There is no short answer to that question as everyones needs are different. I suggest you have a read of the mini dv vs mini dvd thread as this will help you to work out what format is best for your needs and then we can take it from there.
hey hey nick,
im sure skyman has more experience with this than I do, but I can personally vouch for the Nikon s700. It's a nice little compact camera that fits in my pocket, but it packs a whopping 12 megapixels which makes for a damn nice video from a digital camera. I would also recommend a good SD card. I have a 4gb SD card....it cost me about 75 bucks CAD so not super expensive. it holds approximately 60 minutes of video if its completely empty.
And at over $4k, REALLY EXPENSIVE! Check out the Canon Vixia line of cameras. Affordable and great quality. The HiDef versions shoot in AVCHD, which is rapidly becoming a standard format. SD is still tried and true in the miniDV line as well. And if you go with the flash drive versions, like the HF10 and HF100, those cameras really get compact.
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I'm very interested in the Canon HF10, and have been doing a lot of research to compare it to other similar cameras. I have encountered one perplexing bit of information, and I was hopeing someone here could help explain what is happening.
The Canon HF10 is high quality HD camera with 12x optical zoom and 200x digital.
The Canon FS100 is a standard quality camera with 48x optical zoom and 2000x digital.
For starters hi definition doesn't equal hi quality. it simply means that the camera records more dots (just like megapixels) how the camera interprets these dots and how it saves them and the quality of the lens that lets the light in all play a very big part in the quality of the final video. Personally I would prefer a broadcast quality standard definition camera to a consumer HD camera every time. But to answer your specific question there are two types of zoom Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom. However a camera can say it has a number of different zoom lengths depending on how the manufacturers marketing department feels that morning.
Optical Zoom: This is where the lens moves to bring the image closer or wider. It is generally superior to digital zoom. You may get some lens distortion in your image but generally speaking you don't loose any quality
Digital Zoom: This is where the camera crops and enlarges a portion of the recorded video to give the illusion of getting closer. All you are actually doing is reducing the number of dots your camera uses and are therefore loosing image quality. The more you zoom digitally the more quality you loose.
A zoom length is generally stated in how many times it can bring an image closer i.e. 12X of 48X as the post above. now this is where it starts to get tricky.
The calculations are made from the widest setting as a starting point, but not all lenses are equal and this number also relates to the size of the camera's sensor (so it is virtually imposible to compare apples with apples without an advanced understanding of optics)
However we can make a few generalisations:
the longer you zoom the harder it is to hold the camera steady : - even with image stabilisation most people find it hard with more than about 10-15X zoom.
Digital zoom starts where optical zoom finishes for quality reasons digital zoom should be avoided where possible, but a camera that has 10X optical zoom and 10X digital has an effective zoom of 100X (as the zoom ratios multiply) so some manufactures say simply 100X zoom, some say 10X optical 100X digital and some will just say 100X zoom. Either way you are well and trully above the 15X wobbly cam danger zone.
It is far better to move closer than use the zoom almost all the time so try to avoid it. If you can't, try to use a tripod or some other form of support when you get over 10X zoom.
Have a look at the specifications on the camera. If the lens has 35mm equivalents listed all the better as you can benchmark the zoom settings. In 35mm any starting point wider than 35 mm is considered very wide and would cut into your longest zoom point although depending on what you want to film this isn't a bad thing. 50mm is the angle of view that most people see when looking naturally so it is generally considered a comfortable midpoint. 85-200mm is getting into the range for portraits. The idea being that a person is more comfortable when a camera isn't so close to them yet this zoom level is roughly a good head and shoulders shot at a comfortable distance. 300 - 600 is the range required for longer things such as sports wildlife concerts etc. now if our starting point is 35mm as it is on many digital cameras (a camera that starts wider than 35 mm is often sold as having a wide angle lens) then a 10x optical zoom which is relatively low by todays standards puts us right into the 300-600 category at 350mm.
Finally the bigger the optical zoom, the less sharp your image is likely to be and the more your image may distort or "bend" at the wide or long settings for your lens. This will vary greatly though depending on the quality of the lens in your camera.
Thank you so much for your quick and detailed response. It filled in a lot of the grey area. I do understand the difference between optical and digital zoom, but I didn't know what the common threshold (10x-15x) for steady shots was. I'm far more experienced with still photography, and I almost never use the zoom. You can pretty much tell instantly when a picture was taken with zoom or not, and I imagine it would just get worse with video.
I like to explain it to people by saying, it's the difference between holding the tip of a pencil steady while it's eraser is pressed up against your nose. You have fairly reasonable control over the tip of the pencil. But then you try to hold a 100 foot long pencil on the end of your nose, and the end of it will be moving all over the place with even your slightest movements.
My problem is, my wife sees things differently. We live in Alaska, and we might take a video camera with us hiking or something someday, and see a bear on the side of a mountain. It would be nice, to set up a tripod and have the ability to zoom in and get shots like this, even if it was at a reduced quality. I would probably groan at the pixelation, blur and the shaking camera everytime we watched it, but we would be able to see it full frame.
So this has become a discussion point at my home as we are shopping for a video camera. Since both the HF10 and the FS100 are both made by cannon, and one seems to almost just be an HD version of the other, why would they reduce the zoom features for the HD model? I would think that the HD camera would have even more digital zoom capabilities because of it's larger pixel rate.
How do I convince my wife that this is a better camera, even though the zoom is 1000x less?