have undergone major changes in the last year or two, perhaps
more than at any time since their introduction in the late 1970s.
These changes affect higher end professional models and even
the affordable three-CCD (charged coupled device), with DV models
costing only a few thousand US dollars. The changes reduce weight,
lower cost, improve quality and implement new recording media.
Camcorders now record on hard disks, optical disks, DVD disks,
several kinds of videotape, of course, and even solid state
hard disks can connect to many camcorders via IEEE 1394 (Firewire)
connections. The video photographer can carry one of these units
on a shoulder tethered to a camera, or some models are integrated
in the camcorder. These Firewire connections were most common
on the consumer DV camcorders including the three-chip models,
but an increasing number of higher end camcorders now offer
expensive portable hard disks, however, may lack the quality
and reliability needed for rugged use in news gathering. Some
third-party vendors such as Focus Enhancements make rugged hard
disks that mount firmly on the battery mount. JVC has a similar
hard disk recorder (DR-DV5000) for its GY-5000U professional
DV camcorder. Ikegami's DNR-20 hard disk recorder can mount
on a camera body, too. The Ikegami Editcam II integrates the
Fieldpack2 hard disk into the camcorder.
hard disk camcorders are those that record on removable media
that can be reused hundreds of times. Sony's Blue Laser optical
disks are the heart of Sony's new XDCAM Professional disc system.
The disks, encased in a cartridge for protection, record about
23 GB, which translates into about 90 minutes of Sony DVCAM
or 75 minutes of the higher quality but more proprietary Sony
IMX MPEG video.
optical system can transfer an hour of proxy video in as little
as a minute. Proxy video is a lower resolution but frame accurate
version, so editors can begin logging and editing without waiting
for the full quality video to reach the newsroom.
offers the Z-3000 camcorders that record about an hour of MPEG-2
video on a standard DVD-RAM or DVD-R disk with a capacity of
Panasonic DVCPRO P2 camcorders use no videotape, no disks, no
moving recording parts at all-just memory cards. Card dimensions
are those of a PCMCIA card; the cards plug into wide local area
network slot (WLAN). However, the biggest storage capacity of
these cards is just 4GB, which holds 16 minutes of DVCPRO or
eight minutes of DVCPRO50. Panasonic expects cards with much
more capacity to be available soon.
an optional network pack to use memory cards for its GY-DV5000U
camcorder. So JVC says it can take full sized DV, Mini-DV, hard
disk, or memory cards in the appropriate configuration, but
the memory cards are not for primary broadcast quality video.
They record MPEG-4 for video streaming on the Web while simultaneously
recording on videotape.
disk and memory card camcorders almost eliminate delay of capture
time, the biggest television news objection to nonlinear editing.
The memory cards or disks can be directly connected to or inserted
into a computer making the digital video immediately available.
Some of the new recorders actually reduce format chaos by recording
a variety of formats such as DV, DVCPRO, and Avid OMF files.
Some also offer loop recording for those situations when the
photographer waits for an expected brief event such as the launch
of a rocket or artillery fire. The camcorder continually stores
video into a buffer or on a hard disk, so the photographer doesn't
waste precious seconds waiting for the camcorder to start when
he needs to shoot quickly.
there may be perils in the new systems. Most are just coming
on the market this year, so there is limited unbiased testimony
from the field based on long-term experience.
include the cost of the recording medium and its resistance
to shock. The removable optical disks and DVDs are inexpensive,
but a memory card or a hard drive that mounts on a camcorder
costs one to two thousand US dollars or more. Then there's the
impact of shock on the disk recordings. Manufacturers have anticipated
the problem creating shock protection and protective memory
buffers, but the real test comes over time in the field.
choices are growing among the new disk and memory card camcorders
at competitive prices. For example, Panasonic's memory card
DVCPRO camcorder starts at less than $20,000 US as does Sony's
optical disk DVCAM, while the higher quality Sony MPEG IMX/DVCAM
camcorder PDW-150 is $34,000.
Camcorders Move Up Scale
Although they still use videotape, for only a few thousand US
dollars, there are many new choices among the three-chip, quasi-professional
DV camcorders. They lack the ruggedness and quality lenses of
more expensive professional camcorders, but they rival Betacam
SP in quality in most respects. They're especially attractive
for situations that pose a high risk to equipment such as covering
war. The three-chip DV camcorders are also good for backups,
bureaus, stringers and jobs that require the videographer to
keep a low profile. The DV video quality is close to some of
the higher digital formats as long as you don't try special
effects and manipulations. With Firewire (IEEE 1394) interfaces,
you can edit video from these camcorders on many off-the-shelf
desktop or laptop computers using inexpensive software. Most
of these camcorders shoot wide screen and progressive scan images.
Two are even high definition.
years ago the Canon XL-1 set off a storm of low-end production
as one of the first three-chip, Mini DV camcorders. Its high
quality, low price, interchangeable lens capability, IEEE 1394
interface, and film-like features even attracted the attention
of producers who usually worked with higher end equipment. XL-1
found its way into a few newsrooms as a less obtrusive tool
for certain stories.
(US $4,999) has features such as dual aspect ratios, a selection
of frame rates, gamma and skin detail controls, presets, digital
signal processing, image stability circuits, XLR audio connections
with phantom power, and a lock to prevent exposure changes when
using an automatic iris. Resolution has improved to 720 x 480
effective pixels for the 4:3 aspect ratio (345,600 pixels per
CCD for a total of 1,036,800) and 960 x 480 for 16:9 (460,800
pixels per CCD for a total of 1,382,400).
hand held, Panasonic's AGDVX-100 ($3995) has been especially
popular with its XLR audio inputs and many electronic, film
like features including wide screen, progressive scan and a
selection of 24 frames per second.
two years JVC has had a hand-held high definition camcorder,
the JD-HY10U, for less than $5,000 US. Its highest quality resolution
is 720 lines progressively scanned. JVC promises an ENG shoulder-style
HDV camcorder but has not indicated when.
Sony introduced what it calls the first HDV-the new high definition
DV format-camcorder, the HDR-FX1 Handycam ($3700 US). Its highest
quality is 1080 lines of interlaced scanning. Sony is marketing
the model as a consumer camcorder, but resolution is 1440 pixels
by 1080 lines with an aspect ratio of 16:9. The model has three,
1/3-inch, one-megapixel CCDs. Resolution of the viewfinder is
often an issue with these camcorders, but Sony says the precariously
perched, 3.5-inch LCD SwivelScreen with 250,000 pixels offers
the highest resolution of any consumer camcorder.
is a professor in the Communication Division of Pepperdine University.