely lowers the resolution
    of the resulting image), still imaging capability (see below), etc. The
    standard for transferring video from digital camcorders is the 1394/Firewire
    port. USB is only for transferring still images, or streaming low-quality
    video, e.g. as a webcam.

    DON'T buy a camcorder based on its still imaging capability. As a rule, the
    higher resolution for the still image capability of a camcorder results in
    lower low-light sensitivity and, usually, more digital artifacts in the
    video. No camcorder will produce stills remotely approaching the quality of
    even an inexpensive p&s digital still camera.

    And, finally, a word about editing. Not everyone wants to edit their
    videos, and that's fine. However, if you think you might ever want to, know
    that, unless you're going to do only simple cuts-only edits, editing the
    mpeg2 video from DVDs is difficult to impossible. You'll be limited to a
    very narrow range of entry level consumer products, and you won't be able to
    do the kind of sophisticated titles, transitions, effects and corrections
    that even the most basic DV-codec-encoded AVI editors (which is what you get
    when you transfer miniDV to a computer) can achieve. You might not wish to
    edit your video some day, but you also might find that your DVD-Rs are
    unreadable -- no one knows the archival quality of these things, though I
    have DVD-Rs that I burned five years ago, some of which are now error-ridden
    and unreadable. miniDV tape, on the other hand, is stable and, like all
    digital tape, when properly stored will last for decades.

    Probably more than you wanted to know, but there you go.
    PTravel, Jun 28, 2006
  7. Skookum

    PTravel Guest

    Yep. NTSC and PAL refer to video formats, i.e. what you watch on a
    television. There are such things as dual-format monitors, but I guarantee
    that you do not have one. In Asia, DVD players that can handle both PAL and
    NTSC formatted DVDs are common, but they are much rarer in the U.S. I've
    found them on occassion as no-name loss-leaders at places like Best Buy and
    CompUSA. They last from 6 months to a year and then break, but for 30-40
    bucks they can't be beat (I have in-laws in China, so I frequently buy
    PAL-formatted DVDs when I go to visit).
    PTravel, Jun 28, 2006
  8. Skookum

    Tim Streater Guest

    [Excellent and informative summary snipped]
    Actually not :) , personally, I have been looking for good summaries
    like this without much success, so thanks for posting it. Hope it helps
    the OP, too.

    I want to know about editing software, though. I just bought a Canon
    MVX35i (might be an Optima 500 or so in the US) and have made a few
    quick shots and transferred to a DVD. Not entirely happy with the
    quality so far, but I am more curious about software at the moment.

    I have a Mac and transferred from the camera using Firewire with iMovie
    and used iMovie/iDVD to make a DVD. Is the process of rendering the
    video onto the DVD a fixed process or do the various apps do it better
    or worse. That is, if I bought Final Cut, and used it instead of iMovie,
    do I just get a lot more editing capability, or do I get a better visual
    result on the DVD (starting from the same camera-video, that is) as well?


    -- tim
    Tim Streater, Jun 28, 2006
  9. Skookum

    PTravel Guest

    When transferring digital video via the Firewire port, a bit-for-bit copy of
    the data is created, so there should be no generational loss. I'm not a Mac
    person, so I don't know anything about iMovie, but whatever is capturing the
    video should store it as DV-codec-encoded AVI -- this preserves the native
    format of D-25 video. If you're software is transcoding to anything else,
    e.g. mpeg, you'll lose quality.

    Video isn't rendered to DVD. The process should be this:

    1. D-25 video is captured bit-for-bit to a DV-codec-encoded AVI.
    2. The video is edited, i.e. transitions, titles, effects and corrections
    are added.
    3. The edited material (anything other than simple cuts) is rendered, i.e.
    the software creates new frames that incorporate the title, effect,
    transition, etc.
    4. The resulting finished video is transcoded to mpeg2. Transcoding is the
    actual translation of the D-25 video to mpeg2, which is required by DVD.
    5 The DVD is authored, i.e. menus are added and the mpeg2 is sliced into
    DVD-compliant VOB files. The video isn't altered, but merely repackaged to
    comply with the DVD spec.
    6. The DVD is burned.

    Some software, mostly entry level, will do all six steps.

    From the standpoint of video quality, step 4, transcoding, is the most
    critical. Mpeg2 is a lossy, temporally-compressed format, i.e. data gets
    thrown away by this step. Which data and how much of it gets tossed is
    determined by the transcoding software. The transcoder has a lot of
    decisions to make about how to compress the video. As a rule, the most
    optimal compression takes the longest time. Accordingly, entry-level
    packages usually introduce signficant compromises so that transcoding
    doesn't take too long.
    If you're getting poor quality video, it's not because of the editing
    program (Final Cut Pro is an editing package), but because of the
    transcoding. As I said, I don't know Mac, so I can't make any
    recommendations. On my PC, I edit in Adobe Premiere Pro, a prosumer-level
    editor comparable to FCP. Though Premiere can burn DVDs from the timeline,
    I only use it for editing. Once my project is finished, I save it as AVI
    (or frame serve, but that's another discussion altogether) and then use a
    program called tmpgenc, which is a dedicated standalone transcoder. To give
    you an idea of what I meant about compromise, transcoding a 2-hour video
    with tmpgence tweaked to its most optimal settings for video quality can
    take up to 20 hours on my 3.2 Ghz P4 with 1 gig of RAM. Once the video has
    been transcoded to mpeg2, I author in Adobe Encore and burn with Nero. The
    DVDs that I produce approach commercial DVDs in technical (if not artistic)
    video quality.
    PTravel, Jun 28, 2006
  10. I recommend you take the imovie/iDVD course on:

    My wife got her new dual core intel iMac about two months ago, and I
    had some old DV footage I wanted to make a DVD out of, and as I had no
    experience with video editing, I found that one month of subscription
    was $25 and 12 hours well spent.

    One thing that affects rendering quality in iMovie is if you are
    rendering in the background or not. They warn against this in the
    course, and that is the default.
    Thomas Tornblom, Jun 28, 2006
  11. Skookum

    iws Guest

    The single-ccd Canon Optura 60 and the Sony DCR-HC90 both are comparable in
    price to the 3 ccd Panasonic PV-GS300 (actually the Panasonic is cheaper)
    and according to this review , the Panasonic has
    considerably better video performance. Upon what do you base your claim that
    the 3-ccd Panasonics are inferior than the comparably priced Sony and Canon
    single-ccd units?
    iws, Jun 29, 2006
  12. Skookum

    PTravel Guest

    The video that I've seen from them, as well as the specs and, particularly,
    the CCD size. There's a reason why the VX2100 costs $2200 and the Panny
    costs $650. Take a look at what the review had to say about low-light

    However, I'm not going to argue about it. I've given my opinion, and it's
    different from yours. That's fine. Feel free to disagree, and feel equally
    free to recommend otherwise to the OP.

    For what it's worth, I've found Robin Liss' site to be, at times, bizarre in
    its recommendations and reviews. However, your mileage may vary.
    PTravel, Jun 29, 2006
  13. Skookum

    iws Guest

    I'm not trying to argue with you. I don't doubt that a $2200 unit is going
    to be superior to a $650 unit. I'm just trying to get information for my own
    future purchase. I don't plan to spend more than $600 for a camcorder and
    the GS300 looked like a good value. I don't much care for Sony's touch
    screen approach but I'm also interested in Canon offerings. BTW, I'm
    replacing an old Digital8 that requires costly repair.
    iws, Jun 29, 2006
  14. Skookum

    PTravel Guest

    Sony uses HAD ccds, which give its machines somewhat better low-light
    response than those of other manufacturers. The Panny has 1/6" CCDs -- no
    way will these perform will under low light, and the review confirms it.
    People like to use camcorders at night, indoors, etc. Frankly, there aren't
    any in the consumer range that perform well under these conditions (though
    there used to be). Unfortunately, manufacturers seem think consumers want
    small, light, multi-funciton and gimmicky, rather than high-quality.

    Bottom line is this: if you like the quality of the video, get the
    camcorder. Be sure to try it under realistic conditions, e.g. most stores
    are much better lit than most homes -- find a dark corner. Video scenes
    with strong horizontal lines -- that will show up digital artifacts.

    I opted out of the consumer line and bought a VX2000 some years ago because
    I couldn't find anything that remotely approached the quality I expected.
    PTravel, Jun 29, 2006
  15. Skookum

    Tim Streater Guest

    That's very helpful. Part of my ignorance was which step took place
    where. That's clear now and much appreciated.

    -- tim
    Tim Streater, Jun 29, 2006
  16. It means that your TV at home, as well as your VCR or indeed any of
    your video equipment will not understand the output of the European
    camcorder. You'll have gibberish on the screen.
    You should forget about it. As a general rule, one should not import
    video equipment among different markets, unless it's a multistandard
    device and you positively know what you're doing.

    Wolfgang Schwanke, Jun 30, 2006
  17. The PAL/NTSC/SECAM divide is applicable to all non-HDTV video formats.
    (And with HDTV there's another divide)

    Wolfgang Schwanke, Jun 30, 2006
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