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Thread: Are cheap HD camcorders a waste of money?

  1. #1

    Default Are cheap HD camcorders a waste of money?

    Advice needed for a novice please.

    My daughter (aged 10) wants a camcorder for Xmas. I therefore want something simple and robust (and cheap). However, I'm taking the family on holiday to the US (Grand Canyon, Yosemite, etc) and would like to make some good quality scenic recordings while there that I can replay on my 1080p TV. 720p would probably do, though 1080p would be preferable.

    I'd prefer SD card recording to tapes or DVDs, and don't need long recording times. Sound needs to be just OK, not fantastic. Also must be editable on a PC running Vista - no interest in a Mac-only solution, and don't want a big performance converting from Mac-friendly formats.

    I've read reviews of HD camcorders like the Aiptek in the 80 - 150 range that vary from 'pretty damn good for the money', to 'total waste of time'. Is it remotely realistic to combine my requirements into a single device?

    Any pointers much appreciated.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by caldersj View Post
    Advice needed for a novice please.
    I'd prefer SD card recording to tapes or DVDs, and don't need long recording times. Sound needs to be just OK, not fantastic. Also must be editable on a PC running Vista - no interest in a Mac-only solution, and don't want a big performance converting from Mac-friendly formats.
    I have found those AVCHD compression "HD" cams a complete rip off. I bought a Canon HG10 for my wife, to replace a failed SD camcorder. Although it does make some fairly nice looking video in the viewfinder, it is a pain in the ass to use the output for editing.

    First, these new cameras do not have firewire outputs. You can not directly capture the video, but must rely on another software program (provided by the Camera maker) to download file clips to your computer. You also can not see the files in the "thumbnail" view on a Windows PC without adding another special software.

    Second, these files are highly compressed coming out of the camera and are problematic for Windows based editing. Most older PCs have difficulty in "chrunching" the data of the high compression files. Trying to do so in Vegas is a preview display nightmare. I found I had to convert the files to .avi or another format before I could use them in the editor. Of course, that further degrades the quality which has already been degraded by the camera's AVCHD compression. I also recently bought a fast, dual-core workstation with 4GB RAM and high-speed video cards. Even on such a slick system the AVCHD files are sluggish to work with in an editor program.

    As other senior members on this website will tell you, these consumer grade HD cams are a scam and a sham designed to make the suppliers money. In my opinion, they are more trouble than they are worth. And considering the cost, that is a lot of trouble.

  3. #3

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    I live in Canada so I have no idea what 80 - 150 actually is. However just relize with everything in life you get what you pay for. I would personally go for a brand name cheap sd camcorder rather than a no name cheap hd camcorder. Go for a sony, panasonic or canon you wont be sorry.

    After looking at that aiptek I would not buy it. It would most likely be sufficient for your daughter, but for a family camcorder that you want to bring on trips you will be very disapointed. But thats just my opinion. The optical zoom is quiet low, and digital is useless. You would need ALOT of light to get a good image with an iris that small. As for sound, the problem with these small cameras is with the built in mics you get alot of self noise from the camera, and the user moving his/her hands while operating it. I could be wrong but I would think the picture quality would be similiar to a cell phone with a built in camera. It would be best if you could get your hands on one and actually see for yourself.

    720p is a great format. This camera wont do anything higher. However I would be skeptical what this camcorders 720p actually looks like. They are probly just stretching pixels. I think a good brand sd cam would most likely look better if you have a dvd player that can upconvert. Idk mabye someone in the forums actually has expereince with one of these?

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by worddigger View Post
    Second, these files are highly compressed coming out of the camera and are problematic for Windows based editing. Most older PCs have difficulty in "chrunching" the data of the high compression files. Trying to do so in Vegas is a preview display nightmare. I found I had to convert the files to .avi or another format before I could use them in the editor.
    worddiggers completly right. If you try and edit a compressed file, the editing software has to rebuild frames which makes it super slow to edit. You will need to convert the files to a uncompressed format (takes alot of harddrive space, but hey harddrives are cheap now) to do your editing efficiently. This also takes time to convert these files, but is well worth it. Just do it at night while your sleeping.

  5. #5

    Default Thanks - and a follow up question on formats

    Many thanks to all for confirming what I suspected - especially the pain of editing movies downloaded from these (budget HD) machines.

    As an ignoramus on the subject of digital formats for video, I'd like to ask one follow-up if I may:

    How much loss of quality occurs, and where does it take place? Do these cameras capture a true 720p image, then lose quality through compression when they store it internally, even before you have downloaded it? Is there interpolation going on, like with upscaling DVD->HD players? Is there further loss of quality when converting between formats using software tools?

    Many thanks.

  6. #6

    Default ..and one more thing about FireWire

    Sorry, one more question. What is the benefit of FireWire? If you can record directly onto an SD card in side the camcorder, then copy from that card onto your PC, is that somehow inferior to a FireWire connection?

  7. #7

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    Hey Worddigger, I've got this exact problem. I have footage from a Cage fight that I want to get onto my computer to edit in Vegas.
    I recorded this at 24p with full hd resolution.

    Now I've tried converting the Avchd files from the camera into something else, but I don't really know what program to use and with what setting.

    Pls help !

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    " I have footage from a Cage fight " - that I wnat to see when edited !

    Use super c to convert - it's free.

  9. #9
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    I have to agree with the previous answers, so called HD camcorders at that price are a joke, how can any company advertise a piece of equipment at 150 and call it HD and yet another company advertise a HD camcorder costing 2500? Obviously one to them can't be a real HD camcorder (no prizes for guessing which one is the dud) - if picture quality is paramount to you then stick with a mini dv tape based camcorder, even a single chipper would blow that Aiptek out of the water in terms of picture and sound quality. It will also have a Firewire socket which will let you maintain the image quality from tape to computer and the file format is one that is easily edited and you won't have to let the computer stay on over night to do so. That was acceptable 15 years ago but not now. Those devices at 150 are fine if you only want to upload video to the likes of YouTube and nothing else but if you catch the video editing bug and picture quality is the bottom line, then I wouldn't waste my time and money buying one.

  10. #10

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    Thanks Mark I really appreciate your help, but or some reason Super C doesn't convert even a 10 mb clip.

    I have the the clips on my new Canon hf10 in avchd.

    I recorded in full HD 1080p, high quality at 17 mb and 24p

    I've dragged all the .mts files onto the hard drive.

    Now I've tried using super c to scale down the picture size and turn it into an .mks container with mpeg2 encoding. I've even tried it with .avi. And also experimented with different resolutions at different frames per second. (24, 25, 29.97, 30)

    What comes out is a 460 kb file instead of the 10 mb clip. sometimes it's a 300 kb clip or 15.


    I'm kind of losing my mind here, please help this young Padawan.

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