Digital video camera for the field

| | Comments (7)

One of my colleagues asked for a recommendation for a digital video camera for the field. I recommended against getting a Mini-DV or HV camcorder and instead going all digital with a flash (SDHC) based camcorder:

These days, instead of using tape, I recommend going all digital. That way, you can simply dump the video files to your PC and don't have to bother digitizing them. You will need a large hard drive, but a 500 gigabyte pocket hard drive is cheap and fits in your laptop bag easily.

I recommend these models:

  • Canon Vixia HF-10 or HF-100 (this is the one I use)
  • Sanyo Xacti (small, handheld, the microphone isn't as good on this, but size is excellent)

Be sure to get a large SD card -- at least 4 gigabytes. Eight or 16 gigabytes is preferable.


Do you think this was good advice? Please post any suggestions or comments (or questions)!


It boils down to DV/HDV vs. AVCHD nowadays (with some crackpot cameras like the drool-worthy Toshiba Camileo using MJPEG AVI).

People need to understand the trade-off with AVCHD - lower file sizes, can be burned to a DVD as-is and read by a Blu-Ray player, but harder to edit and suffers from generation loss. At the very least prospective buyers need to know if their software supports AVCHD.

While I tend to agree with the idea of an easily copyable format that is very efficient in terms of storage, AVCHD seems to require a pretty heavy-duty processor to handle any kind of substantial editing/rendering. I tried out a Canon HF10 several months back and really liked the camcorder's performance, but couldn't handle waiting 20 minutes for a 30 second clip to render. As an ethnomusicologist who often records an entire concert's worth of material in a sitting, I simply can't imagine waiting hours for a one-hour performance, and away at a field site no less. Perhaps my computer is a bit outdated [a MacBook Pro (first generation) Intel Core Duo with 2GB ram] and therefore underpowered for the task. In the end I found an HDV-capable miniDV much more usable for hi-definition documentation. Not to mention the fact that in the digital file realm, one must have at least three simultaneous copies in order to be "backed-up" sufficiently. In a sense, the original tape allows me to have that should my other two digital copies become lost or unusable somehow.

Hmm... I find the processing time for AVCHD to be around 1:1 with my MacBookPro (latest model) and to be 10:1 with my Mac Pro desktop. What I don't like is that importing AVCHD usually results in an intermediary format that is much larger.

Still, I'm sold on all-digital right now.

I have been getting used to a Canon HF 200 for location shooting. I still have a now 9 year old Canon GL1 mini dv camera with a good documentary kit.
Hidden away in my basement is my Sony Broadcast Betacam 400a - now almost 20 years old. And about 50 times heavier than my HF200!

I like the imagery from the HF200. I have bought additional batteries and their Mini S shoe shot-gun mic - which is pretty good. It is selling for about $459US now - a good price for a very tote-able basic camera.

The camera may seem almost too light to us older news shooters and takes getting used to.

By the way - Canon is only making a waterproof underwater housing for the HF200 at present...

You also have to remember to buy faster processing SDHC cards for video.

A friend at a TV station in Indianapolis has the same rig as a back-up or "touristy looking" not broadcast video cam for certain assignments.

My only complaint on the HF series is the 5 or 6 capture speeds. Shot stuff at Xmas for a friend to edit on a Mac in FCP at a higher format speed and he can't get the` card to work in his edit system for AVCHD. So for now - I recommend shooters with an HF series camera to shoot at SP speed.

Do buy an extra battery for you camera - you may need that as an option.
I hate charging batteries in-camera (part of the HF series) -- in case the camera is knocked off a table or whatever. I have a multi-battery charger for Canon batteries and would rather charge in that than in the camera.

Do monitor audio with an ear plug or phones - besides seeing the meter display "kick" in the viewfinder.

For the price - any of the HF series cameras is a very good buy!

I agree that the HF series is great! I do still like shoulder-mount cameras, they are so much more stable then handy-type cameras. So I use both in the field.

I hope all these digital video formats resolve themselves soon -- just as we've pretty much settled on JPG and Adobe RAW formats in the digital camera world.

I know this is a bit of a bump, but I though I would weigh in on AVCHD almost a year later. Using Panasonics HMC150, I've found the quality of their "professional" AVCHD codec at its highest recording rate quite good--certainly as good or better than HDV. With the price of SDHC becoming rather reasonable, I decided to make a leap to a solid state camcorder. Having also recently upgraded my computer to the newest 15-inch Macbook Pro (i7 processor), I'm finding editing AVCHD footage much easier and with very few hiccups. As I am about to begin dissertation fieldwork, I am happily trading the much reduced hard disk storage requirement and native editing (via Adobe Premiere Pro CS5) for the security of having a tape backup.

I agree! In fact my latest recommendations for camcorders are entirely digital:

How quickly the world turns!


Leave a comment

New!: You can sign in using your Facebook, Google, OpenID, mixi, Yahoo, MovableType, or other third-party authentication system.

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Monthly Archives

Sponsored Links

Powered by Movable Type 5.11

Sponsored by



Sponsored Links

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on May 22, 2009 12:07 PM.

New Photojournalism Blog 'Lens' by the New York Times was the previous entry in this blog.

MacSpeech Dictate 1.5 is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

August 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30