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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.
Progressive (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.
Camcorder 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.
An 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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JVC’s Everio GZ-HD7 packs up to seven hours of HD video into 60 GB of internal-drive storage, and still weighs only 1.5 pounds. The 3CCD sensor divides primary color channels into three separate progressive-scan CCD chips for vivid and accurate color reproduction. The Fujinon 10x optical zoom lens features optical image stabilization and a wide range of manual controls for focusing, exposure control and more. A Zebra mode notes bright highlight areas in the 2.8-inch, 16:9 Widescreen Clear Bright LCD monitor, and a Focus Assist displays in-focus edges in color over a black-and-white background for simplified focus comparison.
Editing software for PCs is included, as well as a plug-in for common editing apps on Macs, such as iMovie HD and Final Cut Pro. The optional CU-VD40 Everio Share Station will burn HD footage from the GZ-HD7 directly to 12cm DVD discs for archiving and sharing. Estimated Street Price: $1,200 (GZ-HD7); $399 (CU-VD40 Everio Share Station).
Panasonic’s HDC-SD1 3CCD camera system uses the same technology as the company’s professional broadcast cameras. That means high-quality, high-definition images in a small camcorder. The high 6-lux sensitivity of the HD Advanced Pure Color Engine image processor is excellent for shooting at dusk or early-morning sunrise. The O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) of the HDC-SD1 provides steady shots, even with unstable locations like boat trips or marine expeditions. A variety of scene and shooting presets, such as backlight compensation and virtual guidelines, also make the HDC-SD1 an excellent choice for the field.
The HDC-SD1 captures sound from the back, front, right, left and center for playback in three-dimensional, 5.1-channel surround sound. A zoom mic also focuses audio at the area of the image on which the 12x zoom lens is centered. The camcorder records to SD cards, and there’s a 3.0-inch LCD screen. List Price: $999.
The Samsung (page 1) 1.5-megapixel CCD SC-HMX10 camcorder records in high-quality 720p. A swivel handgrip adjusts for regular and low-angle shooting, which is easily monitored from the rotating 2.7-inch-wide touch-screen LCD. The SC-HMX10 is self-contained, with on-board cut-and-paste editing and an included HDMI connection for outputting directly to HDTVs. There are 8 GBs of internal flash memory for media capture, and an included slot for SD/MMC memory cards expands capacity.
The SC-HMX10 uses digital image stabilization and a digital 100x zoom for sharper and closer shots. The iCheck function alerts you to camera and battery status, and a docking cradle connects the camcorder through USB 2.0, A/C and A/V connections. List Price: $799.
The Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 looks and handles a lot like a laser gun.The 7.21-megapixel CCD sensor records in 720p HD, and takes 7.0-megapixel stills, rivaling the maximum image sizes of many popular digital still cameras. Images and video can even be taken simultaneously. The VPC-HD2 saves media to SDHC memory cards. An optional 8 GB card is capable of holding up to three hours of HD video, up to eight hours of standard-definition and thousands of images at full resolution.
The 10x optical zoom lens offers a 38-380mm (35mm equivalent) focal range and, when combined with digital zoom, provides up to 100x zooming. The 2.2-inch LCD screen rotates 285 degrees, and there are templates for recording specifically for video iPods, the web or alternate MPEG-4-capable media players. List Price: $699.
With 60 GB of hard-drive capacity, you may never have to spend money on tapes or discs again. The Sony Handycam HDR-SR7 can record in 240 frames per second for a three-second interim, giving slow-motion playback, ideal for analyzing the movements of fast-moving animals or birds. Other modes include a Tele Macro function for tight close-ups of subjects that might scare if you get too close, a Super NightShot Infrared System for capturing video in darkness and a Color Slow Shutter mode for ensuring full color in low light by slowing shutter speeds.
The touch-screen interface of the 2.7-inch Clear Photo LCD Plus display offers button-free menu navigation. It also works with a Spot Focus and Spot Meter function to center-focus on the area of the frame that you point to with your finger. There’s a dual-record function for capturing stills and video simultaneously, 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound audio and a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens with 10x optical zoom and SuperSteadyShot optical image-stabilization mechanism. List Price: $1,399.