Digital SLR vs Camcorder video - which is the best for you?

For the past 12 months we've been using our regular HD Camcorders and also some of the new Digital SLR video cameras.

The Digital SLRs are very impressive video cameras, but there's some gotchas.

This review pits the Panasonic GH-1 Digital SLR against the Panasonic HDC-SDT750 (also sold as the TM750) HD Camcorder.

Handling

Weight

The TM750 weighs in at 450g while the GH-1 is 850g. In fact, the GH-1 lens weighs more than the entire TM750. If you've ever had to shoot a long scene with your camcorder, this is a big deal. In our real world tests, it is easy to hold up the TM750 in one hand for long periods. The GH-1 takes two hands to hold it for for long periods and eventually gets too hard!

Zoom

The TM750 camcorder has powered zoom while the DSLR is manual. This means that you really can't zoom while shooting with the DSLR, while its easy with the camcorder. Even on a tripod, zooming on the DSLR moves the camera far too much to keep shooting.

Auto-focus

The DSLR has a narrow depth of field (DOF) which gives you the 'professional' look where your subject is in focus while the background isn't. The problem with this is that the camera has to work hard to auto focus, especially in a moving scene.

The camcorders on the other hand have a very wide depth of field (like a compact still camera) so don't need to do much at all to keep the subject in focus.

The result of all this is that DSLRs really struggle in high movement scenes while the camcorders do a very good job.

Shooting Conditions

In a crowd

Because of it's narrow DOF, the DSLR will find it impossible to auto-focus into a crowd scene. It will always focus on the nearest person, leaving everyone else out of focus. If you have to shoot someone in a crowd you will have to go to manual focus. Manual focus isn't easy with a video camera.

The camcorders do a good job in a crowd because the whole crowd will be in focus, so you can just zoom right in to your subject.

Action scenes

In fast moving scenes the DSLR falls down again because of it's need to continually auto focus. Te camcorders shine again due to their limited need to change focus as subjects move around.

Powered zoom on the camcorder lets you shoot one-handed and zoom, allowing you to keep tracking your subject. The DSLR requires two hands to hold and zoom, and you will probably lose your subject when you bump the camera around.

Video Quality

For this article I'm going to look at video quality under action or high-movement scenes. This is the technical bit of the article. The short answer is the GH-1 struggles while the TM750 does a good job. Read on to find out whats going on under the hood...

When shooting video yourself, panning is not good. You should avoid panning as a rule since it creates too much movement and the consumer cameras just can't handle it.

Having said that, if you want to take a sport or action video, panning has to happen.

DSLR video cameras (and cheaper camcorders) suffer from what is known as 'rolling shutter'. This is caused by the image sensor taking some time to record each frame, and the sensors scans from top to bottom. It means that the image recorded at the bottom of the frame is slightly different to the image recorded at the top.

Camcorders are less prone to this due to a number of reasons but the main one being that the high-end consumer camcorders use multiple sensors (rather than one for the DSLRs) and have built-in processing software to deal with this.

Rolling shutter, and a number of other problems that come up with fast panning, can be reduced on any DSLR by using a higher frame rate (the GH-1 can shoot at 50 frames per second) and higher shutter speeds. The manual controls on the DSLR video cameras are very good and you can control shutter speed, just like shooting still photos. If you do this remember that shutter speed on a video camera works the same as for your still photos - go too quick and you will not get enough light.

With its 3 sensors and better video capture, the TM750 camcorder easily out-performs the GH-1 in this area. Its more than out-performing too. Fast action shots at Full HD (1920x1080, 25fps) on the GH-1 just don't work. The quality is almost unwatchable.

Conclusion

The Panasonic GH-1 got rave reviews from Indy filmmakers all over the world because it gave them professional video results with a $1,500 camera. These rave reviews made it look like the new DSLRs would take over the home video world.

Under ideal conditions (like you get when shooting a movie) the GH-1 is outstanding. See our Parrot video for a sample. Put a DSLR video camera in the real world and the story isn't so good.

Throw in busy scenes, fast moving subjects, camera panning and low light and the traditional camcorders look a lot better.

If you need a video camera for all those usual things like family events, sports, holidays and so on, I recommend a top of the line HD camcorder. Panasonic is still our number one choice, but you won't go wrong with a Canon or Sony.

If you want to get creative and take control over your movies, the Digital SLR can be for you.

For me, it's back to the HD camcorder for regular video shooting. The GH-1 will be our special project camera.

Final Cut Pro X coming soon

Final Cut Pro X is due for release anytime now - even Apple is talking about June 2011.

What does this mean for you?

We will be doing a review as soon as it comes out to let you know exactly how FCPX fits in with your workflow and the Shedworx product line.

Final Cut Express no more

Firstly, it looks like Final Cut Express will disappear. This means home users looking for 'something better than iMovie' will have to shell out $300 instead of $200. We've been using Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro here at Shedworx for years now and for the home or semi-pro user, there is no practical difference between Final Cut Express and Pro.

So, it will be more $ required to move up from iMovie.

The Mac App Store

Final Cut Pro X will be sold through the Mac App Store. While it will cost more than its predecessor (Final Cut Express) the Mac App Store will let you install on more than one computer (legally).

Native AVCHD Support

Final Cut Pro X is rumoured to have native AVCHD support. This should mean no more transcoding to ProRes.

This has been a long time coming and is why we developed Cosmos from the ground up as a Native AVCHD movie manager. With Final Cut Pro X no longer requiring transcoding, all the native AVCHD video in your Cosmos library will be very easy to 'Send to Final Cut' when you are ready to edit.

Our guess is that native AVCHD will be coming to iMovie'12. Again, Cosmos will fit in just fine.

Keywords

The demo at the NAB Supermeet in April hinted at some keyword tagging within video clips as a way to highlight subclips of interest.

We will look into how this works and see if there is a useful way to transfer keywords from Cosmos into Final Cut.

Wrap Up

Final Cut Pro X will be a huge step forward for the high-end editors. For those of us who just want something better than iMovie, the ability to edit native AVCHD will probably be the biggest improvement.

The user interface looks like it could be easier to use than the current Final Cut Pro, but we'll need to see it first.

We will put out a series of Final Cut Pro X guides aimed at people like you - people who need a better editor than iMovie, but don't spend much time editing Hollywood blockbusters!

iMovie and Full HD editing

So you bought the best HD camcorder around, shot some great movies and got them imported into iMovie. The editing went just fine and now it's time to share your masterpiece with the world.

So all you want to do is get that HD movie out of iMovie and playing on your TV. That should be easy right?

Well, no.

The Apple way...

  1. Share out of iMovie to AppleTV (iMovie->Share->Export Movie)
  2. Add to iTunes
  3. Go to your AppleTV and watch your movie

What's the catch? Firstly, you need an AppleTV.

If you're happy to shell out the $100 or so for an AppleTV, there's bad news. Apple isn't interested in helping you watch your movies in Full HD. Apple created the AppleTV so you could rent movies off iTunes.

Your AppleTV runs at a maximum resolution of 1280x720 (often called 720p) but your movie was shot and edited at 1920x1080 resolution (or 1080p). The Share option out of iMovie is even lower at 960x540.

But wait there's more. The AppleTV requires your movies to be at a maximum bit rate of 5Mbps, but you camera shot the movie at 20Mpbs.

What does all this mumbo jumbo mean? When you watch you edited movie on an AppleTV it is running at one tenth to one quarter of it's real resolution.

Don't believe us? Plug your camera directly into your TV using a HDMI cable and take a look. Compare this to your AppleTV movie. The AppleTV is closer to standard definition TV than HD TV.

There has to be a better way! And of course there is.

The ShedWorx way...

RevolverHD can take an exported Full HD (1080p) movie from iMovie and create a top quality Full HD movie that will play on most TVs and Blu-ray players.

It's as simple as this...and you don't even need an AppleTV.

Export from iMovie using QuickTime conversion (Share->Export Using QuickTime...)

Set up your Export type to "Movie to QuickTime Movie" then click the Options... button.

You need to set up an Export as follows:

  • H.264 Video, Size 1920x1080 HD
  • Audio to LPCM, 16bit, 48kHz

Here is the RevolverHD User Guide if you want to see the QuickTime screens for these settings.

Do the Export and drop the new movie into RevolverHD.

Now you can:

  1. Burn a high definition DVD to play on a Blu-ray player or PlayStation3
  2. Export for Panasonic TV
  3. Export for Sony Bravia TV
  4. Export for PlayStation3

All of the TV Export options require you to copy the export onto a USB drive for playback on the TV or PS3. RevolverHD helps you with this.

The Results

We can't show you how this all looks on a big screen HDTV, so we've uploaded both the AppleTV and Full HD samples to YouTube. Even with YouTube's low bit rates, the quality difference between the AppleTV 540p and Full HD 1080p movies is clear (Go full screen to get a feel for what they will look like on a big TV).

Make sure you go to 1080p resolution once playback starts - otherwise you will only get 720p

Getting Technical

If you want to know how this works, here you go...

Firstly, we create an AVCHD movie from the QuickTime export. This is a very fast conversion because we do not re-encode the video stream, just rewrap it from a QuickTime container to an AVCHD (MTS) container.

Our rewrap process relies on Revolver being given a movie with the right video and audio codecs for AVCHD. Revolver checks the video and audio codecs when you add the movie to Revolver.

Next, we take the new movie and put it into the required file structure for playback on a TV. We set up variants of this file structure as required by the different brands of TV.

RevolverHD also supports the creation of an AVCHD DVD which is special format DVD that can play HD movies on a Blu-ray player.

Thats it! Download Revolver now and see for yourself. We're sure you'll be impressed!

RevolverHD 2.1 Released

RevolverHD 2.1 is out now. This is a free upgrade!

RevolverHD 2.1 is a big upgrade and includes the following new features

  • QuickTime to AVCHD conversion - in a major step forward, Revolver now let's you take a Full HD QuickTime export from iMovie or Final Cut and create a Full HD AVCHD movie that will play on almost any HDTV directly. Playing HD movies back on your HDTV is not well supported by Apple, so Revolver fills this gap.
  • TV Exports - Revolver can now take AVCHD video clips and package them up to play back directly on most new HDTVs.
  • 3D - we have updated Revolver to support editing and playback of Panasonic 3D footage. Using Revolver you can load up 3D clips from a Panasonic 3D video camera, trim clips as required, then create a TV Export that will play back on your Panasonic 3D TV. This is a first for the Mac!

This update includes an update to the user interface to make Revolver a lot easier to use and master.

In-depth technical HOWTO articles will be coming out over the next couple of weeks to help you take advantage of these new features.

In the meantime - download RevolverHD now! It's free for existing users and if you haven't tried Revolver before, now is the time to try! A free demo is available.

Giving to charity - part 4

In our on going commitment to charitable causes, I recently fundraised for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and participated in the One America 500 Festival Mini Marathon. The LLS helps patients with blood cancers and supports research into finding cures. Although I got a personal best in the 13.1mi/21.1km race, the important thing was that I was participating to make the lives of cancer patients better.

iPad2 first impressions

iPad2 first impressions

We've got our first iPad 2 here at ShedWorx so it's time for a quick review.

It's Thinner and Lighter

This is no surprise to anyone, it actually makes a difference. The new iPad is thinner (8.8mm vs 10.4mm for the iPad 1) and a bit lighter (600g vs 680g for the iPad 1). These aren't huge changes, but the new iPad feels lighter and smaller in the hand.

Smart Cover

Get the Smart Cover! It's a big step up from the previous covers, although the back of the iPad is still exposed. To cover the back of your iPad I recommend something like Gelaskins. These are just glorified stickers, but they do the job.

Speed

The new iPad is a bit quicker, mainly for things like loading complex web pages. For general stuff like email, using apps, etc you won't notice a difference.

Cameras

The front facing camera is good enough for FaceTime, but thats all. The rear-facing camera is nowhere near as good as the iPhone4 camera for video or stills. It does work though and its better than nothing.

iMovie

I have to mention iMovie for the iPad. This is a great little app which you can use to create really good movies and even publish direct to YouTube.

The rear-facing camera isn't much good for shooting video, but there are other options. We'll be exploring iMovie for the iPad in more detail in an upcoming post.

3G

This is nothing new for the iPad 2 but if you are going to try out the iPad you have to try out 3G. My first iPad was wireless only, then I went to a 3G model. Having the Internet always on makes a huge difference to your iPad. You quickly forget about wireless networks and all that stuff, because it doesn't matter any more.

Even if you use your iPad on the road a fair bit, it won't use much data. I've been on a 1GB plan for the past year and never even got close to using my quota. As long as you save your YouTube uploads for when you get to Starbucks you'll be fine.

Bottom Line

The iPad 2 is a major improvement to the original iPad. If you've been sitting on the fence about whether give an iPad a go, it's time to try one out.

After a couple of week of using the iPad every day, my top two improvements for the iPad2 (in order) are:

  • smart cover - this really makes it easier to use
  • thinner, lighter, faster - the combination of minor improvements in these areas make the iPad bit easier to use

If you have an iPad 1 already and are happy with it, stick with it. The iPad 3 will be out before you know it!

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