Film That Family Fun!

Summer break is finally here! You’ve packed the cooler, fueled your car, and programmed that GPS. It’s time for a vacation! Whether your traveling to England or just down to Galveston, you don’t want to forget sunscreen or a new HD camcorder for capturing all sorts of family fun.

With advancing technology like HD, there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of camcorders on the market, all wanting you to buy them for your next-get-away. This can be daunting at first but don’t fret! I spent weeks last summer deciding what camera to purchase (with my own money I might add). I ultimately broke my potential cameras down into 3 different categories based on price. This is how I will break it down today as well.

The Flip (Portability)

Price: $159.99

I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve heard about this camera. Weighing in at just 5 oz, this little device has become an icon for portable video. With the addition of HD and the simplicity of the design, it’s easy for anyone to pick up and use almost instantly. It’s a great device to have on the road for all those moments when you don’t have time to pull out a full fledged video camera. The device does suffer for fashion however, the portability knocks out mini DV tapes (leaving only an hour of recording space!) and many basic features. Beyond the 2x digital zoom, there isn’t much else one can do.

My Take: The iPad of video cameras. While the device is amazing and useful for many occasions, at the end of the day the lack of features and 1 hour recording space isn’t enough to handle my week long trip to England. I see the Flip to be a great supplemental device to my main camera, as if my Flip is my video sketchpad.

Pros: Extremely portable, Full HD, ease-of-use, (great for day trips).

Cons: Few functions, 1 hour recording life, no accessories.

Panasonic HDC-TM55k HD (Functionality)

Price: $448.99

The middle ground device in this review, and probably the camera most people end up buying. An AVCHD 8GB built in memory camcorder boasting full 1920 x 1080i HD resolution, and an impressive 35x zoom. The camera houses an impressive set of features like, auto face-recognition, auto power LCD, intelligent auto (senses the shooting conditions and optimizes all settings to shoot the “best” video), notice a theme here? This camera would shoot a movie by it’s self if it knew how. All these auto features are aimed at home movie makers who don’t know how or don’t have time to mess with settings.

My Take: The array of auto features is a double edged sword. For some, the ability to just point and shoot nice video is all they need, and if so, buy this camera. Maybe it’s just the inner filmmaker in me crying out about the lack of control. I enjoy being able to tweak the camera to find the best look, but by no means might you have the same intention.

Pros: Full HD, full auto, portable, built-in wide angle lens, optical image stabilizer, 2.7″ LCD display.

Cons: Touch display (This tends to dirty the HD screen and make it hard to navigate while shooting), Flash memory (compresses video which lowers quality vs. minidv tapes)

Canon HV40 (Control)

Price: $949.00

The highest-end model coming in at just under 1k. Packing a huge punch in a small camera, some features include: full HD, 10x optical zoom and stabilization, and an advanced accessory shoe. However, the beauty of this camera does not lie within the HD or the basic features, but rather one special one, the ability to choose different frame rates. If the sound of that doesn’t make you jump up and shout then you probably should choose the camera above. Basically, choosing different frame rates, allows your movies to look more like film, or if your shooting high-speed action you can choose a higher frame rate. The number of frames per second the camera takes, ultimately effects your final movie, and few cameras under 1k include this feature. This is the camera I use to make all of my movies.

My Take: A water-downed professional camera in a small device. If your willing to pay a little more, this device can be perfect for that geeky Mom or Dad. This is the camera I ultimately ended up buying because of the control I have with the picture and with the accessory shoe which you can attach microphones and lights. If you feel like you don’t need these features (if they don’t get you all worked up!) then paying the price probably isn’t worth it. I absolutely love this camera, because it allows me to have professional control at a consumer price, so if you have any aspiring Spielberg’s in the family, pick this one up!

Pros: Full HD, Different frame rates (24, 30, 30i), MiniDV (can be good or bad), accessory shoe for mics and lights, super-range optical image stabilizer.

Cons: Price, MiniDV.

This wraps up my take on these cameras, I hope this helps you decide what to take on your next family outing. If you are looking to buy these cameras or look at more, I suggest B&H, a store (and online store) located in NYC. I have bought ALL of my cameras and camera gear from them the last couple of years and they have been the best place to find what you need. There are tons of cameras out there to take on your trip but of course, if all else fails, just take your iPhone.

Good luck and happy shooting!

2 Replies to “Film That Family Fun!”

  1. Great roundup Chris! I have a couple of Flip MinoHD's and I love them. I think Flip even makes a 2-hour and 4-hour version of their cameras, though the price on them starts to go up quite a bit ($229, $279). And I love B&H too. Their catalog is one of the few that I still look forward to receiving.

  2. Great post, Chris. I am personally a Flip camera addict – and recommend businesses and Nonprofits get at least one for their team in almost every public speaking gig I do.

    So handy, so cute, so useful… so… everything 🙂 However, that Panasonic camera is looking pretty sweet right about now to me too. The video camera fairy totally needs to come and visit my house…

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