Consumer-level cameras can be somewhat daunting to research because the market is flooded with them. Consumers quickly become confused with so many choices and price points. Here is what we recommend with consumer-level cameras:
- Only go with a camera that captures to MiniDV tape, memory cards, or flash drive (not a hard drive which is less durable)
- We recommend considering an HD camera since the industry seems to be going that route. But HD presents its own challenges and takes much longer to process. If you don't go HD, then consider a future equipment rotational purchase in a couple of years when HD has become the standard
- We do not recommend DVD cameras or hard-drive cameras, as they are generally not considered durable (especially for field recording)
For consumer-level cameras, we do not recommend Sony, since Sony relies on a proprietary memory card format called memory stick and is the major producer of DVD cameras. Instead, we recommend Canon and Panasonic. Again, other brands may work well, but this is simply based on our experience.
Canon VIXIA HF-10 High Definition Camcorder ~ $650
Canon currently makes two camcorder models that record HD footage to a memory card. This one, the HF-10, will record to both a Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) memory card, and 16 gigabytes of internal flash memory. Flash memory is different than a hard drive, which has physical parts that move, and thus becomes more fragile. Flash memory is also called "solid-state" memory because there are no moving parts.
There are 16 gigabybe SDHC cards on the market for under $100, which offer two hours of recording time. Along with the two hours of recording time built into the camera, that totals to four hours per shoot.
Overall, it's a good camera that is ahead of its time. One thing to be aware of is the AVCHD format takes a long time to uncompress in most software packages like iMovie or Final Cut Pro. As computers advance, this is likely to get shorter, but currently logging footage is only slightly shorter than a tape media.
As a consumer-level camera, there also isn't as much flexibility as in more professional models. Adjusting the focus is done in the menus, and you can only record one channel of audio from a mini-jack mic input. There is a noticeable audio delay when monitoring the audio, which is a characteristic of shooting in progressive mode with many lower-end cameras.
Canon HF-100 High Definition Camcorder ~ $550
This is the second Canon camera that records to memory cards. The only difference between the HF-10 and the HF-100 is that the latter only records to external memory cards while the HF-10 has internal flash storage.
The SDHC memory cards come in different class speed ratings. You should only use class four and above with this camera as the camera needs sufficient time to buffer the footage onto the card. We recommend a class 6 SDHC memory card.
Panasonic HDC-TM20 High Definition Camcorder ~$650
Panasonic is due out with a trio of cameras that work much like the Canon HF series cameras. These cameras write footage onto SDHC memory cards in the special AVCHD video format. This model, the TM20, will include 16 gigabytes of internal flash memory when it comes out later this year.
Since this camera has yet to be released, we do not have a suggestion for it other than to keep an eye out for it when it does. So far, the specifications are appealing.
Panasonic HDC-SD20 High Definition Camcorder ~$600
This is the second in the new HDC series camers by Panasonic. This one is identical to the one above except that it lacks internal flash storage, and relies solely on memory cards.
Canon FS-11 Standard Definition Camcorder ~ $400 (Recommended)
The Canon FS11 is much like the Vixia HF-10 except that it's not high definition. This may work better for newsrooms that want a camera that can capture footage fast and offer the ability to edit quickly. Without HD footage, computers can process the video quickly with little logging time. For Web-only production, this might be a good temporary solution until HD becomes more of a standard feature on the Web in a few years.
Like the HF-10, this camera includes 16 gigabytes of internal flash memory and a slot for an SDHC memory card. The internal memory alone allows for up to 10 hours of video capture, however.
Canon FS-100 Standard Definition Camcorder ~ $285
The FS100 is just like the camera above, but it doesn't include any internal flash memory. You must purchase an external SDHC memory card to store your video footage.
The standard definition of the footage means that the video will be good for Web production only.