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High def Hard drive camcorders - are they any good

Posted on 2007-11-17
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2010-04-27
I like the idea of a high def Hard drive camcorder - but I need it to have a mic jack and holder for an external mic. How's the quality in these new HD HDD camcorders now, are they as good as the High def mini DV

I'm thinking about getting the Sony_Handycam_HDR_SR5E - its a 40 gb Hard drive - but i need to hook an external mic to it, so it needs a mic input and holder for a portable mic. anyone had any experience with that model or suggest a good one -

Im a UK resident, and want to keep the price under 700 pounds, for US users, if its new on the market its probebly not available here yet as we are about 2 years behind you, and ofcourse your prices are much lower.

Question by:nathan1038
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LVL 22

Expert Comment

ID: 20307231
It's best to seperate the media from the recording format to sort out what you want to buy. The high Def MiniDV cameras mostly used the HDV format -- soon to become obsolete beccause it used the bandwidth and storage hungry codec, MPEG-2 (great codec, but hungry!). And HDV gets a bit of hate mail because of some editing difficuiltes, because of the way that then MPEG-2 encoding was done.
The new standard is AVCHD (as in your reference, Sony_Handycam_HDR_SR5E ), which uses the now also accepted broadcast and High Def DVD codec H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC). These cameras come out in HDD and also memory stick format.
Re your requirement of a mic input. I didn't see this at first glance on your referenced camera. But I agree it's handy to have. You should however look at one of those 'boxes' that converts the minijack mic input to a balanced microphone input and also isolates the voltage on the input that's used to power electret type mics.

Author Comment

ID: 20307506
Thanks there fred  - boxes that convert minijack mic input to balenced mic - I dont know what that is, i'm guessing it will increase the audio quality, but does it mean I have to buy a separate type of mic. could you give me a hyperlink to an example of a product you mean ( does it also fit onto a camcorders hot shoe )

The one I was thinking about was the 'Sennheiser MKE 300 Camcorder Zoom Microphone'
its about 110 pounds / 100 dollars.

Unfortunatly the camcorder above does not have a mic slot / hotshoe. Interesting, about the MPEG 2 stuff. So I should definalty look for a camcorder that uses the codec H.264 MPEG - 4  

Whats your view on the hard drive tecnology at the moment - I read somewhere that the miniDV tapes are still better quality. I have many miniDV tapes but they are normal ones - so if I buy a High def miniDV camcorder, would that mean I cant use those tapes, If i want it in High def, I have to buy the Hi def Mini DV tapes ( which in the UK cost quite alot )

Thanks for all your help Fred
LVL 22

Expert Comment

ID: 20309156
For the Sennheiser mic that you mentioned you wouldn't need anything -- or need to balance it -- just the mic input. Having said that I'm not much for 'camera sound' if you're doing anything approaching professional sound. The reason is simple, to get good audio you have to get the mic as close to the audio source or subject as possible, even with a shotgun mic. So your audio with 'camera sound' or a mic secured to the camera, is restricted by the distance from the camera to the subject. Most pros run a 'snake' cable from the mic input and get an assistant (assistant needs to be out-of-shot) to hold the microphone close to the subject. Film audio recordists use a shotgun mic., so as to get as far away from the subject as possible -- but the mic still picks up. News guys use simple dynamic mics -- take a look at Shure or AKG dynamic microphones. These are 3 pin balanced microphones (not expensive at all) that don't need any DC power to run. So you just plug them into the box I mentioned and plug a minijack cable from the box into the minijack on the mic input. Like I said there is voltage on all microphone inputs and the box isolates this voltage so it doesn't cause noise on the audio signal.
Here's some balanced XLR (3 pin) microphones:
I'd be going for a short shotgun type 'camera mountable' microphone that can be unclipped and taken via a longer cable closer to the subject -- thus becoming independant of the camera itself.
Balanced simply means that the microphone uses 3 pins instead of 2 (less noise)-- and the connection usually is an XLR connection. Some cameras actually have the XLR connection on them -- like the high end Canon.
The hot shoe was originally designed for camera lights and flash on still cameras.

<Whats your view on the hard drive tecnology at the moment - I read somewhere that the miniDV tapes are still better quality. I have many miniDV tapes but they are normal ones - so if I buy a High def miniDV camcorder, would that mean I cant use those tapes, If i want it in High def, I have to buy the Hi def Mini DV tapes ( which in the UK cost quite alot ) >

MiniDV (tape) is a great format -- even when used for High Def such as HDV you still only use standard MiniDV tapes -- not High Def tapes.
I think it's important in choosing a camera format to first decide what editing software that you are comfortable with and then see if the software supports the format that your are going with.
You should also take a long hard look at why you are going High Def in the first place. Because the bottom line for High Def is only use it if you (your friends, customers or audience) are going to view the footage on a large High Definition (at least 1080i) monitor. Otherwise there is really no advantage at all.
And you have to keep in mind what media you are going to finish your videos on for viewing. Because standard DVDs have to be encoded with the MPEG-2 codec -- you can encode high definition in MPEG-2 but because of the high display resolution of 1920 x 1080 you won't get a lot of footage on a standard DVD.

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Author Comment

ID: 20311063
I must be honest, most of this camera work will be for the web, and relativly close to the action, so although I will look into the mic options you have put foward, im wondering if it is necassay. I'm not doing professional camera work although I still want a professional finish , and most of the time will not have an assistant to hold a mic.

I could look at ones that go onto the clothing, as seen with TV, where they tie it to their tie, but even that might be going over the top for what I want to do.

The reason Im looking at hard drive stuff is so that I can quickly upload the data rather than having to play it all the way through to get it onto the computer.

As for hi def, At some point I may want to stream hi def over the net, but the reason I want iit is actually for personal stuff, family and so on - ( you can get about 20 mins of so on a normal dvd, is that right - and would the camcorder come with the right software so that Hi def is not lost in the transfer ! )

So basically, I want a hard drive one and want to know if I am sacrificing quality when compared to a mini dv tape, and if so, if its being played over the net, would it even be noticable.

From what I have seen, non of the low cost Hi def camcorders have a mic input, I must have this as audio from the camcorder will not be good enough, do you know of any hi def Hard drive camcorder come with a mic input, for under 1000 pounds.

If I want to go with an XLR mic setup and the camcorder only has a 1 pin mic setup, is there something I can buy to make the single into an XLR ( a converter of sorts ) if not, then that may be out becasue Im not going to buy a high end camcorder.

Maybe its a tall order, what I'm asking for - Hi def  H264 tecnology is relativly new so if I wait around, after the new year, maybe other reasonably priced ones will become available.
LVL 22

Expert Comment

ID: 20315269
Forget High Def for the Internet -- it's really out of the question at this level. High Def is really only for big screens -- you'll get the same quality on Standard Def on small to normal screens.
I like your idea of either the lapel microphone or at least the microphone input ot accommodate an independant mic.
Here's my recommendation:
The Sony HandyCam SR62 will more than suit your needs, it has an optional $20 adapter which accommodates a mic input --  and if you run your mouse over Sony's recommended mic you can see quite a nice digital mic -- or look for a lapel type mic if you prefer. Probably stay away from wireless at this stage because you have to really pay for quality here.


Author Comment

ID: 20315534
That sounds really good, but am I right in thinking that has only 1 ccd and will not be with the new H.264 Mpeg 4 !

its cheap. well in the running I think

Author Comment

ID: 20316948
I found this camcorder on Ebay


I think it covers everything - hotshoe with mic input (although not sure about that ) / high def and hard drive
But its a bit pricy for me - around 1000 pounds, but on Ebay they are selling imported ones from Japan so they are NTSC,

Now considering that most of my work will be going on the web, video converted to flv - might I be ok with that ! can I hook that into my computer, might I have any problems !

As for personal stuff i woould need to convert the the NTCS to pal - is that easy ! I posted a similar question, in camcorder, give your answer there and I can give u 1000 points ,as your advise so far has been worth much more so it would be my pleasure  


Author Comment

ID: 20316951
Oh, I know you are saying Hi def for the net is out - but I want Hi def for personal reasons and for future proofing myself

Author Comment

ID: 20317130
Sorry to keep adding - You mentioned the new mpeg4 H264. I know this camcorder (jvc) is the old MPEG 2 - and most of the camcorders I will be looking at are MPEG 2 becasue 4 is relativly new on the market from what I can see - WOuld you advise me to wait around for an MPEG 4 camcorder with the features I want to come out, or is this issue not that important (remembering I am using for web and personal only ) however, does it effect file size (i.e. is MPEG 4 going to be less in file size, which ranks high on my prioeties list )

Ive seen im other posts you have made that, Hard drive camcorder, as in the format are not as good as mini DV - how about the new HD ones coming out, and for example this JVC one I saw,

Author Comment

ID: 20317362
Ha, im back - but Im going to post any more coments as new questions as it not fair so keep a look out in the camcorder section to earn some well deserved points mate. Thankyou so much for all your help so far

LVL 22

Accepted Solution

fredshovel earned 2000 total points
ID: 20317881
MPEG-2 is a brilliant codec, just a bit too hungry for Internet streaming and uses aproximately twice the storage space of H.264.
To simplify this I would first choose my editing software, and make absolutely sure that the camera format that I bought was completely compatible with it. For instance I use Ulead Video Studio 11 Plus, which can handle either MPEG-2 or H.264.


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