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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Gadget Bag: HD Video Camcorders

Quality and portability have made high-definition camcorders important for more than just home videos

This Article Features Photo Zoom

HD Video Camcorders
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so you can only imagine how many words a thousand pictures are worth. Video has long been a natural extension of photography. It’s a visual medium with many of the same principles: focus, aperture, shutter speed, etc. But with video you can capture more than just a still. You can record the full motion and behavior of wildlife, and a camcorder can show an entire fluid landscape, from top to bottom in 360 degrees. And while some D-SLRs offer memos and notes, it’s just not the same as having the fully recorded audio of nature to accompany your images.

High-definition (HD) video, today’s ultimate in technology, is sharp and full of vibrant colors and lifelike detail. This largely is due to resolutions, which are available most commonly in 1080i and 720p, referring to the vertical lines that are displayed and the way in which the screen is refreshed during playback.

Samsung SC-HMX10Progressive (p) playback uses the entire resolution of a screen every time it refreshes. Interlaced (i) video uses only half of the screen at any given moment. This, much like compression, is done to save on the amount of data transmitted and stored. But, of course, there are side effects to interlaced, such as artifacts and distortion. So, even though it’s a smaller number, 720p will often have a better picture, especially with fast motion.

If that’s not confusing enough, manufacturers also record HD in a variety of formats, much as D-SLRs record in proprietary RAW files. This won’t be a problem with the basic editing programs that are bundled with almost all HD camcorders. However, if you’d like more control over your edits, be aware that heftier programs such as Final Cut Pro don’t have compatibility across the board.

Most camcorders offer various choices for recording to media. DVDs, HDV tape and memory cards are removable for easy transfer and storage. Internal hard drives offer bigger capacity for longer recording times. Hard drives will fill, though, and you can’t just swap them out, so be sure to bring a way to archive your media if you go on an extended trip.

Canon HV20Camcorder sensors are similar to the image sensors of D-SLRs. Single-chip CCD or CMOS sensors record the image to pixel-packed grids, the size of which is denoted by megapixel size, while more expensive, three-chip camcorders have a distinct advantage in low-light situations. Color also is better because the chips are able to separately concentrate on the three primary colors—red, green and blue.

Because sensors are so similar to D-SLRs, many camcorders also offer still-image capture. Screen grabs and camcorder stills will be quite good, but be aware that color space in video is flatter, and shutter speeds are slower, so don’t toss away your D-SLR just yet. (Besides, Outdoor Videographer doesn’t have as nice a ring to it!)

The Canon HV20 offers the features of a pro-level HD camera with a street price below $1,000. The Super Range Optical Image Stabilization uses gyro and vector detection to determine whether movement is intentional, such as panning or tracking, to correctly compensate for image shake. An Ultra Video Light is included for shooting in the dark, and when that isn’t strong enough, an Advanced Accessory Shoe is capable of powering an external video light directly from the camcorder. Additional inputs for mics and headphones add extended audio options, and manual sound leveling makes it an ideal choice when audio is important.

Hitachi DZ-BD7HAAn Instant AF located on the outside of the HV20 provides faster and more accurate focusing, even in low light. The ƒ/1.8-3 10x HD video zoom lens with Super Spectra lens coating prevents ghosting, flare or image aberration. A 2.7-inch LCD screen swivels for odd angles, and it includes controls right on the screen for immediate review and playback. A 24p Cinema Mode emulates the speed of film for a cinematic feel. List Price: $1,099.

Hitachi is offering two versions of the world’s first Blu-ray disc camcorders. Blu-ray discs offer five times the capacity of normal DVDs and a 3x transfer rate for rapid data writing. The DZ-BD70A camcorder’s 5.3-megapixel CMOS image sensor records approximately one full hour of 1920 x 1080 HD video to a single 8cm Blu-ray disc. The DZ-BD70A also takes 4.32-megapixel digital still photos, and there’s a Photo Capture feature for video browsing and screen-grab capture.

Hitachi’s flagship camcorder, the DZ-BD7HA, builds upon the DZ-BD70A with a 30 GB internal hard-disk drive for the option of saving up to four full hours of 1920 x 1080 HD video and up to eight hours of video in 1440 x 1080 resolution. The DZ-BD7HA also dubs to Blu-ray discs with the touch of a button and can transcode HD to standard definition for burning to regular DVDs, ideal for gifts for friends and family without Blu-ray players. List Price: $1,299 (DZ-BD70A); $1,499 (DZ-BD7HA).


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