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HD camcorders (or Panasonic GH1)
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Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
HD camcorders (or Panasonic GH1) on 05/09/2009 00:43:25 MDT Print View

I'm a long-time amateur photographer who is interested in doing a bit of video (both on the trail, and off).

So I'm wondering what those in the know can recommend as a lightweight camcorder. I want full HD, good autofocus performance, and decent sound.

The Sony TG1 looks like it might fit the bill for something light and compact.

Being light is important because I will often be carrying a stills camera (SLR) at the same time. The new Pana GH1 is tempting, since it seems to offer pretty good video quality and usability (previous attempts on SLRs have not been very usable). I'm not terribly excited about using it as a stills camera though... the 4/3rds sensor and the range of lenses available are both significant negatives.

I am curious though... how does the GH1 video quality compare to "normal" HD camcorders. Obviously the GH1 gives you shallower d.o.f. which is nice, and low-light performance must be pretty good. But does it end up being comparable to dedicated camcorders?

Any thoughts, suggestions welcome.

Cheers, A

Edited by ashleyb on 05/09/2009 00:45:24 MDT.

Nate Meinzer
(Rezniem) - F

Locale: San Francisco
Canon EOS 2d Mark II on 05/09/2009 08:55:44 MDT Print View

Not sure if you're up for getting a new SLR, but Canon has an SLR that has can take truly amazing HD video.

Check out a sample:

Here's a link to a review of it::

I want to get one at some point, but having already bought a D-SLR I have to wait.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: HD camcorders (or Panasonic GH1) on 05/09/2009 11:26:40 MDT Print View

Hi Ashley,

The GH1 will be shipping soon so questions about capability and quality should be answered in considerable detail. Perhaps the biggest question revolves around the video-specific 14-140mm lens, rather than the camera itself. If it's a very good lens then the system will be superior to any dslr-based video platform due to having continuous autofocus and, IIUC, iris control. Standard slr lenses offer neither, which is a huge handicap.

I doubt the GH1 will be a complete substitute for a purpose-built camcorder since they have such sophisticated controls and are really well sorted out by now, but the GH1 still capability is unmatched by any camcorder and eliminates the need to carry two cameras.

Micro four thirds is still quite new but with Olympus rolling out their system in the next month or two we'll have a lot more lenses and perhaps two more bodies to choose among. I remain very positive about the system's potential to become *the* backpacker-photographer system of choice.

I'm curious about your hesitation about 4/3rds.



Peter Burke
(Fishmonger) - F

Locale: Midwest
HD camcorders on 05/09/2009 12:37:13 MDT Print View

I use a Canon HV20 in the backcountry. Reasons: proper HDV recording to tape unlike most of the new breed hard drive based cameras. Huge quality difference, since to boost recording time, they compress the heck out of the video in those cameras (inlcuding GH1). Proper HDV footage is 25mbps. Even with the better h.264 codec, the hard drive or flash based cameras rarely go over 6mbps, and given these are single-pass encoded files, they suck.

Shooting tape means you can bring hours and hours of media. On the long treks I do, that's a major factor, because you probably won't have a chance to unload a hard drive. Flash media may work, but again, you probably are looking at compromised master video quality, because they want you to feel like you hav ea lot of storage space in a dinky 2GB card. A tape is 15GB each, for 63 mins of proper HDV footage (and even HDV is really a compromise and not really 1920x1080)

Apart fom that - the HV20 does pretty decent 24P once you have the right tools for post production, can be picked up for peanuts, and has a huge following in the indy film maker camp. Tons of accessories and lots of expertise available for it, too. Battery life is exceptional (I brought tow batteries and a solar charger for a 14 day hike last summer - enough for 5 hours of footage, and I only had to charge one battery once)

Still images can be pulled off the tape - they aren't anything like what a true DSLR will give you, but they are good enough for web use.

My HD camera gear for this summer, a 444 mile trip with a few resupplies is as follows

Canon HV20, Raynox wide angle, carry pouch 34.7 oz
Canon DM50 microphone 4 oz
large spare battery 2.5 oz
DIY unit for e2 Lithium cells 5.3 oz
52mm Hoya circ. Polarizer 0.7 oz
Cokin filter holder P type 0.7 oz
gray and tobacco gradient filters 0.7 oz
DIY tent pole tripod 5.6 oz

I ditched the solar charger since it forces you to stay put and leave it in the bright sun for a few hours. It doesn't work on the back of your pack. No time for that, and a custom battery pack made with lithium AA's which I can replace at my food pickups is much lighter overall.

One thing about the video gear, though - I'd never bring it without a "human story" to cover. Video to shoot landscape is lame. You gotta have more to tell than waterfalls and campfires.

Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: Re: HD camcorders (or Panasonic GH1) on 05/09/2009 21:49:57 MDT Print View

Thanks guys.

Nate -- yes, I would love a Canon 5d II but way out of my price range at the moment. Also the video, though amazing, is I believe hampered by the lack of a good continuous autofocus system. So not very easy to use.

Rick -- Agree that the micro 4/3rds system has got lots of attractions. From a photography point of view the main thing (other than current lack of lenses) I don't like is the larger depth of field you get for a given field of view. So when the 20mm f1.7 comes out, you're not getting the equivalent of a 40mm f1.7 with regards to depth of field.

I think the narrower dof you get with full frame cameras is responsible for a lot of what people refer to (rather annoyingly I think!) as the "3D effect". You lose a bit of it going to APS-C and then a bit more when you step down to 4/3. Eventually, with point and shoot size sensors, the depth of field is always ridiculously large unless you're shooting something very close to the camera. That's a good thing for landscapes, but often boring for people photography.

Peter -- sounds like you are a much more a pro than I intend to be with the video side of things. I really just want to capture memories for myself, and want it in HD because I know that in 5-10 years every screen is going to be HD (of course, in 20 years we'll have something better still, but I can't help that!).

My "dilemma" is that I want to take a decent stills camera (including a prime or two) for photography, and then I want to be able to shoot a bit of casual video footage on the side. So my options are:

1) SLR plus a small camcorder
2) SLR with rudimentary video capability (eg. nikon d90 or the new canon)
3) SLR plus a small point and shoot (with HD video)
4) Sigma DP2 (would be great but the video is only 320x240 so forget it!!)
5) New panasonic GH1 (expensive, and not keen on current lens options for stills)
6) No SLR but bring Pana LX3 or Canon G9 (both do decent stills at 100ISO, but I think the Canon is better, however the Panasonic has better video)

So many options! The second one (eg. nikon d90 or similar) would be good, but most comments I've read have warned that it is pretty crap for video because you can't focus properly and so you end up with a lot of blurry footage. Still, might be ok for use on the trail and I could get a dedicated camcorder for other use (off-trail).

The G9 is another option, but compromises on both stills and video capability.


Edited by ashleyb on 05/09/2009 21:50:31 MDT.

Peter Burke
(Fishmonger) - F

Locale: Midwest
bring both on 05/10/2009 08:34:25 MDT Print View

Here is what I do to solve your dilemma: I bring a Nikon D40 with 17-55mm lens and the HV20 camcorder (they even share the filters). My pack isn't light, but I would kick myself for not having the right tool for the job. Definitely cheaper than a GH-1 will be, and I have two devices, so if one breaks, I am still kicking.