General Question

simpleD's avatar

New camcorder type: hard drive or tape?

Asked by simpleD (3644points) December 30th, 2008

If you’ve recently purchased a video camcorder, did you choose one that uses tape or one that captures to an internal drive? What influenced your decision?

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5 Answers

jessturtle23's avatar

We got one that has a disc but also has some memory in it. You can have both!

robmandu's avatar

Not an exhaustive list…

Tape Pros:
– it is itself a backup
– replaceable immediately upon fillup
– can continue to shoot video as long as you have tape and battery available.

Tape Cons:
– importing to PC requires dedicated hardware or Firewire
– limited playback source (usually just the camera itself for something like MiniDV)

Hard Drive Pros:
– easy import to PC (treated as regular files, so even older USB 1.1 works)

Hard Drive Cons:
– limited space
– must delete the files to make more room (no swapping in a new “disk”)
– requires a computer to be handy for the video offload.

DVD Pros:
– same as Tape Pros
– playable in any standard DVD player (even the miniDVDs)

DVD Cons:
– camera is larger than competitive formats
– need special software (either included or something like Handbrake) to import video files to PC

sndfreQ's avatar

Tape is dead…the professional broadcasters are all ceasing the use of tape transports for media.

My camcorder captures to removeable SD card (solid state flash memory). Pros: reusable, cheap, easy to transfer to your computer (not a real-time process, usually 90-minutes of video will take about 7 minutes to transfer), and since there are few moving parts, the camera will be less prone to failure (compared to tape-based cameras).

Tape: 60 minutes of video takes 60 minutes to transfer to your computer (a real-time process), tape itself has a limited shelf life (7–10 years), and tape in HD (HDV format) is difficult to work with unless you have pro-level editing software.

For consumers, I would lean toward a combination internal/external solid-state (flash memory) storage, such as found in the new Canon Vixia line (HV10? Can’t remember the exact model number right now), the one with 16GB internal memory stick and a card slot for 16GB of removeable memory (~6 hours of HD video total).

Stay away from hard drives in cameras! They’re basically the same hard drives they put in iPods, but they’re prone to failure and costly to repair. The general use and abuse cameras take (especially consumer cams) is really hard on these tiny spinning drive mechanisms…

simpleD's avatar

@sndfreQ: What are your thoughts on format compatibility among the various camera manufacturers? Do solid state-based formats use a compression scheme during the capture process? Is it lossless?

sndfreQ's avatar

The consumer-level HD, while capable of 1080i resolution, is compressed, whether speaking of HDV or AVCHD formats (the two main HD formats for consumers at the moment).

The primary considerations for compression are file size (really large for uncompressed HD) and bandwidth, meaning the storage technology for consumers is not “wide” enough to accommodate the high data demands of the uncompressed HD format.

That said, the newer solid state storage devices are using an MPEG-4 based compressor, that is based on a collaborative between Sony and Philips called AVCHD, that most of the major manufacturers are adopting as a solution to the previous encoder, HDV (based on the much older MPEG-2 standard that DVDs are encoded with). As to the compression algorithm, the newer codec (AVCHD) is better overall, but comes in varying levels of bit depth; a lot of the lower-end camcorders are 12-bit, which really takes the picture quality down especially in low light and high speed photography. The Canon I mentioned earlier, while a bit pricey ($1000), is the least compressed version put there with 24-bit video (AVCHD has a max bit depth of 24-bit, so it’s the highest quality for that format).

Otherwise, above that level you’re getting into full unconpressed HD, which is considered pro quality in format and storage (a whole league higher in terms of technology and price). If you want to research that level of HD, there are many makes out there (probably chief among them Panasonic and their P2 format-see the HVX-200), but the main manufacturers-Sony, Canon, JVC, Panny, etc. all have their versions of full HD gear.

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