HD-SDI camcorders under $10,000. What to pick?

anycast.jpgI was called by a regular client today.

They wanted to take their existing show and move it to HD. At the same time, there’s downward pressure from sponsors to get the most advertising bang for limited bucks.

So he needs to produce this multi-camera live show on a budget, and may need to do it over time, so he’s looking to invest in a system whereby he can produce episodes as needed, and then also rent out the gear when it’s not actively needed.

He knows all about HDV, but there’s no HDV live switcher yet (and the video delay with HDV is many frames) so what’s the solution?

Well, there are a few HD-SDI switchers out there that enable him to get a few of the latest prosumer camcorders that offer HD-SDI outputs and switch the show live and then record it to the format of his choice. But what camcorder should he get? … —————————

FreshDV posted an article about B&H accepting pre-orders for the HDCAM EX1 camcorder, which features a HD-SDI output. This announcement actually marks the first HD-SDI capable camcorder under $10,000 from Sony. B&H has the pre-order price at $7000.

ex1sm.jpgI had some hands-on with the EX1 camcorder and it is a nice little package. It has a Fujinon lens so you’ll need a higher-end lens controller as opposed to a Lanc system. Camera control can be facilitated through on-camera menus.

Optics are limited to 10x but the three, full 1080, half-inch chips will provide visually pleasing shallow depth of field (unless you need a greater depth of field to keep distant objects in focus easier as they move around). It only uses SxS flash media which I’ve discussed before. It will require 16g to record HDV-like video for 70 minutes. Two 8g cards will cost you $550 x 2 or another grand over the cost of the camcorder. Plus, unless you got a second thousand dollars for two more cards, you’ll have to wait to copy the data off the cards before you can keep rolling. Oh, and add the cost of a media wrangler to your production. (Don’t know what that is? Then click the link, read the article, and sit there with your mouth open, agog at the amount of extra work flash media requires compared to tape or optical disk.)


The $6300 ( -current $500 rebate) Canon XH-G1 is the same as the XH-A1 I reviewed for EventDV Magazine. This is a very capable prosumer camcorder with optics and chipset that come right from the “Hummer of HDV” the XL-H1. It’s very pretty video. The G1 is the exact same camcorder as the A1 except Canon adds professional I/O that includes HD-SDI/SD-SDI out, genlock, and time code. This is what you’ll use to syc the camcorder up with others, and feed the 1080i signal into the video mixer.

xlg1.jpgOptics are generous at 20x. It is also the only camera of the bunch that offers image stabilization. This can be handy if you’re doing hand-held work, or, if the floor of the room you are in is, well, wobbly to say the least. The Canon offers Lanc for easy connection of external zoom, focus, record-start/stop control from the back of a tripod or the bottom of a crane.

Moreover, since your signal is coming down the SDI pipe, this leaves the Firewire free to use Canon’s Console software which gives you the ability to paint and control your camcorder as if you were sitting in the CCD’s cockpit. It also records the camcorder’s feed to the hard drive. Simply amazing. There are other software packages which can let a laptop act as source monitors and hard drive recorders, but they can’t go in and adjust gain, coring, white balance shift… dozens of parameters!

Lastly, it records 60 or 80 minutes on a $3 MiniDV cassette. A nice ISO backup for cheap. Can be changed out in under a minute.


Lastly, the JVC GY-HD250U sneaks in at 9,999 according to B&H, so it meets my “under $10,000” criteria, but I’ll still quote the price as $10,000 because I hate all those nines (as much as I hate gas costing $3.15 and 9/10 of a cent) but I digress. hd250uv2.jpg

This camcorder features a stock pro Fujinon 16x lens so you’ll need pro controls and, like the other camcorders, offers visuals right off the CCDs, before heading to the chips that will compress the image to HDV. The camera, however, is a 720p camcorder, so its images will have less resolution than 1080 images. The question of whether your mixer can handle p24, p30, p60 or i30 frame rates is something for you to discern before plunking down your cash.

Also note that the JVC is that it is a bit larger, and considerably longer than the other two camcorders. So weight & displacement become issue if you plan on using motorized pan/tilt heads.

But it does record to standard MiniDV cassettes so your strategy of rolling tape in every camera, “just in case” is still conceptually and fiscally sound. I’ve done my share of recording live to external hard drive. I’ve rolled tape just because it was cheap and, even on the unreasonably expensive and somewhat outdated hard drive recorders*, I’ve had clips that, for no reason I can fathom, refused to play once I copied everything to my computer. So tape saved my butt.

Tape is cheap, but when it saves your … it’s priceless.


So there you have it. Three HD-SDI camcorders under a Chase.

Now… when they come out with broadcast-quality video mixers that take HDMI inputs, then your choices under 10,000 will explode from three, to several dozen! 



8 Responses to “HD-SDI camcorders under $10,000. What to pick?”

  1. October 29, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Another alternate is to use camcorders with HDMI output and Blackmagic Design Intensity/Intensity Pro cards, and the Blackmagic software switcher. Two $250 cards and the free software and you have a two camera HD studio.

    Nowhere near as flexible as HD SDI but a fraction of the cost.


  2. November 16, 2007 at 10:09 am

    What a pity, Anthony, that you were in a state of altered reality when you wrote the above.

    You: “[HDCAM EX1] Optics are limited to 10x”
    Sony brochure: “The PMW-EX1 camcorder is equipped with a high-quality, high-definition Fujinon 14x zoom lens”

    You: “[HDCAM EX1’s] three, full 1080, half-inch chips will provide visually pleasing shallow depth of field”
    Fact: depth of field is a function of f/stop and focal length, and is not a quality bestowed simply by the size of the sensors.

    You: “[XH-G1] is also the only camera of the bunch that offers image stabilization”
    Sony brochure: “To minimise the blurring effect caused by hand-shake, the new lens of the PMW-EX1 camcorder incorporates an optical image stabiliser function”

    Perhaps they gave you a pre-production prototype to play with?

    At any rate, I feel your piece is unreasonably slanted against the Sony product, to the point of spreading disinformation. I have had an XL-1 for six years and I love it dearly, but now the time has come for HD, and the EX1 has made me switch brands.

  3. November 16, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    I stand corrected on two counts on the EX1. The EX1, however, is designed to offer a shallower depth of field at a given f-stop than other Sony camcorders that might fit into the category of camcorders discussed here.

    While I am not Slanted against Sony product, I personally ave used Sony gear at IEBA Communications for decades, I am dismayed by certain decisions at Sony that giveth- like a 20x optical lens- and then take it away- back to a 12 or 14x lens.

    I’m curious why you, as someone who chose a canon XL-series camcorder, would not continue that into the HD realm. Please elaborate on your decisions.

  4. 4 Mike Turner
    November 20, 2007 at 6:09 am


    The crucial issue for me is visual acuity, and in the case of the PWM-EX1 the bar is set higher than with the XL-H1, and at a lower price point. Now I have not, admittedly, seen technical test data on image resolution with these two systems, but I recall the frequent cry of VB (Victor Blackman, writing in Amateur Photographer for all of those years) that “a good big ‘un will always beat a good little ‘un”.

    The specifications are simple enough to understand: the Sony CCDs are 50% bigger linearly than the Canon ones (0.5″ vs 0.33″, and have 33% more pixels (1920 horizontal vs 1440 horizontal).

    There are also a couple of points about solid-state recording that I *really* like (no enforced real-time upload and threat of dropped frames, as compared to tape-based systems, and no moving parts as compared to all other systems).

    It’s a no-brainer for me. Of course, I regret the loss of lens interchangeability, but perhaps in a few years there will be an affordable full-HD camera with XL-like interchangeability. Meanwhile I will sit back and enjoy the picture quality.

  5. November 20, 2007 at 9:08 am

    But we know that chips can be hobbled, or dramatically improved upon with great glass. This is why JVC, and now Sony are offering interchangeable lens camcorders under $10,000. When the JVC GY-HD100 came out, it was said that it had the prettiest picture except for one other HDV camcorder… the GY-HD100 with a different, $13,000 piece of glass on the front.

    As much as I hear the advantage of solid state recording is no moving parts, but remember that the EX1 has autofocus, an image stabilizer (moving internal lenses), zoom.. etc. It actually has several continually moving parts- many of them automatic. The advantage of solid state recording over tape to resist problems due to movement, shake, etc occur after the point at which the other moving parts are also rendered useless. Well, maybe not the zoom. :)

    So if it is a crash camera, then yes. Go with flash (and hope the end of file gets written properly).

    I do agree with the non-real-time upload. This avoids tape time code break issues cmpletely. It also is usually much faster than real time.

    Lastly, both the Canon and the JVC listed here offer longer lenses. For some, this may not be an issue. For many, however, the fact that pro lenses are seldom less than 12x- usually 14x, 18x, 20x, and (once you get to the “big uns”) 80x, 100x…

  6. 6 Mike Turner
    November 22, 2007 at 10:46 am

    I would agree that chips of all sorts can be hobbled by bad hardware or software around them. But I would not agree that a chip can be “dramatically improved upon” by the optical system. It is not that the chip is *improved* by great glass, rather it is *let down* by inferior glass.

    It somewhat worries me that, by implication, you are saying that one must pay $13,000 for the lens alone, in order to get full HD resolution. Do you by chance have any statistics on the resolution of camcorder lenses?

    Taking an example from the world of still pictures, a good Nikon lens costing around $2000 might have a resolving power of 162 lpm. With a 1/2″ sensor, and assuming that is a measurement of the diagonal, as seems general in video picture measurements, that gives a horizontal size of 11.07mm to contain 1920 pixels. A lens of 162 lpm would resolve 1794 vertical lines across that sensor – seems a pretty close match to me – and if the 1/2″ measurement is across rather than diagonal, that rises to 2057 vertical lines. I bet the quality of lens in a $9000 camcorder is *at least* as good as this.

    I am perfectly aware of the other moving parts in the PWM-EX1, but I would point out that tape-based recording systems usually suffer from head wear issues before they suffer from other mechanical maladies.

    Also, I’ve had my hands on a professional long zoom lens on a Nikon, a venerable and tatty old lens, which was unbelievably sloppy in its focus mechanism (to the point where the lens assembly could flex visibly) and yet it still took good pictures. That is not true of tape recording systems – put that length of service onto a tape deck, even the big bulti-track blocks that I’m used to in analogue mutitracking machines – and the recording will deteriorate to the point of uselessness.

  7. 7 david burk
    September 11, 2008 at 8:30 am

    One word on Sony EX1 on HD-SDI..

    Some guys tried to capture uncompressed futage via HD-SDI and noticed that futage looks worse than filmed on SxS, what leads to the conclusion that the signal on HD-SDI is not “off-the-head” but up-converted after compression.

    They did same experiment with Canon HD-SDI cameras and din’t noticed those problems.

    So, in my opinion.. EX1 – high resolution, but not much convinient for HD-SDI..

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