High Definition Comparison

Camcorder Comparison: High Definition at Three Price Points

Camcorder Comparison: High Definition at Three Price Points
Text, Images and Video by Tony Gomez

While some new digital cameras and DSLRs now have the ability to capture High Definition video, there are many standalone HD camcorders that can do a better job. I recently tested three such camcorders: two high end models—the Panasonic HDC-TM700 and the JVC GZ-HM1—and the more affordable Canon Vixia HF R10. All three of these camcorders shoot HD video in the AVCHD standard at 1080i (1080 lines, interlace scanned) resolution and have internal memory, plus an additional SDHC memory card slot for expansion. Each camcorder can also shoot JPEG stills, either independently, or while shooting video. All models also have an automatic zoom lens that permits smooth zooms without manual jerkiness—something that current DSLRS don’t have.

Panasonic HDC-TM700

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The Panasonic HDC-TM-700 ($999.95 MSRP) has pro-style 3-chip (Red/Green/Blue) MOS sensor technology that provides the ultimate in color quality. The TM700 also uses the newest high capacity XDHC memory card—up to 64GB for over 8 hours of recording at 1080i quality.  The 12x Leica zoom lens control is very smooth and quiet (no pickup on the built-in microphone), with a bump to 18x without noticeable degradation. Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) is active and very useful in either movie or still mode.  The large 3-inch LCD monitor gives a very clear view of images being, recorded or during playback, and has an easy-to-use menu. In extremely bright conditions where the LCD screen can be washed out, the electronic color viewfinder takes over very nicely.

The 1080i playback video quality through an optional HDMI cable to my HD TV was superb, due in large part to the 3-chip sensors. For the ultimate record quality, 1080/60P (1080 lines/60 frames progressively scanned) is also selectable, and viewable on 1080/60p equipped HD TVs.  With the built-in 32GB memory, record times of 2-1/2 hours and 4 hours are possible at the 1080/60P and 1080/60i settings, respectively.  Still JPEG images can be can be captured at up to 13-megapixel max resolution. A built-in Dolby 5.1 channel surround audio microphone, external microphone jack, headphone monitor jack, and an accessory bracket for a video light are just some of the many higher-end features.

The TM700 is a beefy camcorder at one pound, but the layout of the controls and buttons makes it easy to use and select various features.  The extra weight actually makes it easy to get smoother images by reducing handheld shakiness, and OIS reduces that even further. In summary, the Panasonic HDC-TM700 is a real winner, especially if you want the ultimate in color quality in HD video.

Specifications: Video Resolution: 1080/60P HD max, with 4 other 1080i HD quality settings; Still Image Resolution: 13MP max;  Zoom Lens: 12x optical (3.4 mm wide to 41.4mm), 18x/30x/700x digital, OIS; Recording Media: Internal 32GB memory or SDHC/XDHC memory card; Special Features: 3-chip MOS sensor, 1080/60P recording;  Size: 2.6″W x 2.7″H x 5.4″D, 1 lb.

JVC GZ-HM1

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The JVC HM1 ($1,199.95 MSRP) boasts a unique feature—a sliding blue LED touch bar (Laser Touch) on the LCD screen that lets your finger touch select Video Quality at four settings. It also has JPEG image resolution up to 10MP, and a wide variety of other features.  The internal 64GB memory allows 8 hours of recording at the XP default quality setting, or 6 hours at the highest quality UXP setting.

recording at standard speed, recording at 120 frames per second

Super Low Light video recording is another great feature. The HM1 has a newly designed backlit sensor technology that permits higher quality, more noise-free recording under low light conditions. While 3-chip sensor camcorders (like the Panasonic TM700) have the ultimate color quality, their low light sensitivity isn’t as great as a single chip design. Hi-Speed video recording, with 120 fps, 300 fps, and 600 frames per second (fps) is another exciting feature, albeit in a narrow two or four second window of time. But my personal favorite feature is a real-time audio level meter on the LCD screen.



recording at standard speed, recording at 300 frames per second

Like the Panasonic TM700, the JVC HM1 is a hefty camera at one pound, but well balanced for capturing HD video and stills.  However the HM1 lacks a viewfinder, so you are solely dependent on the LCD monitor for viewing and setup—potentially a washout problem in bright ambient light. The Laser Touch feature is a bit too sensitive for my fingers, but still useable with practice.  I compared the HM1’s low light capability with the Panasonic TM700, and the Canon HF R10. The result: the JVC-HM1 had the edge in producing a brighter image with less video noise. If the HM1’s low light feature is important to you, you should consider it.

Specifications: Single chip CMOS sensor; Video Resolution: 1080i max; Still Image Resolution: 10MP max; Zoom lens 10x optical (6.7mm – 67mm), 16x/64x/200x digital; Recording Media: Internal 64GB memory or SDHC memory card; Special Features: Low noise, Low Light recording, Hi-Speed Video Recording, Record Audio Monitor on LCD; Size/weight: 2.7″W x 2.8″H x 5.4″D, 1 lb.

Canon VIXIA HF R10

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For a wider consumer budget appeal, the Canon VIXIA HF R10 offers a more affordable 1080i High Definition camcorder ($399.99 MSRP), with a smaller 8GB internal memory and an SDHC expansion memory slot, in a smaller package.

At the default HD Quality setting, you can record about 1-1/2 hours on the internal 8GB memory.  If you need more time, just add an SDHC memory card in the provided slot. Surprisingly, the 20x lens has the longest optical zoom range of the three camcorders tested, and a 3mm wide angle setting that’s the widest of the three.

The smaller and lighter VIXIA HF R10 is easier to hold for longer periods of time, but the decreased weight makes it more prone to handheld shaking. However, built-in Electronic Image Stabilization should help smooth out any extra camera shake. The Canon HF R10 also lacks a viewfinder, which forces dependency on the LCD, a potential problem in bright light. Video playback was very good on my HDTV. However, the 1.7MP still image resolution is fairly low compared with other camcorders.

Specifications: Video resolution: 1080i max; Still image resolution: 1.7MP max; CMOS sensor; Zoom lens: 20X Optical (3mm – 60mm), EIS; Internal 8GB memory with SDHC memory card slot; Size/Weight: 2.4″W x 2.5″H x 4.9″D, 12oz with battery.

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