Equipment: Sony HDV Camcorder HDR-HC1 review

| | Comments (13) has a very extensive review of the new sub-$2000 Sony high-definition camcorder, the HDR-HC1. This is one of several new consumer/prosumer high-definition video (HDV) camcorders on the market. The high-end is defined by the Sony HDR-FX1, which is a fantastic $4000 HD unit that really opened up the market to prosumers. JVC also has two camcorders aimed for the prosumer/consumer markets: the GR-HD1 and the JY-HD10U. There's a nice comparison of the high-end Sony vs. JVC on

Why am I interested? This winter, I'm thinking of making an ethnographic film about psychiatric disabilities (mental illness) in Japan. I'd like to shoot it in HDV and since Apple's Final Cut Pro (not to mention iMovie HD) is all-HD compatible these days, there's no reason not to shoot at the higher resolution. You can always mix down to NTSC. If you have any thoughts or comments, please post them here!


I am looking forward to the release of the cheaper Sony. the biggie (as I am sure you already checked out) is super cool, but I think I want something smaller. Up until this point I have had my eye on the Canon GL2.
I also liked the feel and size of this Victor:
The price was around 25 at Bic Camera....

It is good to know you are interested in film/documentary stuff! There are a few grad students in the department looking to set something up (editing station/check out-able camera, etc) and Kate D seems interested as well.

10 demerits for me not remembering that Victor is JVC....

My job came with some startup funds specifically for the purpose of teaching visual anthropology, so we might be able to get something (still/video cameras, editing station) together for the grad and advanced undergrads. I'll be working with KD over the summer on this. I'd welcome your input on what you'd like to see made available.

I was hoping that would be the case. There is a documentary class in the film department but not "ethnographic film" or "visual anthropology" specifically. There are at least two or three of us in residence now who have expressed interest in doing something along those lines, and if there were facilities for anthro I bet there would be more. There is an editing room that students can access via media and tech (or some similarly named office) but I haven't used it yet.
It depends on how much the funds were (but Yale usually does well in that realm) but it would be great to get an editing station (that could handle HD processing!), a set of video and still cameras, a couple mics, lighting, tripod....ahh the list could get very long!
All in all good news!

So do you think it's worth getting HDV camcorders for the students? The lowest is the HDR-HC1 at $2 grand a pop. Ideally, you'd want two cameras minimum, which eats up about half our budget -- not much left for mics, tripods, lights, still cameras, not to mention an editing computer (iMac G5).

Perhaps the best use of the funds would be two DV camcorders, one digital SLR, one high-end compact digital camera, a good lavier mike, a good directional mike, some hot lights, a tripod, and iMac G5 + Final Cut Express. Which is just about our budget...

After some fiddling on B&H's site, here are the prices from cheapest to most expensive:

JVC/Victor GR-HD1: $1899
Sony HDR-HC1: $1999
JVC JY-HD10U: $2599
Sony HDR-FX1: $3145

That sounds like a good use of a (10k?) budget. I hope you were looking at the 20" iMac :)

I am planning to pick up a (video) camera on my own (I have a project where I will need it for about two months straight). I am wavering between a nice 3CCD DV camera or a HD. The problem is that I won't really be able to show HD resolution most places yet. Still, I could record in HD or DV, or process the HD to DV resolution for regular TV/projecotrs, etc. If the new Sony is nice (I am planning to go play with it tomorrow) then it is about the same price as the Canon 3CCD job, and it might be better in the long run to have HD capabilities..... But that's my personal conundrum.

As for department equipment, if not HD cameras, are you thinking of two smaller DV cameras ($1k or so)? If not, a higher end/larger 3CCD one would still be about two grand.

And maybe this is just my own personal bias, but I think that while a set of digital cameras would be nice, most students are more likely to afford/have them than they are video cameras and peripheral stuff like lights and mics. If there weren't still cameras, there might be enough funds for two 3CCD DV cameras/two new smaller format HD cameras. Still, if there are funds for still cameras, I think I am more likely to want to borrow a digital SLR, although there might be some students without a compact digital camera.

It looks like $2,000 can go to an HD as easily as a DV camera. For most uses do you think the DV output of the HD capable cameras is comparable to the DV-only cameras in the same price range?

Another question is if these (video) cameras would be used for a particular class. In that case if there were two cameras it might make sense to have two sets of mics and lighting equipment. If not it might be better to have one (nice quality) set of everything, and gauge the need to get more later through new funding requests.

Exciting prospects!

Have you looked into storage requirement for HD? It's a pretty massive jump between DV and HD. Also, have you looked into the issues with HD's decreased dynamic range?

It is a big jump and that's one reason I don't think we'll use HD for the student camcorders or projects. DV is more than enough for their work.

I'm divided myself on the pros and cons of HD for my own work and part of it has to do with the still nascent state of prosumer (i.e., sub $10,000) camcorders. The Sony ones do have problems with dynamic range. I'm not sure if that is a problem with HD or with the Sonys themselves.

My ideal camcorder is the Canon XL2 but it isn't in HD yet. I heard a rumor that the XL3 will come out next year, but that doesn't help me for the project this year.

Right now, it looks like compromises all around and I'm not sure which ones I want to make. Price / dynamic range / XLR inputs / storage requirements / interchangeable (i.e. ability to use prime) lenses / etc. etc. Any thoughts?

Sony has a new high-end prosumer HD camcorder, the HVR-Z1U which is selling for about $4900. It has XLR inputs and better dynamic range, I hear... It's basically 1080i but can shoot at 60i, 50i, or 30f, or 25f.

Here's a good primer on the various formats:

And here's a really good report from the latest NAB on the new cameras coming out:

and PlanetPC has some more detailed specs on the HVR-Z1E HDV, HDR-FX1, and other HDV cameras

Maybe the dynamic range will be better on the new crop of HD cameras. I recently shot stills on the set of 2 productions that were using Sony's CineAlta, and I was not impressed. In low light settings, the picture looked great. Under the sun, not so good.

One thing about the HVR-Z1U that I noticed is that it's minimum lux rating is 3. Compare this to 1 for the PD170 and I think the XL2.

If you know you are going to be in situations where you can control the lighting, maybe an HD cam makes sense. I'm not sure I'd want to shoot a documentary with one though. The current crop of HD cams kind of seems like a marketing gimic; more megapixels is always better, right? Except when you cram more pixels into the same size sensor.

I talked with a filmmaker who has used the new Sonys. Apparently there's a bug in the auto-iris that gives it sub-standard performance in low-light. You have to open up the iris manually and turn down the gain control to get the best DR in dark situations.

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This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on July 3, 2005 8:08 AM.

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