Shopping for Digital Video Cam

In the wake of Loyd Heilbrunn’s thread, here I go. Looking to purchase a digital video cam. Price needs to be like under $600 or so but otherwise I have no knowledge in the area. Basically I’d like something which does not use magnetic media; any digital format (flash cards, internal memory, whatever) is good. I do have firewire ports in my PC so cams with firewire ability are A-OK. Would like excellent quality but I don’t mind doing alot of post-production type stuff on the PC; i.e. I don’t need the cam to have a whole ton of features other than some intelligent anti-shake and lots of memory.

Suggestions? Thanks in advance.

“voltman” Fellini

Digital camcorders use tape for their main recording medium because memory sticks don’t hold enough data to be practical for good-quality video. Some camcorders do let you insert memory sticks, but they are mainly for storing still images, not video. I think you can fit a couple minutes of video onto an 8MB memory stick. This probably varies with the storage format and image quality settings.

Most camcorders have Firewire ports so that you can transfer DV data to your hard drive.

Since I don’t have kids, I haven’t taken a serious look at digital camcorders. But, start off reading the DV primer at, then look at some of the reviews listed at There’s some technical info about the DV format at

The industry phrase for camera-shake compensation is “image stabilization”.

I was hoping that with 128MB and 256MB sticks now this wouldn’t be as much of an issue. Shows you how much research I’ve done to this point, eh? NONE!

The industry phrase for camera-shake compensation is “image stabilization”.

I like “shaky cam”. Sounds more edgy. Or something.

BTW thanks for the links, I’ll get to readin’ tonight.

Most DV cameras that I’ve seen so far use the AVI format and that comes out to be 2GB for around 10 minutes or so, a 128 or 256MB stick isn’t going to cut it. If you don’t want magnetic media, then your best chance is probably one of the DVD-RAM/ROM models.

Man that sucks. I have a 5 or so year old Sony Mavica camera which does movies in MPG format. It’s one of the last models to use floppies only (no flash media, data ports, etc). It will record about a minute and a half of video with sound to fit on a floppy at 320x240. Extrapolating to 640x480, I was hoping that a modern DV-cam with 256Megs could hold, say, 45 minutes or so of video before needing to swap flash cards, download, or whatever.

Too bad for me. I guess I’ll stick with what does actually exist. Man 2GB for 10 minutes… that fucking sucks. Seriously. I’ve got half hour TV shows in beautiful quality at 800x600 that only take up 400 megs as software mpegs. You’d think there is some hardware mpeg middle ground on a multi-hundred dollar piece of consumer electronics.

DV records in what approximates to DVD resolution (if not quite quality). It’ll make pretty much any MPEG 1 file look silly. Does take up space, though. You’re free to reencode the video to MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 after capturing it over Firewire. I wouldn’t worry to much about the magnetic media because the whole idea is that you can edit and compress on your computer and then burn it to VCD or DVD. Using tape is just an economical intermediary. I’m not sure any of the DVD-RAM-type models will be in your price range, but I haven’t exactly priced them.

Do you mean miniDV?

Anyone have any experience doing digital transfers of miniDV to something like MPEG2? Quality? Program?

— Alan

I have used premiere to dump from the camera, then Divx to dump it into divx format. Worked pretty well, pretty good quality, tiny file size. Otherwise the raw files are avi’s and huge.

There are some freeware divx converters around or you can just buy it from for $20 (or use the scumware laden version).


The original files are in uncompressed AVI format so you don’t lose any quality during editing. You can recode them as small MPEGS or tiny WMP9 files after you’re done editing.

As folks have said, though, tape is the way to record for now if you want top quality.

Now, you CAN get a digital camera with an MPEG/AVI/Quicktime recording mode. Some of these support 640x480 format at 15 or 30 fps, and can record as much video as you can fit on the memory card you’re using. The tiny Canon S230 can shoot 30-second clips 640x480 videos (or 3 minutes at 320x240). The expensive but awesome-looking Sony f828 can handle memory-card-size video at 640x480 at 30 fps.

However, no digital camera solution is going to match the quality of a tape-based DV cam. The optics and CCD are optimized for one function or the other. Videos shot by still cameras look a lot better than stills shot by video cameras, though.

As far as DV camcorders go, tape is no big hassle with a firewire connection. Just dedicate part of a big drive as your “work” area, then bring over your video from tape. The computer can fully control the camera. Using something like Pinnacle Studio 8, you can even bring in smaller “preview” files, do your work using those, and then have the editing program bring in only the parts you’re using in hi-res. The computer will find, digitize, and save the chosen video automatically using the time codes. You never have to deal with FF/RW/Play etc. like in the bad old analog days.

OK I’ve basically digested all the stuff at the sites Roger posted and a few other places, so now looking for recommendations if anyone has any.

  1. Go for DV, not any of the other digital tape formats such as Digital8. (The only exception would be if you had an old 8mm camcorder.)

  2. As for brands, I really like the Canon ZR series. (I own the old ZR20.) Very compact, reasonably priced, good picture. The “low-end” models are fine – you shouldn’t care about a digital media card slot because the digital still are going to stink anyway. Sony makes some nice DV cams as well (be careful, they also make Digital 8). Avoid Panasonic, and avoid low-end JVC cams. The JVCs are “feature light” and tend to be huge.

Go look at almost every JVC at best buy etc - what do you see? The tape door stuck open. Serious flaw in design, it happens in real life with them.

Under 600 I would go with Sony, the lower end Canon cameras tend to have a high motor noise and this shows up on tape. I have seen this with two seperate camera. The nicer canons don’t have this issue and tend to out perform the Sony camera at low light and other features for the same price.

What is your price range?


I can second this, I have the Canon ZR (45 I think?) and it has worked great for me. Color in low-light situations isn’t as good as Sony’s, but you pay more for comparable Sony camcorders.

I haven’t had any problems with motor sound on mine, maybe Chet is speaking about a certain model? As far as converting to mpg, the quality does go down slightly, but it is the only way to get it onto Dvd, you just have to pick and choose codecs that look the best.

The Elura 50 that I bought was right at $620 on Ebay, though it goes for a little bit more ($700 or so) on the shelf. Still, seems to me it works really well. Now just gotta see how the video converts…

— Alan

No motor sound on my ZR20, either. The ZR40 is the only Canon camera I ever tried that I noticed any motor sound with.