The Hottest Camcorders of Summer

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Summer is almost here! Whether you’re interested in shooting first person video from the front of your surfboard, or maybe a friend’s wedding, or even a feature film, here’s the rundown of the latest and greatest camcorders for summer 2010. From shoot and shares to the latest ENG alternatives, there’s something here for everyone.

Shoot and Share

Summer: a time for a much needed vacation and a trip to Louisville for your friend Andy’s wedding. You want to shoot some video, but you’re not going to carry anything that won’t fit in your pocket or purse. A new Shoot and Share camcorder sounds like the thing for you. Compact and easy to use, these are the current video paradigm for social networking and camera-anywhere carrying.

For all of their popularity, shoot and shares lack some of the key features of traditional camcorders. They don’t have optical zoom functions, expandable memory, or capable ergonomics -- that is until now. Samsung is adding a host of these features in the all-new HMX-U20. Available in a variety of fun colors, this sleek shoot and share boasts a 3x optical zoom lens, 10 megapixel photo capture, and SD/SDHD memory card support. From the hand and pocket perspective, the HMX-U20 handles much better than ‘brick’ shoot and shares. Featuring a highly ergonomic 7-degree curve, the camera rests comfortably in the hand and stores easily in a front pants pocket.

Included software makes it easy to edit and share content online. Perfect for a weekend getaway to the beach, or recording the world premiere of Andy in a decent suit.

First-time Filmmaker (On the Cheap)

Summer Project: You’ve got a story. You’re going to shoot it. You need a camera. The high end pro stuff has way more than you need at a price that’s way more than you’re willing or able to pay. Shoot-and-shares are affordable, but don’t have the manual controls and inputs you want. Take a look at the JVC Everio GZ-HM400.

How much would you pay for true manual exposure control? Mic and headphone inputs? The ability to record in broadcast quality HD bit rates? Major manufacturers charge thousands of dollars for these types of features. JVC’s Everio GZ-HM400 rocks all this and more for about $600. We blogged about this little guy a while back. In case you needed another reason to buy it, B&H is throwing in a free DVD burner.

Extreme Sports POV

The advent of internet video has created an explosion of wallet-friendly POV cameras. While pricing in this market is quite reasonable, most of the stuff out there can’t stand up to the challenges of extreme sports -- some of the coolest stuff on the internet.

Whether you’re catching tubes off Hawaii or hanging heels down the Jersey Shore, the durable and HD-tastically awesome GoPro HD Surf Hero can handle just about everything you can throw at it. Employing 32GB of solid-state memory, the cam captures all of your snaps, aerials, and wipe outs in 1080, 960, or 720p resolution.

An included mounting base attaches anywhere on your surfboard for an exhilarating adrenaline-fueled perspective. GoPro also ships models for skydivers and motorsports enthusiasts.

Documentary and Broadcast

While AVCHD has made some major progress in Electronic News Gathering (ENG) and documentary work, broadcasters and wire services are constantly demanding higher and higher quality footage. Bit-rate seems to be the major shortfall of the format -- AVCHD hits the ceiling at around 24Mbps. Canon’s newly announced XF300 and XF305 camcorders boast pro-grade 50Mbps bit-rates using high quality MPEG-2 4:2:2 recording. WOW-ZA!

Familiar in form to the popular High Definition XH cameras, the new kids on the block ditch tape for readily available CompactFlash memory cards. Footage is recoded using the universal Material Exchange Format (MXF). The good news: faster than real time off-loading with video, audio, and metadata in single file. The bad news: you’ll need to a lot of space to store this stuff. Been considering an industrial RAID system like the Apple Xserve or LaCie Rack Network? It’s time to buy.

Besides giving pros a fast and reliable way to capture and share footage, the XF300 and XF305 might also offer a sneak peek into the future of Canon professional video. MXF clips are only limited by the size of your CF card. It would be nice to see this type of file structure turn up in Canon’s video-enabled DSLRs. Cameras like the 5D Mark II are limited to 4GB files (about 10-12 minutes of recording).

Both the XF300 and XF305 feature 18x L-Series zoom lenses, professional XLR inputs, and 4” high resolution LCD monitors. The XF305 adds SMPTE time code, HD-SDI and SD-SDI output, and Genlock input for live multi-camera productions.

So what type of video are you shooting this summer? If you’re a young person or know a young person interested in video / multi-media journalism, come join me at the Maine Media Workshops. We’ll be using all kinds of cameras to tell all kinds of stories in and around Rockport, MA. My Young Multimedia Journalists Class starts June 13. To register, click here.

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