Professional camera gear generally refers to video cameras that have more than one sensor to capture the image. These sensors are called charged coupled devices (CCD) or just "chips". Professional cameras will use a glass prism to separate the light coming through the lens into its three primary colors. Then the light is captured by three different CCDs. This increases the quality of the image substantially. A newer grade of chip called CMOS is also used in some cameras. These chips are cheaper to produce and use less power.
Having a three-CCD or three-chip camera will also increase the price respectively. But for several years, a three-chip camera has been a staple of high-end camera gear.
There are several manufacturers that make high-end camera gear. The two we recommend and have personal experience with are Canon and Sony. While JVC and Panasonic also make reputable high-end cameras, their price points extend to broadcast-level industries and are not included in this guide.
Canon XH-A1 High Definition Camcorder ~ $3,000
Canon is a leader in producing high-end still cameras, and much of that carries over into the video division. Some of the high points with Canon cameras are their quality and durability. Operations like focusing are also quick on these cameras.
The XH-A1 is one of Canon's cheaper professional models that captures high-definition footage. It records to Mini-DV tapes, which have to be logged real time. The quality is exceptional and the camera is fully capable with lots of features for customization and controlling many aspects of your footage.
It comes with two XLR inputs for professional microphone additions, which are not included in the basic package.
Beginners have said this camera is overly confusing, and the camera is clearly suited for people who understand a lot about video capture/photography. It is rated exceptionally by most professionals and is used in many Web production environments.
Canon XL-2 Standard Definition Camcorder ~ $3,200
Canon's XL-2 was a very popular camera when it came out, and was one of the first cameras to usher in a new tier of professional devices that was affordable to the masses.
One of its more impressive features include removable lenses, which is unheard of for cameras in this price range. However, extra lenses come at a premium. The camera records to Mini-DV tapes in the now antiquated standard definition format. The quality is good, and includes once premiere features like image stabilization -- now a standard among most cameras.
The XL-2 is now an older camera which now competes with its high-definition cousins.
Sony HVR-Z1u High Definition Camcorder ~ $4,600
The top of the "U" line, the Sony Z1u includes the widest array of features in its class. It's a three-CCD system that captures the newest high definition formats in both 50 and 60 frames per second interlaced. While these formats are not essential to most Web production videos, it allows the possibility for a more flexible level of footage for broadcast production. If your paper is converged with a studio, or has plans to do broadcast work, this is a likely choice.
The camera includes several features not seen in lower-end models, such as a much better minimum illumination rating of 2 lux, which means this camera can shoot in near complete darkness (which is 0 lux).
Compared to the cheaper model - the V1u (below) - the Z1u has a much wider flexibility with controlling the various aspects of the video footage and has a better granularity in shutter speed, gain and neutral density filter settings.
Sony HVR-V1u High Definition Camcorder ~ $3,000
The V1u is a middle of the road Sony camera in the professional category. It includes a three-chip system, but uses a different type of sensor called CMOS. A CMOS sensor is much like a CCD, but they are cheaper to make and often seen on low-end cameras. They are becoming more available in high-end cameras as they improve the quality of these cheap sensors.
Video capture is only limited to 60 frames per second interlaced or 24 frames per second progressive. Both of these should be more than adequate for Web capture, but not quite as flexible as the Z1u. It also has a minimum illumination rating of 4 lux, which means this camera can capture low-light environments, but not to the extent of its more expensive counterpart, the Z1u.
Overall, this camera is a great solution for a mid-range professional camera. In an organization that shoots only video-to-Web, it would be difficult to justify the extra cost of the Z1u.