Saturday, January 05, 2008

Death of a camcorder? Time to move on?

Here is a photo of the ducks foraging in a temporary stream just after a heavy downpour of rain.

I would have liked to video tape it for my first video installment of "The Farm Report", but, the old trusty analog camcorder, an RCA model CC439, isn't cooperating.

We bought it sometime in the early 1990's. I don't remember how much we paid for it, but I think it was in the range of $600 - $800 dollars?

Here is a photo of one on sale on ebay. It has a bid of $51 on it.

This model records on VHS cassettes -or at least, mine used to- but now I get a message in the viewfinder that there is something wrong with the tape. But the tapes play fine in a VCR, so it must be the camera.

I'm wondering if I should try and get it fixed. Would I take it to a camera repair shop or a VCR repair shop? I'm wondering if it's even sensible to try; old technology, parts, etc. The cost of repairs might be close to the cost of a new camcorder. I've seen some very nice MiniDV camcorders in the $200 price range. Hmmmm... out with the old, in with the new?

Some of the new camcorders I've been considering:

Panasonic PV-GS80 MiniDV Camcorder with 32x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom
Product Description
When you carry the tiny Panasonic PV-GS80 Palmcorder Camcorder with you, you'll capture every unique moment on film. This amazingly small and sharp digital camcorder gives you clear, sharp, stable photos and video. The optical image stabilizer and 32x optical zoomensure you always get the best shot. Professional tools like a noise reducing microphone, low-light shooting (with MagicPix) and white balancing make this little camcorder competitive with bigger models. When you see how compact it is, you'll wonder why you bought anything else. It's the Palmcorder that does it all. 16 - 9 Wide Mode recording Digital Zoom - 32x - 1,000x Records to MiniDV tape Stereo Zoom Mic with wind noise reduction Backlight compensation Functions as a webcam White Balance - Auto/Indoor/Outdoor/Manual Minimum Illumination - 2 Lux (with MagicPix) Manual Focus Ring Soft-Skin Mode Date Recording Recording Modes - SP/LP Still Picture Size - 640 x 480 (4 - 3), 640 x 360 (16 - 9) DPOF - Max. 999 stills Languages - English / French / Spanish Mini DV in/out Accessory Shoe - Cold Dimensions(HxWxD) - 3.09 x 2.86 x 5.36 Weight - 1 lb.

Canon ZR800 MiniDV Camcorder with 35x Optical Zoom
Product Description
The ZR800 gives you clear, vibrant and brilliant video and digital photographs with a 680K Megapixel CCD image sensor. 35x Optical and 1000x Digital Zoom lets you get closer to the action for unsurpassed optical performance. The ZR800's image stabilizer allows you to shoot rock-steady video even at maximum telephoto without a tripod for professional-looking video. Canon's exclusive DIGIC DV image processor takes video and photos differently, resulting in exceptional color and clarity for both. The 0.35-inch viewfinder on your ZR800 displays your widescreen image in a letterbox view. The 2.7-inch LCD screen lets you view your widescreen shot right as you're taking them. The Widescreen Button lets you switch from standard 4:3 to 16:9 Widescreen HR with the camcorder's advanced image stabilization. Simultaneous Photo Recording lets you capture a digital photograph while recording video. Level and Grid Markers - Both markers can be set to white or grey for enhanced visibility 680K 1/6-inch CCD Image Sensor MiniDV Tape Format Viewfinder - 0.35-inch, 114,000 pixels,widescreen LCD Screen - 2.7-inch, 112,000 pixels, widescreen Exposure Lock - Lets you lock your exposure settings and then recompose your shot Auto Slow Shutter Function - Ensures perfect exposures in low light by lowering your shutter speed 9 Point Ai-AF - Auto Intelligent Auto Focus will bring it into sharp focus Progressive Photo gives you sharper detail in your digital photography Scene Modes - Portrait, Sports, Night, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Spotlight or Fireworks Image Effects - Vivid, Neutral, Low-Sharpening, and Skin Detail Dimensions - Width 2.2 x Height 3.6 x Depth 4.7 inch (57 x 92 x 119 mm not including grip belt) Weight - 13.2 ounces (375 grams)

There is so much to consider. And even these digital camcorders will be obsolete soon; it seems like everything is moving towards wide-screen and High Definition video. But the newer technology formats seem to be in a state of transition and sorting out. For someone like me it's probably best to stick with an established technology with a proven track record, like MiniDV. I'll wait for the fancier stuff to sort itself out... by then the prices should come down some, too.

The quality on some of the more expensive HD (high definition) camcorders is fabulous. Here is one of the more popular "inexpensive" models, the $675 Canon HV20:

Canon HV20 3MP High Definition MiniDV Camcorder with 10x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom
Product Description
You've heard of HDTV and expect to get one if you haven't already. Here's a camcorder that lets you record your own HDTV-compatible images. The stylish Canon HV20 gives you the ultimate in HD video and digital photo quality with advanced features. Its 10x optical zoom lens, 2.96 Megapixel CMOS image sensor and Canon's advanced DIGIC DVII image processor ensures meticulous detail and superior color reproduction. 24p Cinema Mode brings Film-Look options to the HV20 owner. And, with its HD and Standard Definition recording modes, you can make the move to HD without making your SD equipment obsolete. The HV20 is easy to use and delivers the high level of performance you've come to expect from Canon. Focal Length - f=6.1-61mm Zoom Speed - Variable/3 Fixed Zoom Speeds Max. F/Stop - f/1.8-3.0mm Filter Size - 43mm 2.7-inch Widescreen LCD Screen (Approx. 211,000 pixels) and color viewfinder High Definition miniDV (recommended) (63 minutes) or miniDV Cassette Recording Media Microphone Terminal - 3.5 mm Stereo Mini Jack HDMI USB 2.0 Full Speed Terminal for fast transfer of photos Analog-Digital Converter lets you share the precious video memories you have stored on analog videotapes Advanced Accessory Shoe Terminal - Attach extras such as a video light or directional microphone without additional wires or batteries to raise the production value of the video you shoot Dimensions - Width 3.5 x Height 3.2 x Depth 5.4 inch Weight - 1.2 pounds without lens and battery pack Canon 1 Year Parts And Labor Limited Warranty.

This camcorder was selected as "Camcorder of the Year" for 2007 at the website Here is a link to their review:

Canon HV20 HDV Camcorder Review

But seeing is believing. The quality of the video looks as good as film, to me. Very impressive. Here is a sample, a video of the SF Zoo, shot with the HV20:

San Francisco Zoo from Eugenia Loli-Queru on Vimeo.

Very nice. Stunningly beautiful. A good example of why HD is going to become the new standard eventually. This is also nice video of the zoo too, I have many fond memories of visits there.


Walker said...

Okay Chas, this is another doo-dad I've been wanting. But, my $200 Fujifilm camera takes pretty darn good videos, if all I need is a minute or two. And, let's face it, I usually film karaoke so I don't need cinema quality results.

As you probably know, I am a HUGE fan of the farm report. But if you are not doing a feature-length film of bathing ducks ... hell! get a good digital!

Chas said...

I got a Fuji E510, it has a movie mode. The footage is ever so slightly jerky. I think it only does 18 fps instead of 24

I used it this morning to try to film snowflakes falling, but that's hard to get even with a good camera. The resolution is low, so the video has to be kept on a small screen. It's ok for some things, but I'm not sure how it would look on YouTube.

You might find my next post interesting, it's about similar devices optimized for video.

Mel said...

Hey Chas, I am looking for an owners manual for the CC439. If you decide "out with the old" I might be interested in buying it. Or I would pay to have the manual photocopied and mailed to me.
HELP I cant use my camera!!
I know you dont know me but I came across this blog and decided what the heck, I can try!

Chas said...

I still have the manual. Have you got an email address?

I had lost my original one and ordered a replacement from RCA, but that was years ago. You might also still be able to get a copy from them, but I don't know if they are still available or how much they cost.