Best under-$500 vid camera...

Discussion in 'Amateur Video Production' started by Existential Angst, Feb 7, 2013.

  1. Apropos of the thread on the Sony HDR-PJ30V (with the built in projector),
    I'm returning that camera bec of the low light issue. Hopefully I can do
    much better in a "straight" video camera, esp. regarding low light. I'll be
    better off with a separate portable projector, I'm sure.

    I believe almost all the Sony's, Canons, Panasonics will have more than
    enough pic quality than I need. So my main concern is low light, file
    handling convenience (the Sony had some neat stuff, mebbe they all do that
    slideshow type stuff with stored clips, etc), and an "easy" editable file
    format -- essentially non-ACVHD?? :)

    Are there affordable cameras that can save to a variety of file formats?

    So some recs on what I might find at B&H would be helpful.
    Existential Angst, Feb 7, 2013
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  2. Ah, what you want is good low-light HD video shooting ability
    above all else, in a cheap camcorder that shoots a file type
    that is easy to edit (and not TOO bad...;-) on an old computer
    with cheap software, right?;-) Unfortunately, low-light ability
    costs money (larger sensor, faster lens, better image-processing
    in-camera), and the choices are few for file types shot in cheap
    cameras (HDV [generally to tape, but camcorders that shoot this
    are getting rare, especially among bottom-end cameras] and AVCHD
    [harder to edit, but if your standards are low, AVCHD comes in
    several "flavors", and the low data-rate and resolution
    "AVCHD-Lite" may serve your purposes]). So, there can be a few
    different ways to get what you want: 1), a dedicated camcorder -
    but good ones for low light are likely beyond your budget, and
    the AVCHD file types available may (or may not) tax your editing
    resources if you want to work beyond very basic editing; 2), a
    compact still-camera-that-also-takes-video - and some of the
    better ones that have fast built-in lenses and shoot AVCHD-Lite
    are not TOO bad for video-quality, at least in decent light levels,
    and are relatively cheap; and 3), a fairly inexpensive still
    camera that has a relatively large sensor ("micro four-thirds"),
    which can help with having greater light-sensitivity - but these
    often use relatively expensive interchangeable lenses that are
    also generally quite "slow". OK, recommendations - at B&H (but
    also available elsewhere):
    - The HDV (tape-based) Canon HV40, $599 (BTW, I have a similar
    HV20 for sale with extra mid-size battery, $425...). Easy editing,
    pleasant-to-use camcorder with good-quality video output, but not
    it's not great in low light (but with minimal camera or close-in
    subject movements, the shutter speed can be dropped one or two
    speeds below the usual 1/60th, increasing its low-light range
    quite noticeably).
    - Any of several compact fixed-lens still cameras with *fast* lenses
    that shoot video. I like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 for low light,
    and its video-quality is surprisingly decent in low light at its
    highest quality video settings (the video *specs.* are top-end, but
    the files may be difficult to edit, and not as good in bright light
    as one might want...).
    The Panasonic FZ200 looks promising, but I have not tried it (the
    stills I have seen shot at widest-angle look sharper to me at the
    edges/corners from the 2-stops-faster LX7, though...).
    - A "micro-four-thirds" camera (the sensor is 1/4 the area of 35mm
    full-frame, so it is FAR larger than those in the above cameras or
    in any video camera below a couple of thousand dollars [without lens]),
    which can be used at MUCH higher ISO settings, good for low light
    (but most of the [interchangeable] lenses for these are "slow"...).
    Both Panasonic and Olympus make many models of these (search "micro
    four thirds cameras" or "micro four thirds" to also see lenses -
    but many of the cameras come as "kits" with a "slow" included lens).
    Panasonic bodies have auto-corrections for lens linear distortions,
    and corner illumination and CA problems (but only when using
    Panasonic lenses), and Panasonic lenses often have stabilizers;
    Olympus bodies have a built-in stabilizer (making it easier to adapt
    non-4/3rds lenses to them), but no other lens image corrections,
    so it is *generally* best to match brands even though the lens
    mount is the same on both brands. (BTW, I *may* soon have a Panasonic
    GF3s with 14mm f2.5 lens (28mm-equivalent WA) available new, at a VERY
    good price. It is tiny, with very good low-light range, and decent
    video in various AVCHD formats - reviewed here: (download the video samples
    to see what they are like - they are not as good when viewed directly
    from the review site). This camera with the 14mm or 20mm "pancake"
    lenses (and the Panasonic LX7, with its 24-90mm equivalent zoom) are
    so small that they fit easily into a T-shirt pocket!;-) My review of
    the LX7 is here:
    David Ruether, Feb 7, 2013
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  3. David, most or all of your recs are digital cameras? Not vid cameras, per
    I have the Canon HV-20. Good camcorder, just don't like the capture
    process, dropouts.
    I like having the pyooter files right on the camcorder. But if I can't get
    low-light capability at a reasonable price, I may just have to keep using
    Existential Angst, Feb 7, 2013
  4. Existential Angst

    Steve King Guest

    How often have drop-outs been a problem? I'm asking because in about 6
    years of doing video in the DV25 world, both DVCAM and miniDV tapes, I think
    we only had two or three instances of drop-outs. Of course, if my
    experience was extrapolted to shooting events, shooting hours and hours per
    week, rather than my 50 or a hundred miniDV tapes per year, I suppose I
    might have seen much more. Does shooting HD make a big difference in
    drop-outs. My HD experience has all been to cards so far.

    Steve King
    Steve King, Feb 7, 2013
  5. Yes - "still-cameras-that-shoot-video" are becoming popular for use by
    independent film-makers due to their relatively small sizes and prices,
    and also due to their improving video quality and to their common
    to shoot successfully in very low light levels without requiring
    lighting (which is why I was recommending some of these to you...;-).
    Some of these cameras are also relatively cheap (under $600...).

    If you stick with only *ONE* brand and type of tape (as also with
    and keep the HV20 clean, you can keep to a minimum the number of
    that occur (for me, to an average of about 1 or 2 per hour). Also, with
    Mini-DV, compression is done frame-by-frame, and dropouts are concealed
    by "borrowing" from the frame before part(s)s to replace the part(s) of
    the image in the subsequent frame that has been damaged (so unless one
    is "sharp-eyed" while watching the video, with Mini-DV, a dropout is
    unlikely to be spotted). With HDV, though, a dropout will interrupt a
    13-frame GOP, resulting in about a half second of frozen picture with no
    sound - BUT, cutting out the single damaged frame generally restores the
    rest, good if you can edit at the resulting break.

    See above...;-)
    Yes, it does (see above...;-). An answer, to avoid the dropout issue
    HDV, is to use a video camera that can record HDV to both tape *and* to
    memory card at the same time(!). Sony makes some, but they are
    expensive, and at least one is unfortunately just now going out of
    production (the FX7). If one goes the micro four thirds route with
    1920x1080-60I and accepts a bit of a hit in image quality, excellent
    light shooting ability is available with relatively cheap cameras, and
    video can be edited using recent computers with fairly modest specs...
    David Ruether, Feb 8, 2013
  6. Existential Angst

    Brian Guest

    You could do what I do and that is check out reviews on the internet. Type
    in the camera's brand and model number and add the word "review" in a
    google search. Some sites that review video cameras include some recordings
    shot from the reviewed video camera. You'll find that most video cameras
    can record at reasonable quality in low light conditions. The wider the
    aperture the less that camera needs to boost the video gain to record in
    low lighting conditions. Using wide angle when recording in low light can
    Brian, Feb 8, 2013
  7. Good advice, to which I will add that some sites (like
    which doesn't review video cameras but does review video modes of still
    cameras that also shoot video - with video samples included) permit the
    downloading of the original video files. These often look MUCH better
    than when viewed directly from the site. There's nothing better than
    having original video files to compare! Also go to, and
    search for videos made with the cameras/camcorders of interest. While
    the videos have been compressed for streaming, those at 1080-30P (select
    resolution by clicking on the "gear" icon, then click on the
    icon at the far right (preferably viewing on a monitor that supports
    full 1920x1080 for sharpest results). With videos that are well-made and
    well-prepared for YouTube viewing, the results can retain most of the
    sharpness of the original videos, making evaluation more useful. And, as
    Brian said, using the zoom at its widest works best in low light (most
    zooms are "fastest" at their WA settings, often more than a stop faster
    than when used at their tele ends). Also apparent depth-of-field will be
    greater, aiding focus ease and the appearance of overall sharpness in
    the images.
    David Ruether, Feb 8, 2013
  8. Sorry, I've been living under a rock, video-wise, for the
    past decade, but perhaps I can help. The Canon HV20 looks
    like a compact version of my old Sony TRV-DCR730 (or is it
    DCR-TRV730? Oh well), but updated to HD. I assume that
    you have to "capture" the footage over firewire.

    I had no trouble capturing without frame loss from my DV
    tapes in a Y2K-era computer. 512 Meg RAM, Win2K, 933 MHz
    Pentium 3, fairly vanilla, but with a dedicated IDE
    Firewire capture card. About 3 years ago, I thought I'd
    use the firewire on the far more powerful Lenovo Thinkpad
    W510 to do a somehow "better job" on a few leftover
    cassettes, and it was a major fail. Yes, the W510 can do
    firewire (data transfer, for example), it just can't capture
    without major dropouts. Not sure whether it's: a) cheap
    firewire circuitry in the W510; b) Windows 7 has some funny
    setting with regard to ... latency? ... that messes up
    capture; c) some other component or Win7 process is stealing
    time slices at the wrong moment.

    Anyway, the Y2K-era computer still works great on DV. And
    to think that somebody in the house wanted to throw it out
    ..... As so often, mileage will vary, and Good Luck.
    Jonathan Berry, Feb 9, 2013
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