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NEed recommendation for first HD camcorder, low budget

1123 Views 3 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  xfws
I have been looking at getting an HD camcorder this year. We currently use a little compact digital camera for 640x480 video, so anything will be better that that.

I am considering some pretty cheap options, hoping to spend under $350:
  1. A used Canon HF100 (these got great reviews a few years back)
  2. A used Canon HF M300 (really bad touch interface, but I hear it has good face tracking)
  3. Something else used? (Sony? Panasonic?)

I do want true 1080p. And a microphone input isn't out of the question either. Other than that, I'm pretty open. I have SD cards so no worries there.

The problem with buying older vs. newer cameras is that I cannot really find good comparisons. I am wondering if an older/better camera would be better to get than a newer/worse camera.
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If you like the images from the HF100, you can buy a refurbished Canon HF20 OR HF200 direct from Canon. The HF20 is $349.99, the HF200 $329.99.




"Refurbished" means they bring them up to new specs whether it was a return or a repair. I bought one here; the camcorder's condition was like brand new. The main difference, besides price, between refurb and new is that new will get you a year warranty (doubled if purchased by credit card) and refurb only 90 day warranty.

These HF20 and HF200 are from the batch of last models to feature the joystick for going through the menu; they're not touchscreen like the newer ones. The HF20 comes with an additional built-in 32gig internal memory, whereas the HF200 you can only use the card. Although it's easier to just shoot to card, put card in a card reader on pc - the HF20/extra 32 gig for only $30 more is worth it as a back up. (The downside is that the camcorder needs to be plugged in when transferring data from the internal memory to pc.) Otherwise, they are identical camcorders functionally.

The difference between the HF20/HF200 and the older HF10/HF100 is mainly the sensor; HF20/HF200 have a smaller sensor than the HF10/HF100, so the low light performance is slightly worse than the HF10/HF 100...but all these consumer camcorders need good light to get good video, anyway. The HF20/HF200 have more pixel resolution and a newer processor DIVIC III, versus the older DIVIC II on the HF10/HF100. So, there are new features on the HF20/HF200 - plus it's just newer technology/improvements under the hood in general.

An unadvertised difference is that the HF10/HF100 will not accurately display what you see on the camcorder monitor; I believe the issue is that the image on the camcorder screen is cropped and then when you put it on pc, it's wider..or it could be the other way around, I forget. The HF20/HF200 does not have this display issue.

The HF20/HF200 also record at the highest allowable bitrate for AVCHD; 24mbps vs. 17mbps max on the HF10/HF100. Either way, you're going to need a decent pc; at very least dual core/3gigs ram; preferably quad core with a decent video card; at least 256mb.

Anyway....that being said, if you can't upgrade your pc and/or don't want to spend money on the better Canons; you could just get an HD pocket cam, like this Sanyo:


The Sanyo has digital image stabilization/whereas the Canons have OIS/Optical Image Stabilization; which is much better. You can pick up extra cheap generic batteries on ebay for the Sanyo.

If you just want something to instantly have on demand for family/friend type of thing; go with the pocket cam; whether the Sanyo or other brand. Just make sure it has some type of image stabilization for hand-held.

If you want a more serious image for like a short film. music video - or just high quality images in general - go with the Canons. Keep in mind that, with the Canons; you should buy a card/card reader if your pc doesn't already have one built-in and extra battery.

The Sanyo, or other pocket cams, could probably get away with just a single-core Pentium 4.
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Thanks for the super writeup, especially the stuff about the HF 10/HF20 differences. I also did not know about Canon's own refurb store... the prices there mirror or are better than the used/non refurb models going on ebay. It's easily the better choice.

I've got a quad PC with 4GB mem (using 3.7 or whatever it is) and a card reader, so the lack of internal camera memory isn't bothersome.

I have also heard that they suffer from some poor low-light performance, but with a few manual settings you could improve it a little.

Concerning the little Sanyo: the last small "HD" camera I played with had horrible quality and a bad rolling shutter effect. I am permanently gunshy of those small "blogging" camcorders as a result

I think I will pull the trigger on the refurb'd HF200
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