Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Digital Camera
HD or SD You Decide
Team CHIP | 27 September 2010
HD or SD? You Decide
Need help in deciding which camcorder to buy? Here are a chosen few to get you started.
Camcorders have gone through major transitions over the years. MiniDVs, which dominated the market until recently, are now being phased out because flash and hard drive-based camcorders are far more compact and offer richer feature sets. Also, flash memory-based camcorders are less likely to break down as they have fewer moving parts.
Now when it comes to storage, both flash and hard disk-based camcorders offer substantial storage space. As of now, flash memory supports just about 16 GB of space, whereas their hard disk counterparts can give you as much as 240 GB. This gives you the freedom to even record and store more than what you might actually need. Since this roundup had a limiting price factor of Rs. 35,000, we could only get our hands on camcorders with a maximum of 80 GB space. In addition, all test products featured an SDHC expansion slot, which further allows you to add more space should you run out of it. So in comparison, flash and hard disk based camcorders allow you to record hours of video over a fixed 90-minute MiniDV tape/disc. However, this didn’t hold true for all test subjects, as the Samsung HMX-H200BP and the Panasonic SDR-S26 were devoid of internal memory and a hard disk.
The second most important factor is their ability to record in high definition, and interestingly, HD camcorders almost fall in the same price range as most standard definition camcorders. It’s ultimately for you to decided whether you would like to own an HD camcorder or an SD one. One thing’s for sure; even though HD camcorders are a tad expensive, they can record at a much higher resolution, thereby producing a much cleaner, crisper and clearer image.
Before we dig in, here are a few tips on what to look out for before purchasing a hard drive or flash-based camcorder –
Storage capacity: Look for a camcorder with a high capacity drive as it will allow you to record for a longer timeframe.
Resolution: A camcorder with a higher sensor resolution will not only deliver a better video output, but will also capture decent still images.
Optical zoom: Good optical zoom value allows you to zoom into the subject without compromising on the overall picture quality.
Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS): This is probably the most important factor when purchasing a camcorder with high optical zoom. It will help in maintaining a jitter-free video at full zoom. We suggest you test the camcorder at full zoom to test the IS.
LCD screen size: Look out for a camcorder with a decently sized screen and a bright display. After all, you wouldn’t want to be squinting while going through the menu settings.
In comparison to cameras, the camcorder segment is still much of an unexplored area. Camcorders are certainly a more viable option if you plan on recording video rather than capturing still images. But deciding on a particular brand and model of camcorder is just as confusing as choosing a camera. For some, a camcorder’s size and capacity are of more importance, while for others, it is the overall video quality that is of great importance. But what good is video quality if you can only record 10-15 minutes of high definition video?
This brings me to our Best Performer - the Samsung HMX-H200BP. Quality-wise the HMX-200BP is almost flawless in almost all aspects of recording. It delivered exceptional video and audio clarity that outdid my personal favourite – the Sony HDR-CX150E. The only major drawback was that the Samsung features no built-in memory, nor does it come with a memory card; one of the main reasons for it being the cheapest HD camcorder in the roundup. Considering that a 16 GB SDHC card will set you back at least Rs 2,000, it still makes the Samsung HMX-H200BP a cheaper proposition. Settling for a camcorder with no flash memory or hard drive definitely doesn’t suite my taste. That’s the main reason I still consider the Sony HDR-CX150E a better purchase over the Samsung HMX-H200BP.
Not only has Sony embedded the CX150E with 16 GB of flash memory, but have also thrown in an extra 16 GB SDHC card. The Sony CX150E is also one of the most versatile camcorders under Rs 35,000. What you get are a whole bunch of features that allow you to manually set the exposure, focus and white balance. Irrespective of my likes and dislikes, given a choice between the two, I would still settle for the Sony CX150E, mainly for its rich feature set and 16 GB of flash memory.
If you are looking for better image quality and don’t really care about recording space, then the Samsung HMX-H200BP should be on your list. On the other hand, if you are not too concerned about recording in high definition and space is of more concern, then the Sony DCR-SR68 seals the deal.
The Samsung HMX-H200BP is one of the best camcorders we’ve tested in this roundup. It also features one of the most responsive touch interfaces amongst the seven we tested. Unlike the others, it allows you to focus on the subject before taking still images, thereby ensuring sharper results.
The camcorder features a user friendly design that makes everything from navigation to usability easy. For instance, it’s free of conventional rubber port flaps, and instead features a hardened plastic cover that effortlessly flips out when required. It features the usual swivel touch screen, with the quick menu, record and zoom buttons placed alongside it. However, the screen feels a little reflective when shooting under broad daylight. This model is devoid of a built-in hard drive and comes with just an SD card slot that supports upto 32 GB. Video recording is offered in three modes – standard definition and high definition at 720p and 1080i. It can record a maximum of 30 minutes at its lowest mode, while in 720p and 1080i, you can squeeze in 10 and 7 minutes respectively on a 4 GB card.
Those who like to have the functionalities of a digital camera in their camcorders will like being able to manually adjust aperture and shutter speed. The Samsung features a Magic Touch Shot that allows you to shift focus anywhere on the screen by simply touching that area of the LCD. This allows you to choose the subject that you'd like to focus on rather than the whole picture.
On the performance front, the Samsung HMX-H200BP is extremely impressive and maintains a very good balance of color and contrast. Performance was equally good under broad daylight and low light conditions. Still image quality is decent enough as long as the resolution is scaled down to 800x600.
Verdict: The Samsung HMX-H200BP is a great camera with a decent set of features and impressive performance.
For: Decent low light recording, very good balance of color and contrast, good macro range, responsive touch interface, IS works well at full zoom.
Against: No dedicated hard drive, no bundled memory.
The Sony DCR-SR68 leaves very little to fret about in terms of performance and ergonomics. The only part that feels a little out of place is the shutter release button as you will need to stretch your index finger to be able to access it. The placement of the mode selection also feels off. Placed towards the extreme left, it is impossible to toggle between picture and video modes using one hand. Moreover, the camcorder doesn’t allow you to take pictures when in video mode or vice versa.
The positives, however, are the massive 60x optical zoom and 80 GB of recording space. That apart, the SR68 also features an SD card slot. Being a mid-range camcorder, it does not support recording in HD, but allows recording in three other modes - high quality (20 hours), standard quality (29 hours) and low quality (61 hours).
The DCR-SR68E comes with a fully functional 2.7-inch touch screen that’s quite vibrant and crisp, but only when viewed under the shade. Take it into a brightly lit area and the screen almost turns into a mirror, making it almost impossible to view the video. However, the responsive and precise touch panel works very well.
The SR68 performs quite well and delivers a decent blend of color and contrast. Unlike other camcorders in its category, the DCR-SR68 does a very good job at maintaining the overall saturation of blues and reds. Skin tones were also exceptional as the results produced were quite sharp and detailed. There isn’t much noticeable fringing unless the video is shot under direct sunlight. However, the overall fringing does multiply when you zoom into the subject. Even though the camcorder features 60x optical zoom, it cannot be considered one of the best as the image stabilization struggles to maintain a steady frame at full zoom. If you go beyond 80 percent of its zoom, you will have to either use a tripod or place the camcorder on a stable surface to get a steady picture.
Verdict: A compact camcorder with a chunky storage space.
For: Good reproduction of colors, 80 GB hard drive, responsive touch screen.
Against: Extremely reflective LCD screen, focussing issues under low light, IS is not the best at full zoom.