It’s been only six months and my list of low end gear has been out of date for months. A query from Matt Cooper of Oregon regarding reasonably priced gear put me back to work. It is indeed dismal for those of you who want to get started and not kill off your bank account. The same rules apply as in How to look for a camera posted back in late January. Take a read regarding what to look for and recommended amenities. Okay – here goes (disclaimer – I have not used any of these cameras yet. This is based on specs I found in research. If you are interested in any camera do some research and find some reviews to let you know how they are rated).
The Samsung SC-D363 is the lowest of the low I could find with mike input. At less than $200 it’s a real steal – if you can find one (B&H is out of stock at this time…try elsewhere or another time). It has the 1/6 inch (tiny) CCD but a great 30x zoom. You’ll shoot on mini-dv tape. Manual control over iris, white balance, focus, and shutter speed. No apparent headphone jack…you should check and see if the AV port subsitutes and takes a headset. At this price expect teensey tiny hard to use controls or menus. But a great beginner camera by the looks of it.
There are several other Samsungs which are similar before we hit the next camera with mike input – the JVC GZ-MG555 Everio G – about $650. It has a 1/2.5 inch CCD, 10x zoom, shoots in mpeg2, says no viewfinder so you’re stuck w/LCD, has the necessary manual controls (iris, focus, white balance, shutter), bult-in light, mike input, no headphone jack.
Next up – the Panasonic PV-GS500 3-CCD Mini DV – about $700. This camera has 3 1/4.7 CCDs, 12x Leica zoom, viewfinder & LCD, necessary manual controls (as above), mike input, no headset jack.
Final camera under $1000 w/mike input is the Canon HV20 HDV Camcorder – right at my limit at about $1000. A number of newspapers are purchasing this model…seems the best “low end” camera for them. The HV20 has one 1/2.7 CMOS sensor, 10x zoom, viewfinder & LCD, focus & iris manual controls, mike input & headset jack.
If you have questions about CCD vs. CMOS go here: How Stuff Works.
By the way, a number of places still sell used or refurbished Canon ZR60s. They are small consumer cameras (take lousey still photos) but that’s what I shot the Wyoming cattle drive with…it’s a perfect learner camera with mike input, headset out (thru the av jack) and shoots mini-dv. I always try to have one working ZR60 around to carry in my purse/bag. It’s my notebook camera. In fact, you might try pricingcentral.com or another search portal and see if any of the older models are available refurbished. You may get a deal. Beware of eBay unless you know what to ask.
Also check that the video format on the hard drive cameras is compatable with whatever type of computer you use (mac or pc)….there have been issues regarding this. Don’t forget, tripod and mike will set you back several hundred bucks more.
You will notice I haven’t included DVD cameras in the mix – I consider them a consumer fad. Most will not let you import into the higher end nonlinear editing programs easily, if at all. Mini-dv is still good, although hard drives seem to be the transitional choice until a reasonably priced card comes around.
By the way – the third camera over at the top is a Kodak portrait view camera – scraped together enough to buy one as a newlywed and I still have it. There is little to compare with the greys you can get with a five by seven inch negative contact print. And the size and requirements to work the thing (not to mention expense) make you move slowly and carefully. Maybe that’s what we really need – a big bright plastic camcorder that can survive at the hands of a five year old.