The new decade approaches…

…and it’s time to look at cameras. Again. Sometimes looking for the right equipment is like trying to ride an avalanche. There is so much to look at and technology is changing so rapidly, it’s hard to stay on top.

Due to my ever shrinking budget, I bought two Aiptek (ISDV 2.4) cameras to fill in the holes created by old cameras going down. The students aren’t breaking them. They are wearing out. Three years of constant use can take down any consumer camcorder. Two worst offenders are the tape carriage and the tripod holes…the latter is a quick fix by cementing in new bushings and the former means I have still cameras.

Stand by for a quick overview of what’s out there today, December 29, 2009. As usual, my idea classroom camcorder would have:

Microphone input
Headset out
Manual iris, focus, white balance
Decent zoom (10x or more)
Metal tripod hole (Yeah – learned that one the hard way)
Removable media

As mentioned in other postings, my preferred method of research is on the B & H Photo site. Quick tip – go there and then click on Camcorders, then Camcorders a second time. Now you can choose your options.

I’m not brand loyal when searching, although I prefer to stick with Canon (since that is what I have now) if the accessories carry over to new models. Price and features are what drive me.

I do have six year old eMacs, so need to stick with standard def if possible…not too sure if the new high def will play smoothly on old slow computers.

For media – as mentioned above I prefer removable media so each student can keep their work separate from others – I’ll check both mini-dv and flash memory.

Leaving the Camcorder Type alone…I want to see what pops up. Optical zoom 10x or more. LCD display – not a biggie, so will leave that up to the search engine.

Price…hmmmmmm. As much as I would like the cheapest, I also need to check the possible range…so will choose $50 to $1000. Final click is to arrange choices from lowest price to highest…now let’s see what’s out there.

First shock – only five items to look at. Three Samsungs (2 models, one with two color options) and two Panasonics (same model, different colors). I may need to change the zoom option to widen the search….later on.

Here’s where you have to do the homework. Click on the Specs tab – this is where you look under the hood to see what you are actually getting for your money.

Samsung SMX C-10 prices in at $199.99/to be real – $200. 10x optical zoom (NEVER include digital zoom in your specs) and shoots to H.264/AVC (720 x 480/60i) format. Has the usual built-in mike and speaker, no inputs and no manual controls. Outputs through USB cord. A basic dumb camera for the masses…my students need more.

Next up the food chain is another Samsung – the SMX C-14 for $280. Main difference between this camera and the C-10 seems to be 16GB internal memory.

Now on to the Panasonic(s). The SDR SW-21 comes in at $306 and is waterproof to about six feet. Records to standard def with built-in speaker and mike. No manual controls/no mike jack. So back to searching.

By unclicking the zoom selection, I’ve widened my choices to sixty-three items. Will report back once I’ve checked them out.

(About 30 minutes later…)
I’ve condensed this down to a list – 12.29.09 Camcorder List – with a total of 36 different models. Since I don’t need specialized cameras, I’ll eliminate the GoPro series, the Vievu (wearable cameras), hidden micro cameras and any underwater cameras.

Now the list is a more realistic 23 – with only one tape camera, the remainder being memory card cameras. I’ll check out the Canon ZR960 first – at $250 it is in the middle of the pack price-wise. 37x optical zoom. Manual focus, exposure, white balance, shutter speed. Mike input and firewire out. It says no headset out, but from experience with past ZR models I’m willing to bet the menu can be set so the AV in/out can operate as a headset out. No still capability.

Before we go any further, I’ll be eliminating cameras along the way that do not have the options I want/need…so from here on you’ll only see those that meet my specs. This includes eliminating the two Aipteks I purchased – they were an emergency fill-in because they do NOT have mike inputs or manual controls…they can be used on a number of my beginning assignments though.

Much later…
Disappointing. Only the tape camera – the Canon ZR960 – met all my specs. The next closest are three Canon (FS200, FS21, FS22) flash card cameras with mike/headset jacks but no manual controls. Only three cameras – all Sonys (DCR SX40, DCR SX41, DCR SX60) – had any type of manual control and that was just focus. The price ranges on the Canon (tape and tapeless) runs from $250 to $500 and for the Sonys from $227 to $329.

To get all of the features I want, I’d need to spend over $1500 per camera. For that I can get six low end cameras.

A quick check of the hi-def camcorders turned up the Canon Vixia JF200 with mike and headset jacks but no manual controls.

At a more reasonable price, but with only a 5x zoom but still with a mike input is the Aiptek Action HD GVS 1080p for $170.

Some Sonys have an accessory shoe that takes mikes by the way…check out the Sony KDRXR200V for $650. You may find this holds true for some of the low-end Sonys.

Here’s an old favorite…the flash card version of my Canon HV20 – the Vixia HF20 for $655. Includes mike input but I’m not seeing any manual controls.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this tour and also learned how to do your own research. Remember that before beginning you need to know your budget and your requirements. And before making that final decision, check out compatibility between the camera and your computer and software so you can avoid surprises.

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