Mini DV video camera?

Well, I am officially in the market for a Mini DV video camera.

Being a completely new field, and tons of information out there, I decided to check out here.

I will be mostly using this to film unicycle stuff, but I would also like to make sure I can take indoor vids in less than ideal lighting.

Does anyone have any experience in this area? If you can’t recommend a make/model, can you offer any advice on what to keep an eye out for, feature wise?

The less I have to spend the better, but needed features justify a price ceiling increase.


As far as consumer mini dv models go, Canon and Sony are generally accepted as being the best in the business, with Canon delivering slightly more bang for your buck.

Having said that though, my dream camera is the Panasonic DVX100A because (amongst other things (3ccds)) of it’s full speed progressive scanning (instead of interlaced) so each frame is “painted” all at once, it’s really full on for getting amazing quality action footage. At US$3,600.00 it might not be quite what you’re looking for.

Watch out because quite a few of the newer models are coming jam packed with dumbass features (like “special effects” and “being 50% lighter”) and they are cheaper than older models because they’ve shoved a smaller lens on which means less quality pictures and less low light capabilities.

Make sure the one you get has firewire (well, you never know).

Next in line behind that Panasonic is probably something like the Sony DCR HC85, only the single CCD but nice big 1/3.6" lens and really good picture quality.

I wouldn’t settle for one of those “jam packed” 1/6" lens models, I mean, they’re nice and everything with their “built in lens caps” and they really do look cool but if it’s the final product you’re after, you’re better off getting a cheaper, older model (perhaps 2nd hand?) with one of the good old 1/4" lenses, that way it’s not a disaster when you strap it to your helmet and fall in the lake.

  1. figure out which features you need. Start with the question of 1 CCD or 3? 3 CCDs gives you something much closer to broadcast quality, but makes a big difference in price.

Beyond that, figure out what you’ll use. Don’t pay for extras if you didn’t know they existed; you probably won’t want or use them.

  1. Get a good lens. Don’t know which ones are better ones, but I really did like the Sony camera Jacquie and I brought to Unicon X in 2000. This Sony (can’t remember the model name but it was bought in 1999) could shoot in very low light, or even in the dark.

  2. I bought our Sony (for Jacquie’s company) with a screw-on wide angle attachment that was very useful for getting right up to things. Highly recommended, and was only about $25 extra.

  3. I also liked the Sony because it had an “info-lithium” battery that told you how many minutes’ shooting time you had left. Very useful. We also added a 3.5 hour battery to the one that came with the camera. Get a second battery and you won’t regret it!

  4. Use a tripod whenever possible.

Let’s see how long this response goes…

Here is, for the sake of killing some time, my complete guide to mini-DV camcorders.

Modern mini-dv camcorders are pretty great when compared with how bad camcorders have been in past years of development. For recreational videotaping, familly home movies and unicycling vids, its pretty hard to go wrong.

For quality and expandability (cooperation with accessories), I reccomend Canon and Sony. I always buy Canon and Sony…although the new Panasonic HD camcorders look good. But that’s not what you want.

So, why Canon and Sony? Canon has a reputation for excellent lenses. Sony has a reputation for straight up reliability, which I can vouch for in my personal experience. I work at a university media center. I teach video editing, among other things. Video is my specialty, anyway. I also do some freelance video production. We have camcorders that circulate at the media center, which means students can borrow them. There is no greater test to the reliability of equipment. We have two Sony TRV27s that have lasted over two years of this abuse and are still going strong.

Sony is a little bit more expensive, but definitely worth it for that reliability factor. If you want something a little cheaper, Canons are also good. I haven’t used any, but it looks like the Sony DCR-HCXX series are very good for that $500-$800 range. They are exactly what I would buy in that range.

Another good thing about Sony & Canon is they are the only two manufacturers to support LANC devices. These are cool. I don’t know a lot of people that use them, but I wouldn’t work without them. LANC is essentially a wired remote control, which gives you zoom, focus and record controls without touching the camera. So, you can have those controls on the tripod, which will allow you to fluidly move the camera (pan, tilt, etc…) and control the zoom and the start/stop button at the same time without trying to fumble with the on-camera controls (which makes that fluid shot impossible).

Anyway, you may not care about LANC, so here’s some stuff you do care about…

Features you want to look at:
-Mini-DV. You said you wanted mini-DV, and that’s good. Generally, you don’t want DVD, Digital-8, or Micro-MV. Granted, the DVD cameras are great for easy home-movie type stuff. Take the media out of the camera and just watch it on a DVD player. But if you ever plan to do any editing, Mini-DV is really the only option.

-Chip size (CCD). Bigger the better. This is the unit upon which light is focused and then converted into a video signal. The bigger the chip, the better your image, generally. Although, it could be argued that a Sony Chip at X size is better than a JVC chip at X size. I’d say its easier to decide on a brand, then get the biggest chip you can get. Pro Camcorders have three Chips. Seperate chips for seperate color info, gives you a great image. Panasonic just released a $700 and a $1000 3-Chip camcorder. This is awesome, and would probably tempt me away from sony if I wanted a $1000 camcorder. Keep in mind there are 3 chips, but they are 3 Small chips, so they’re not “Pro” level.

-Zoom ratio. Just in case: Zoom lets you look closer at far away stuff - binoculars for you camera. The important part is Optical vs. Digital. “Digital” does not always mean good - check the dictionary if you don’t believe me. You want a big Optical zoom, if zoom is something your worried about. You shouldn’t pay any attention to the digital zoom. It doesn’t hurt the camera, but don’t consider it a good thing. The consensus among video type people is, just turn the digital zoom off when you take it out of the box.

-Big lenses. I’m not talking about “long” lenses. I’m talking circumferences. The bigger the lens, the more light can flow to the CCD (the "chip), the better your low-light footage will be. This is important for you indoor or night footage. You can pretty much forget about having a “big” lens with consumer level cameras, as they are designed for compactness. However, some are bigger than others, so you might take it into account. Also, most will have some sort of “night shot” mode. If you’ve seen the Paris Hilton video (who hasn’t?) this is what we’re talking about. Night shot can make things visible, but its not really the ideal solution. I think from my reading that Sony’s is the best, but I’ve personally never used Night shot on any camera.

-Screen. I think they all have a flip out screen, which is very convenient, not only for shooting, but also to watch your footage later for review. They range from around 2 inches to 3.5 inches. The big ones are definitely nice, but wach out - they will eat your battery. Which leads me to…

-Battery Life. Look into it. Enough said. Oh yeah, buying extra batteries is good.

Some features to avoid:

-Digital zoom…crap. See Above

-Tiny cameras. I know you’ve seen those tiny vertical-oriented camcorders. They can be real easy to carry, but they will have tiny lenses, which means crappy low-light footage. Shoot outside during the day and your fine. Also, jamming all those componets so tight makes them less reliable. Also also, tiny cameras usually mean short battery life.

-Steady Shot. There is no magic digital gizmo that will make your footage not shaky when you hold the camcorder in your hand. Optical steady shot is a little bit better, but your still just polishing a turd. If you don’t want shaky footage buy a tripod (or other support device…see “Steadicam JR”). There’s no way around it. Decent tripods can be had for not much money. The other side of that coin is, sometimes shaky isn’t the end of the world. Especially when your chasing a unicyclist, the shaky can be OK. If your interested, I can talk more about tripod tricks and simulated steadicam tricks.

-No-Names. I know I may take brand loyalty too far sometimes. But, please, don’t buy a GE camcorder. You get what you pay for, and crappy brand names sell crappy cameras.

If you have any more questions, just ask. Also…see next response for my number one-low cost DV camera tip…

I wanted a seperate reply so this doesn’t get lost among all the other stuff.

The number one inexpensive thing that you can do to make sure you get the best from your camcorder, specifically longer life and better performance is…

Choose one brand of tape and only use that one brand ever. Some would say if you get a Sony camera, only use sony tapes - and that’s true to a lesser extent. More important, in my opinion, is see what the local electronic store keeps in stock. It’s more important to find a brand you’ll actually be able to buy than a brand that’s the same as your camera’s brand.

So what’s the reason? Different tapes use different lubricants. The lubricants help the tape flow through the camera mechanism and keeps it from getting tight…blah blah blah, etc, etc… The point is some of the different lubricants don’t get along and can actually gum up if you keep swapping different ones. It can cause buildup on the play and record heads, which you might guess is a sensitive area in the camcorder.

Sure, you might be able to clean it later with a tape head cleaner, but this doesn’t always fix the problem, and I’ve seen people lose entire tapes worth of shooting because they shot it all with a gunked up camera. By then, its too late for the head cleaner…

so, I say, pick one brand and stick with it. It’s easy and it helps a lot.

nbrazzi, that was beautiful!

Thank you, I do believe that’s all there is to say about that!

THANK YOU, this is exaclty what i was trying to explain to both Jeff Groves and Dan Heaton regarding using sony tapes in a canon GL1 camera. my experience has been to stick to Fuji on the less expencive end and the Panasonic Master tapes on the higher end.

certian cameras favour certain tapes depending on your aplication and budget.

I’ve been using a Sony a DCR TRV-22E for a while now and have been really impressed. It has a Carl Zeiss lens which I think has a good reputation and is nice and small.

Another handy feature I like is being able to have the camera find the last bit of recording on a tape so you can look at what you’ve filmed then just press a button and let the camera get you back to where you were.

The TRV-22E has a touch screen. I was pretty worried about combining this with muni riding and filming but the screen is still scratch-less. You just have to be reasonably careful with it and clean it every now and then. I take my gloves off when using the touch screen which works well. It comes with a remote anyway so you rarely need to touch it.

It does fine in poor lighting and has a night mode that allows you to film in pitch blackness if you want to for some reason (it turns out green because it uses an infa-red light or something).

When you do buy a camera, you should get yourself a heavy duty case like mine. It only cost $60AUD and was a very wise investment in my opinion since I do a lot of muni and trials with the camera.

Good luck,

Wow, I work at Best Buy selling digital cameras and camcorders, so i’ve aquired quite a bit of product knowledge in the past year, but i think everyone else has covered it. When i break down Sony and Canon, i break it down like this

Canon- easier to use, good lens quality, lots of silly digital effects (one that sort of looks like a fisheye lens gone wacky), and generally cheaper. Favorite models: Optura 70, ZR 90

Sony- a little more advanced, a lot of technical features that you’ll probably never use, much better in low light. With the new Sony’s, the nightshot is not as green. They combined it with a slow shutter speed to you can sort of have a color image, but it’s still kinda weird. Favorite models: HC45, HC80 (i could be wrong on those model numbers)

I felt like i had to jump in, even though everyone else has already said it.

Carl Zeiss optics are some of the sharpest in the world.

regarding the issue of shooting well in low light… the cocept is simple video loves light! lots of it. shooting when your light is low and relying only on what your camera can do is not the best idea.

if possible use external light sources when shooting it looks better and when you are capturing editing and rendering the video you will have many less problems if yoru exposure is bang on.

my backround is a commercial stills photographer, lighting is everything in my line of work. the point of shooting with a 3ccd camera is to get as close to broadcast quality as possible, if your lighting and exposure isisnt any good you are not getting anywhere close to the quality you should be.

oh and currently i am favouring the new Panasonic line of cameras, they are the only manufacturer currently making a 3CCD miniDV camera for the 1000$-1100$ range.

Re: Mini DV video camera?

“Sofa” <> wrote in message news:<>…
> Well, I am officially in the market for a Mini DV video camera.

Have you considered Micro-MV camcorders? See:

The tape is smaller than Mini-DV and the camcorders are more compact.
Concerns may be: recording format, lens size, reliability.

I have a Canon MVX 10i (Optura 300 in the US) and it’s fantastic IMHO, though it’s not cheep. It’s a small vertical Mini DV camcorder that can take 2M pixel digital photos. For me it’s multipurpose, I can use it for family and unicycling, for video and stills, all in one.

BTW the very low light features are OK but all the camcorders I’ve seen it’s just a selling gimmick if you ask me. Normal low light works well in the better camcorders though.

Here’s a review of the Optura 300 and although I wouldn’t agree with everything said it’s not a bad review overall (I get better battery life for a start). There are other reviews on that site of other camcorders that may help you.

Good luck in finding the one for you.


i bought a canon elura 65, and its to be specific --bam-- i just put together a teaser video and u can check it out .

Check out some reviews before you buy a Canon as the ones that I read said that they have poor low light performance. As a result I bought a Sony and have been very pleased.


Thank you all for your feedback, it looks like I’ll be getting this one:

Holey Crap!

Ok…I was on line looking for camera reviews and I came across this site…I had no idea that people were doing stuff like this with uinicycles…you guys are SICK! :astonished: I didn’t even know some of this stuff was humanly possible with unicycles…skateboarders should be ashamed…they have 4 wheels and you have only ONE!

Anyway…I still have questions about the cameras. I have a panasonic that is 12 years old. It crapped out and I need a new one. The one I had was like 1 lux? and it came with a light built in that would turn in automatically if needed. I guess the new cameras dont come with lights at ALL never mind automatic ones…what the hell is that about? I mean dont you NEED lights when filming inside? Is it just a ploy to get youy to spend more money on a seperate light?

Does it make sense to spend the money for the seperate light? I assume I need to do this as I plan to do a lot of indoor filming of my kids. Your information was better than any site I have found so far by the way, and your not even a camera related site! Thanks for the help…you guys are so way cool!


i just bought a seperate light for my new camera, the difference is night and day (sorry!)

the light I use (and it isn’t really even needed when filming indoors, unless it’s like a wedding reception or something, in a house? I wouldn’t worry about it unless you try yours out and it is too dark for your liking, then get one)

my external light allows me to light up the trails, no way a built in light could do that…not to mention the incredible battery drain, the beauty with external lights is they have their own powersource (some don’t…don’t get one of these)

I bought a sony light to go with my HDR HC1, so the light and the camera both use the same type of battery. is a great video camera board.

PS. Try out a uniycle, you will love it, everyone does!