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.

3D

Wow - you've certainly jumped in to 3D with both feet!

It's just that I cannot endure the thought, that some day in 2020, when everything in the world will be displayed as 3D, I might sit and watch my kid's video recordings in 2D.

I have heard that the GH2 is a big step forward over the GH1, but I think that the strengths of DSLRs (narrow depth of field) are also its limitations in some conditions

Very true. That's the reason, why the GH2 (and its brethren) are not really suited for 3D, and the 3D-lens for it is only a toy. 3D requires a long range of sharpness, and not a narrow DOF.

Will 3D be the standard in a few years?

Every idiot can have a strong opinion re the future, and so I volunteer to do so:

Yes, 3D will rapidly evolve as standard. It is not just the will of enthusiasts like me, but it's the strong will of a multi-multibillion Dollar entertainment industry to tap new revenue resources. You can compare the process with the introduction of HDTV, i nearly all aspects.

The glasses are an obstacle, but the industry will help to improve their usage, Using light polarized glasses can already help a lot for comfort, so I expect them to become eventually the standard, before in some pretty far future glasses can completely disappear. LG is most advanced on this polarizing path with TV sets and projectors, but I expects others to follow.

BTW a question: I use my JVC and coming Sony 3D camcorder with the MVC format, which (speaking as a layman) treats the left picture just like normal AVCHD, and embeds into the stream the right picture with a lower bandwidth "delta" compression relative to the left eye stream (I hope my layman mumbling sounds reasonably clear :-).

At least does the MVC content from my JVC (*.mp4 files) display perfectly on 2D devices and software. Does you AVCHD software for editing and archival treat those *.mp4 MVC files transparently, i.e. works with them without losing the 3D information.

Falk Kuebler

3D

BTW a question: I use my JVC and coming Sony 3D camcorder with the MVC format, which (speaking as a layman) treats the left picture just like normal AVCHD, and embeds into the stream the right picture with a lower bandwidth "delta" compression relative to the left eye stream (I hope my layman mumbling sounds reasonably clear :-).

The JVC approach seems to be to recording a 1080/50p video by alternating left and right eye full frames. There may be compression happening between the left and right eye, but this can be achieved with 'normal' H.264 compression, which works on a Group Of Pictures (GOP) approach, where only deltas are stored from a keyframe and the previous (and future) frame.

At least does the MVC content from my JVC (*.mp4 files) display perfectly on 2D devices and software. Does you AVCHD software for editing and archival treat those *.mp4 MVC files transparently, i.e. works with them without losing the 3D information.

Our editor in Voltaic and Revolver leaves the videos relatively intact, but we do have to do some manipulation when we trim the video. The video header contains the 3D metadata, so we store that, trim the video and audio streams, then create a new wrapper, including the stored header info (modified as required for the new duration). This is more complicated than it sounds! There is all sorts of timing info in the wrapper that we have to put back in to ensure smooth playback.

Our editor only supports AVCHD right now, not MP4. If your JVC TD1 shoots 3D in AVCHD mode at all, it may just work!

We're interested in the new 3D footage from your JVC TD1 and upcoming Sony, so please send us a sample if you can.

3D footage from JVC and Sony

"Our editor in Voltaic and Revolver leaves the videos relatively intact, but we do have to do some manipulation when we trim the video. The video header contains the 3D metadata, so we store that, trim the video and audio streams, then create a new wrapper, including the stored header info (modified as required for the new duration). This is more complicated than it sounds!"

Sure sounds already complicated enough for a layman like myself...

"We're interested in the new 3D footage from your JVC TD1 and upcoming Sony, so please send us a sample if you can."

I'm happy to provide you 2 test files, the first from the JVC and the second from the Sony. Both are shot in the respective manufacturer's MVC format.
https://public.me.com/fkuebler/test-td1.mittel.mp4
https://public.me.com/fkuebler/test-td10.mittel.MTS

Both files look likes stills, but are short videos from a test chart. Because I don't have 3D display equipment, I would ask you to make your own tests (or plausibility checks e.g. re file size), whether after editing the files remain intact.

Because I don't understand the mechanics of the above used Apple Mobile Me web site, I don't know whether you can download those files (each is app. 50 MB). Just in case of problems I have also used the site's sharing system for sending you a links to the files via their mail support. Please let me know whether you finally got access to the files.

Falk Kuebler

The GH2 improves much on the GH1

I'm a completely amateurish family&kids-shooter and I used to use the GH1, and since December the GH2. In parallel to the GH1 I also used the TM750, but only with its 3D addon. Now in conjunction with the GH2 I use the JVC-GS-TD1 3D camcorder (which I will exchange next week to its competition, the Sony HDR-TD10)

I would agree to your conclusions, i.e. a good camcorder appears significantly better suited especially for an amateur, who doesn't want to care too much about optimization and technical pitfalls.

But I also have to say, that the GH2 has very much improved oder the GH1, and that the GH2/TD1 combo is on a much improved new level compared to the GH1/TM750 combo (when the latter is used for 3D).

But unfortunately I'm again back to the ancient days, where for family shootings I always had to take 2 devices with me... ;-). But at least I can take some 2D videos, if and when I only have the GH2 with me. How enthused I will be looking at such 2D footage sometime say in 2020, when everything will be 3D, is a different question. Possibly like watching some old VHS-C video footage today... ;-)

Falk Kuebler

DLRs, Camcorders and 3D

Wow - you've certainly jumped in to 3D with both feet! The newer Full HD 3D cameras look interesting. I'm waiting for 3D playback without glasses - the final frontier for 3D, I think.

I have heard that the GH2 is a big step forward over the GH1, but I think that the strengths of DSLRs (narrow depth of field) are also its limitations in some conditions.

Will 3D be the standard in a few years? Who knows really, but SD is now a thing of the past and looks very second-rate on a big TV now. We may well think the same about 2D sooner than later!

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Justin