For Fine Footage

Published Date
01 - May - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - May - 2007
For Fine Footage
When I was recently packing for a trip abroad, my must-pack list included a handycam (camcorder if you will)-a piece of hardware I've never owned.

Now as you probably know, a handycam is quite different from a digicam. Although technology is blurring the boundaries, a digicam is for taking great still shots and not for serious video shooting. Conversely, while all handycams will take still shots, that's not what they're good at. A mediocre digital camera will outdo a good handycam at photo shooting.

When shopping for a handycam, look at a three-CCD sensor, which makes more sense than a single CCD sensor. One CCD sensor is used for each colour component-red, green, and blue-resulting in much crisper colours and true-to-life images. And make sure to skip the digital zoom specification as a decider-look at optical zoom. Now if you plan on shooting mostly family and friends-that is, close-range shooting-optical zoom will not be as significant, and 10x will suffice. For when you're holidaying, you might need a much longer optical zoom; in such cases, 30x is the norm.

Handycams that offer as much as a 40x optical zoom are available, and these don't cost too much more, though as a general rule, a handycam with a lower optical zoom identically priced to a longer optical zoom model will perform better. Another feature is wind-noise reduction, which, if not present, can render any speech useless. As with still cameras, look for image stabilisation (IS) and specifically for optical IS. Sadly, optical IS costs a lot. (The models I came across featured only digital IS.)

Most handycams around still feature mini-cassettes (mini DV tapes). Though models supporting mini DVD (8 cm, 1.4 and 2.8 GB DVD-RW media) are also around, they're quite a bit costlier. Most handycams will also feature support for additional memory cards for taking photos. You cannot store videos on the expansion cards, only photos.

You just shouldn't buy a handycam without an inbuilt flash (Night-Shot mode). Also look for flash rails to accommodate an add-on flash unit; most handycams do not have very effective flash ranges on the default unit.

All handycams have some default auto-exposure modes. They also have manual settings, which you will have to explore. Remember, you need to spend time with a handycam before reaching a purchase decision. This is truer for handycams then for digital cameras, simply because you can click again if your photo doesn't turn out right, but you can't usually re-enact an entire scene if a video doesn't turn out the way you want it to be!

Accessories like shoulder straps and carry cases are standard with most models, and some vendors like Canon and JVC also provide MMC cards, albeit tiny 8 or 16 MB ones. You will need to invest in the mini DVDs or DVs-these aren't bundled.

I stopped by InOrbit mall and later Hypercity mall, two large ones in Mumbai's western suburbs.

From what I could gauge talking to the first attendant, Sony and Panasonic models are hot sellers, in that order, trailed by JVC. The stall had a limited range of models-the Panasonic NV-GS180 and the NV-GS47 priced at Rs 31,990 and 20,490 respectively. The man also showed me an impressive-looking Sony DVD-755 for Rs 39,990, with a touch-screen interface. There was a Samsung VP-D361i for Rs 21,990-poor on build quality, though.

The second stall I stopped by had many more options, and I could see I'd be spending a few hours here. First I saw Canon's range-the MV880i and MV850i at Rs 28,990 and 25,990 respectively. I wasn't impressed by the 1.33 megapixel sensor on the MV880i; neither was the 14x optical zoom enough for me. The MV850i had a more useful 22x optical zoom. The DVD-RW-supporting DC20 and DC100 were also on display for Rs 37,299 and 28,499. The DC20 supports a 2.3 MP CCD sensor but only 10x optical zoom. It's been designed for close range video shooting, and offers very good quality. The 25x optical zoom on the outdoor specialist-the DC100-was appreciated, but quality wasn't as good as that of the DC20.

Sony was a strong presence; their entry-level DCR-HC38E retails at Rs 20,500. It's newbie-friendly, with the "easy" button simplifying shooting under various lighting conditions. Features like 40x optical zoom and touch-screen operation mean the HC38E is excellent value for money. The DCR-SR80 is Sony's hard drive based handycam. It costs a staggering Rs 54,500, but offers a 60 GB HDD. Video quality was, unfortunately, not as good as those of some of the other models available, especially the Canon DC20.

Finally, I came across JVC, which specialises in video recorders. The GR-D370 at Rs 23,799 boasted 32x optical zoom. Looking at its performance, though, I realised this was one of JVC's value models. The GZ-MG21 at Rs 38,699 was one of the smallest models on offer. Performance was better than that of the GR-D370, though compactness would definitely be its selling point. The third JVC on display was the GR-DF570, featuring 1.92 MP for photos and 15x optical zoom.

After weighing my options, I settled for the Canon MV850i as a good compromise between optical zoom and image quality. It comes bundled with a wide (0.6x) lens, excellent for both indoor shooting and panoramic views. I haggled and haggled and got a Rs 1,000 discount. I also picked up a 512 MB SD card for still shooting, though I'll still be carrying my trusty Canon A710IS around.

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