Camcorder Sampler

(The photos below show representative product. The photos were chosen by DV Edge. Prices come from manufacturer websites. These photoes are not meant to imply relative value, but merely provide an idea of the extremely wide variety of camcorders on the market. All pictures are property of the manufacturers.)


Panasonic PD-DV53 MiniDV

Suggested list price: $399.95


Sony DCR-TRV19 MiniDV HandyCam.

Suggested list price: $599.99.



Suggested list price: $3,940


Panasonic AD-D410A DVCPRO

Suggested list price: $7,495


JVC DY70-U Digital-S Suggested List Price: $8,000


JVC DY-90WU Digital-S

Suggested list price: $21,850



Suggested list price: $25,155


Sony Digibeta DVW790WS

Suggested list price: $59,500



"Real World Digital Video" is available from and









Do DV Formats Mystify You?


They should. The number of DV variants creates a confusing world for consumers and professionals alike.


Do you enjoy a good discussion about DVC? MiniDV? Or DVCAM? How about DVCPRO? You probably don't. Try to talk shop with someone about DV formats, and it won't be long until both of you are confused.


In fact, use of the term "DV" is confusing all by itself. As one long-time professional videographer told DV Edge as we were preparing this story, "you must be clear that there is an important semantic difference between 'DV' as in 'DV recording formats' and 'DV' as in 'the world of digital video.' DV formats are only a current subset of what are and what will be many digital video technologies."

A measure of relief is found in a new book, "Real World Digital Video," authored by Los Angeles-area video pros Pete Shaner and Gerald Everett Jones.

This book explains the differences among the various formats in detail, and strikes a good balance between tech talk and a summarization of issues. For those readers interested in the commercial angle, the book also provides detailed information about the planning, shooting, editing, and distribution phases of creating works in digital video formats.


What Distinctions Matter?

The DV industry "has been on a rocketship ride" since Sony's introduction of the DV camcorder in 1995, Shaner and Jones write. Over the short but active lifetime of the format, the distinction between consumer and professional DV can be "simply stated (as) consumer DV recordings don't meet television broadcast specs, and professional DV recordings do," they write.


There is a clear distinction between consumer-level and professional-level "color space" specification and whether or not "locked audio sync" is provided. (Color space and other technical information is covered in detail in the Shaner and Jones book.) The real distinction in picture quality comes with the number of charge-coupled devices (CCDs) built into an individual camcorder. Shaner and Jones write that CCD chips can be thought of as the camcorder's retina or for those who "prefer to think of the camcorder as a camera, the CCD (can be thought of as) the light-sensitive film emulsion."


There is also a pronounced distinction in price, with consumer camcorders generally available between $300 and $2,000, and professional models from $6,000 to upwards of $40,000. Look for three-CCD systems rather than single-CCD systems in the upper end of the consumer range and with all professional systems. There is increasing blur in the middle of this overall range as well: high-end consumer and low-end professional systems blend into a "prosumer" segment that is defined by marketing campaigns rather than strict specifications , with camcorders priced around $3,000.


In the final analysis, a manufacturer's distinctions between "consumer and professional" can be "relatively trivial" for "most filmmakers and corporate videographers, especially those who are not interested in broadcast distribution," according to Shaner and Jones. Their book offers some insight into many digital video formats, including the main lower end formats from Sony and Matsushita (Panasonic) that seem to cause the most confusion:


Mini DV and DVC

Standard DV camcorders employ either Mini DV or DVC cassettes as their medium of choice. "Mini DV is by far the most popular DV tape format," according to Shaner and Jones. At 66mm wide, 48mm high and 12.2mm thick, Mini DV cassettes "are quite an improvement for pros who are used to handling book-sized media," they write.


The DVC format runs the same -inch tape but in a physically larger format that holds between 3.5 and 4 hours of video, compared to 60 minutes for the standard Mini DV cassette. Shaner and Jones point out that "most camcorders are designed to use either Mini DV or DVC, (with) only a few professional units (accepting) both sizes."


Mini DV and DVC camcorders are available from many manufacturers worldwide. They are the best-sellers in the consumer market, and generally carry suggested list prices from $300 to $2,000. The most interesting development with these systems is the number of very small systems that continue to be developed, designed for maximum portability for consumers.



Developed by Sony as a DV enhancement, "DVCAM cassettes come in both Mini DV or DVC form-factors," Shaner and Jones write. "However, (these) cassettes use premium-quality, metal-evaporated (ME) magnetic tape." Shaner and Jones add, "You can use a generic Mini DV cassette in a DVCAM camcorder, but you might not be pleased with the quality of the recording."


Jones strengthened this view in an interview with DV Edge, which he pointed out that "DVCAM not only uses a different tape composition, but also the track pitch and recording speed are slightly different from Mini DV. So I think people really should use DVCAM cassettes in DVCAM camcorders. Period."


DVCAM also has "a pair of features aimed primarily at news gathering.a tape indexing method that permits you to mark takes as OK nor no good.and a 4X data transfer capability, which allows you to transfer one hour of camera material in just 15 minutes," Shaner and Jones write.


DVCAM is a big step up from standard DV camcorders. Although used by many avid consumers, they are considered to be professional equipment by Sony. DVCAM systems have suggested list prices starting below $3,000, but there are a number of units approaching and exceeding the $20K level.



This is Panasonic's (Matsushita Corp.'s) enhancement to DV. DVCPRO camcorders are also a big step up from even high-end standard DV camcorders, and its spec is also known as SMPTE D-7. Shaner and Jones write "there's a movement afoot in the broadcast industry to make it the standard program submission format, displacing Digibeta" (see note about Digibeta below).


This format has a supplementary analog sound track "that many editors really like," according to Shaner and Jones. They point out that this feature allows editing to "patch into the analog track and hear the audio shuttling by at chatterbox speed.many editors find it easier to locate the end of a take or a particular transition" by using this feature.


Both DVCAM and DVCPRO use "consumer-type DV color space," according to Shaner and Jones. But there is an enhanced version of the latter called DVCPRO-50 that "offers professional color space," they write, and "is a direct competitor of Digital Betacam (Digibeta) and Betacam SX."


DVCPRO tapes "cost a bit more than Mini DV because they are proprietary and generally of higher quality," Jones told DV Edge.

Panasonic carries suggested list prices starting in the $7,500 range for DVCPRO systems, going on up to $25,000.


Digibeta and the High End

Professionals will be more familiar with the higher-end digital video formats in use. The current de facto standard is Sony's Digibeta, often used by professional news organizations and commercial video producers.


One important thing to remember is that Digibeta is not to be confused with high-definition TV (HDTV). It is standard-definition. The HD specification is a separate thing altogether, and there are specific HD cameras and recorders available to meet the growing need for shooting in HD.


Digibeta machines carry suggested list prices in the $40K range and up. Many professional videographers rent these systems on a per-day or per-job basis rather than buy them.


Digibeta's success has, naturally, spawned competition from Matsushita in the form of. DVCPRO-50 (mentioned above) and Digtal-S.



Also known as SMTPE D-9, this proprietary system from JVC "is (a) direct competitor to Digibeta," according to Shaner and Jones. "Unlike any of the other DV formats, it uses -inch magnetic tape and larger SVHS-size cassettes." Although this clearly "departs from the DV spec (as to media size), its recordings use the professional DV (data) format," they write.


JVC makes several "D-9" systems, with suggested list prices starting at $8,000 and moving into the $20K range.


Digital8 and Betacam SX

These are two "hybrid formats," in the words of Shaner and Jones, from Sony. Both incorporate professional-level color and sound specs, they write.


Shaner and Jones write that "Digital8 will likely be a transitional format, and sales of (these) camcorders will probably decline as the need to remain compatible with 8mm analog recordings disappears." Digital8 uses the same size cassettes as analog Video8 and Hi8, according to Shaner and Jones, and can record and play back in either analog or digital modes. Furthermore, uploading a recording (analog or digital) from a Digital8 camcorder will create a valid DV file


Doing so with Betacam SX will not produce a valid DV file, write Shaner and Jones. SX camcorders have suggested list prices of $25K and up.


Corralling information about DV formats ranks with herding grasshoppers on the enjoyment scale. The picture will probably be no less complicated in the future, as the major manufacturers continue to compete with one another on the technology front as well as in packaging and pricing their digital camcorders.

The good news is that there is a wide variety of systems at most price points. Buyers are therefore advised to avoid too many discussions about DV formats and specs, but rather, get your hands on a camcorder from your favorite manufacturer at a your price point-then go do something creative with it!


Have a question or comment? A true story you'd like to share? E-mail


"Real World Digital Video" is published by Peachpit Press in Berkeley, Calif. ( www.peachpitcom ) and also available through LaPuerta Productions in Santa Monica, Calif. ( )

Notes About Tapes and Editing: "Many users may not see a benefit in using a DVCAM cassette in a Mini DV camcorder. Where better tape becomes important is if you shuttle the cassette in playback a lot, which could cause tape wear and dropouts in the cheaper tapes," Jones told DV Edge.


But he pointed out that "most editors upload clips to a computer hard drive just once, then work with the data files within their non-linear editing (NLE) system. So users can just (generally) keep their tapes as a backup."

Videographers getting involved in NLE find that "once you get DV clips uploaded into an NLE, they are essentially the same," says Jones, "with the exception of color space, audio sync, and timecode, which are not show stoppers. You can intermix consumer and pro (formats), with just some (minor) color correction required to be broadcast-legal." Jones also said that even intermixing what is called "drop-frame" and "non-drop-frame" timecodes "isn't the end of the world. The conversion can be done within the NLE before you start assembling the clips. "


Jones pointed out to us that "although consumer-level DV creates the same digital stream and computer files, the in-camera recording patterns (and speeds) differ. Uploading via FireWire or i.L INK should remove the differences."


Another experienced source told DV Edge that " many pro fessionals bypass using separate digital tape players and connect the camera directly to a PC for downloading, which eliminates the "what plays on what recorder" issue, and also allows the recording to be ported to any media ( DVD, miniDV, CD, analog tape, etc.) when it is rerecorded.  


One More Note: True gearheads in the audience can visit a real mother-lode site developed by Adam J. Wilt. This site should answer any conceivable technical questions about DV!

Go to:



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