November 26, 2009

AVCHD choices increase for budget camcorders

Sony has joined Panasonic in offering professional AVCHD camcorders recording to low-cost solid-state media.

The prototype NXCAM revealed by Sony last month is essentially a remodelling of its Z5 with a new recording system. This replaces the Z5's HDV tape drive and add-on Compact Flash card recorder with two Memory Stick slots and an add-on solid-state drive, recording 24Mbps AVCHD. It is intended to be first of a new, low-cost solid-state line-up, with the first cameras shipping sometime in the first half of 2010. [UPDATE: The HXR-NX5 is now available. See more details here.]

AVCHD (which uses an MPEG-4 codec), is widely used in consumer camcorders (almost always at lower bitrates) and is supported natively by some non-linear edit systems (such as Edius, Vegas and Premiere), but not yet by Apple and Avid, where transcoding is necessary, which will probably diminish its appeal to many potential users initially.

It will cost about the same price as the Z5, and will address one problem professionals have with AVCHD, its AC3 audio codec. Although this will still be included, the NXCAM will also add linear PCM audio to be meet broadcast expectations.

The optional 128GB Flash memory drive will be especially appealing to anyone shooting observational documentaries or to wedding videographers, who need long recording times, as it will store up to 11 hours at maximum quality (and will cost less than Eur1,000). Users will be able to record on to it and the Memory Sticks at the same time. Memory Sticks currently come in sizes up to 32GB (costing less than a quarter of the price of Sony's SxS-1 cards) and the NXCAM will automatically record on the second one once the first is full.

The camera includes a GPS receiver for the first time on a professional Sony camcorder, recording the metadata in the AVCHD stream. This could be useful for future applications, whether offering a map-driven interface to online video, for retrieving archives, or for researchers shooting a recce.

"It will also have HD-SDI output for the first time on a compact Sony camcorder," said Sony product marketing manager, Bill Drummond (pictured with the camera at the recent Power of Images event in London).

We like the Z5 as a camera (it's certainly better ergonomically than the Z7), so the first NXCAM should be pretty good. The only real drawback, at least initially, is Final Cut Pro not being AVCHD native.

The NXCAM will compete with the likes of Panasonic's AG-HMC41E, which records 24Mbps AVCHD to SD memory cards, and is being offered with a copy of Edius Neo 2 editing software (until March 2010) for Eur2,470.

The AG-HMC41E records up to 180 minutes of HD at 1920x1080 on a 32GB SDHC card at 24Mbps. It has three 1/4.1-inch progressive MOS sensors with a total of 3.05 million pixels, a 12x Leica zoom lens, weighs less than 1kg, captures still images at 10.6 million pixels, and includes various focus-assist functions, such as facial recognition and touch-type auto-focusing, as well as professional functions, such as waveform monitoring. Accessories include a removable grip and an optional removable XLR microphone adaptor.

Another possible choice for anyone needing a compact camcorder is JVC's GY-HM100, especially if you use Final Cut Pro as it can record native .MOV (QuickTime) files direct to its cheap SDHC cards. It can also record Sony XDCAM EX-compatible .MP4 files for other Nnon-linear editors.

It records full 1920x1080 at up to 35Mbps, as well as 720p (19/35Mbps) and 1080i (25Mbps HDV) in SP mode. At 35Mbps, two 32GB SD cards can record for up to six hours, automatically switching between them. SD cards are now fairly inexpensive. Indeed, the cost per minute is about the same as tape, so it is economical enough to use the card for archiving, and they will probably be more reliable than storing your video on a hard drive (which needs to be spooled up about every three months or so to ensure it doesn't sieze up). The HM100 has three 1/4-inch CCDs, a fixed Fujinon 10:1 zoom, manual controls, and an HDMI output.

By David Fox

1 comment:

  1. With regards to cameras recording to SDHC cards such as the JVC GY-HM100 and Panasonic AG-HMC41E -- won't these be 'obsolete' when the new SDXC cards come into the market?