Which video camera to buy?

Henry

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I'm thinking of buying a simple, easy-to-use camcorder for my use and for others to use for ski shots. Good zoom, optical stabilization, almost point & shoot are wanted. What will work well for people who don't know what they're doing and want to invest the minimum in time and thought to get decent skiing videos? Panasonic's cheapest...HC-V180K? Sony's cheapest...CX405?

HC-V180K: 1080p, 50x optical zoom (90x total), automatic leveling, 28 mm wide angle lens, 5-axis stabilization, bright or dim o̶p̶e̶r̶a̶t̶o̶r̶ conditions. 2-5/16" x 2-5/16 x 4-9/16". 7.4 oz.
CX405: stabilization, Zeiss 26.8 mm lens, 30x optical 60x total zoom, bunch of good sounding features, 2-1/4" x 2-3/8" x 5-1/8", 7.6 oz.

Both sound very good, both are about the same price, the Panasonic is a bit smaller, more zoom.

Anyone know which of these, or something else, will be the easiest to use and still make good videos?

Are the really cheap camcorders as junky as the low price suggests, or good enough for limited use? It looks like they have limited zoom. Is 20x enough?
 

MountainMonster

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I bought the Sony CX405 late last season, I paid $99 for an open box on ebay I believe.
light weight plastic housing , but the video quality & zoom are useable for quick ski vids IMO.
this is a "zoom" test from the MM inn parking lot to top of chr 23 this past July.
 

mdf

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Any have optical viewfinders? Many people (including me) find viewscreen viewfinders essentially worthless. Point & shoot changes to Guess & shoot.
 

DoryBreaux

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Any have optical viewfinders? Many people (including me) find viewscreen viewfinders essentially worthless. Point & shoot changes to Guess & shoot.
They will all be electronic viewfinders. Only place one would find optical viewfinder would be on an SLR/DSLR, rangefinder, or film cinema camera.
Now that my know-it-all comment is out of the way... I would agree and suggest you find something with a viewfinder. Flipout screens are a pain in the sun.
 

Crank

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I agree that you really do need a viewfinder for shooting outside in bright sun. Unfortunately, they make you pay for a camcorder that has one. Another consideration is optical zoom vs digital zoom. Basically the image quality suffers once you are in digital territory. However, It is pretty impossible to get good video when zoomed way way in unless you are using a tripod and are an experienced shooter. By good I mean not shaking all over the place enough to make you seasick just trying to watch it. Translation, 20x optical is plenty.
 

mdf

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Another consideration is optical zoom vs digital zoom.
I think the key metric is how many pixels are actually being used. With optical zoom, you use all your pixels. With digital zoom, you throw some of them away, but there is at least a possibility to move the virtual field of view around in the physical FOV for stabilization.

I have a digital camcorder with lots of optical zoom that I got as an anniversary present from work. But it turns out the gift service they use appears to re-purpose obsolete products, and it has a small-ish image sensor by modern standards. My phone with a much smaller aperture and digital zoom takes video as good as the camcorder with optical zoom, so I only took the camcorder out a couple of times. [The camcorder should win in dim light given the larger glass, but I don't think I actually compared. Skiing is far from low-light, anyway.] The moral, I guess, is to look at all the specs.
 

Crank

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I think the key metric is how many pixels are actually being used. With optical zoom, you use all your pixels. With digital zoom, you throw some of them away, but there is at least a possibility to move the virtual field of view around in the physical FOV for stabilization.

I have a digital camcorder with lots of optical zoom that I got as an anniversary present from work. But it turns out the gift service they use appears to re-purpose obsolete products, and it has a small-ish image sensor by modern standards. My phone with a much smaller aperture and digital zoom takes video as good as the camcorder with optical zoom, so I only took the camcorder out a couple of times. [The camcorder should win in dim light given the larger glass, but I don't think I actually compared. Skiing is far from low-light, anyway.] The moral, I guess, is to look at all the specs.
It has been a few years since I looked at cameras. My understanding was always that optical zoom uses the actual lens and digital zoom is electronic.

An actual camcorder gives you the advantage of being able to zoom smoothly while shooting. I don't believe you can do this with a camera that also shoots video (which is what I use) Nor a phone camera. Though I admit my old Iphone took great video. This is a super useful feature for shooting skiers. Mainly it will allow you to keep a skier coming at you, or going away for that matter, at a relatively stable size in the frame. If you watch skiing on TV that is how they mostly use zooms.
 

DoryBreaux

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Agree that anything over 20x is kind of useless. The biggest zoom lens I have is a 6x, and even on a set of heavy duty legs and a pro fluid head, it isn't exactly a walk in the park getting steady images. Any modern camcorder should have either optical or 5-axis sensor image stabilization, and depending on the camera this will help significantly.
@mdf Bell and Howell (and maybe Kodak and Bolex) had a few wind up and hand crank 8mm and 16mm cameras that used a similar approach, but an open notch sight on a modern camera would be awesome!
 

mdf

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My understanding was always that optical zoom uses the actual lens and digital zoom is electronic.
I agree. Digital zoom just uses part of the image and blows it up. My point was that if you start with enough pixels, you may still do better than a camera that uses all of its pixels with an optical zoom, but starts with fewer pixels .

If you could shoot in raw and crop in post production, that would be better than the real time processing on a phone. I'm guessing that is what expensive cameras do.
 

pete

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@Henry

What's the general use .. I presume stable shots or while moving? Only asking as viewfinder itself may not be a great adder unless your standing stable. So literally affixing a sight isn't a bad idea as one can point while moving without losing peripheral acuity.

Adding the viewfinder typically comes in the more pricey models. I had a nice Sony that lacked a viewfinder, used it for kids waterski shows. Being bright out I resorted to sighting down the body of the camera and had good luck.

At longer zoom, stabilization seldom holds things completely calm but is definitely better than none, so I'd go with with whichever has better review of stabilization at similar magnification. Otherwise if videoing while riding, hard to opt out of a Go Pro type camera and then cropping if needed.

Had good luck looking at open box units from Best Buy .. just in case they happen to have one.
 

ScotsSkier

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If you want it to have any value, get one with a viewfinder. I have tried (too often!) using one with just a screen when coaching and it becomes simply a guessing game as to whether you have actually captured the athlete or not.
 

karlo

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Consider modern point and shoot cameras over camcorder. Viewfinder. Very good optical zoom. Big image sensors. And, in the case of this Sony, incredible autofocus for stills and videos. See about 13:00 for video autofocus


Plus, it’s an incredible still camera.
 

Corgski

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I'd say pick one of the two and go for it. Not at all hard to start spending close to a thousand dollars, probably better to get a feel for the whole idea first. Panasonic and Sony are actively competing in the handheld consumer camcorder market which has shrunk with so many people shifting to using still cameras for their videos. Canon for example only as a token presence in that area so while I like their still cameras I would not get a consumer camcorder from them. I have taken a lot of quality video with still cameras but the barrel format is way better for taking video while on the go. Much easier to get the interesting shots with a camcorder.

Video cameras are the sort of thing where I want a walk in store with a generous extended warranty program. Expensive video cameras can start making funny grinding noises after kids have had their turn with them. At the lower price range though it may be ok to take the risk of just finding the best deal.
 

Jacques

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Another consideration is battery life and safe operating temperatures. If you dig in, you will find those cameras, like most don't (or should not) be used below freezing. (32F)
I just got my third camcorder. It is the new Canon HF W10. It is waterproof to 16 ft. Can operate down to 14F. Has a 40x optical zoom. Has a 5 hour battery.
Has advanced image stabilization.
There are drawbacks. Because it is water proof, it has no option for an external microphone.
The zoom only has two speeds. (depends how much you press the rocker)
Like all camcorders with stable mode, you loose frame size.
There is no eye piece. Only a screen. (to shoot with screen closed, you need to go to menu and set that function)
The battery is built-in, so good luck changing when it finally gives out.
It only shoots at 60fps. Be sure to switch mode to progressive. It is set to interlaced from factory.

For the low price it has a lot of good stuff though.

With some practice, one can point and shoot. You can't be zooming while doing that though!

I have not tried follow cam with it yet. I did do a bit of shaking testing, and it seems to be pretty good. Sure, if you get way shaky, it can't fix that.
 
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