Saturday, February 19, 2011

Best HD camcorders

HD's higher resolution, broader color space, and advanced compression algorithms have opened the door for a substantial improvement in video quality, even for the most prosaic of home movies. Though prices for consumer models hover well above the budgets of many wanna-haves, as more units trickle into the market in 2007 we expect the prices to drop into mainstream territory. And pros need HD capabilities to stay competitive: even if you're not quite ready to go HD-only, some of the entry-level pro models are priced reasonably enough to merit an educational investment. 

Canon Vixia HF S21  

The good: Excellent set of manual features; dual SDHC slots; generally well-designed interface.
The bad: Poorly designed touch-screen menu system; short battery life; defaults to low-quality video mode; doesn't support SDXC; relatively expensive.
The bottom line: Though they're an excellent trio of camcorders, the Vixia HF S21, HF S20, and HF S200 are significantly more expensive than their respective competitors, especially since the S20 and S200 lack electronic viewfinders. If you can forgo some of the subtleties of the manual controls, you can probably get what you need with a cheaper camcorder.

Estimated Retail Price: $1,299.99† 
Panasonic HDC-TM700  

The good: Very good low-light video quality; full set of manual features; 1080/60p recording option.
The bad: Smallish, low-resolution LCD; coarse EVF; some edge artifacts in video; middling still photo quality.
The bottom line: The flash-based Panasonic HDC-TM700 and its hard-disk sibling, the HDC-HS700, stand out for their low-light video quality and broad set of manual controls. However, while the TM700 is very attractively priced for its class, the HS700 is not, and not worth the price premium unless you absolutely need the hard disk.

 Retail Price: $800

 Sony Handycam HDR-CX550V 
The good: Full manual feature set for video; geotagging for video is fun, if not very practical; autofocus system performs very well.
The bad: Annoying menu system; no wind filter or meaningful audio controls; relatively big and heavy; expensive; defaults to low resolution, not-full-HD video quality; cumbersome touch-screen interface.

The bottom line: The Sony Handycam HDR-CX550V fares well compared with the competition, though its video could be a bit sharper and the interface less cumbersome. Unless you absolutely need to store a lot of video on the camcorder--which I don't suggest--or if have large hands that could benefit from the extra grip that the hard drive provides, the CX550V is a better deal than its hard-disk-based sibling.