Since I saw Sony’s prototype HDV version of the DSR-250 at NAB, I’ve been envisioning the features of my dream HDV camcorder. For me, it’s not a shoulder-mount but a handheld FX1/Z1U-sized model. Some available handhelds have one or two of these features, but I want all of them in a single unit. Is that so much to ask?
First, I want 1080i recording at full 25Mbps, all the time. In 24p mode, I want 25Mbps with more bits allocated to each frame. Next, I want four channels of audio. This way, I can have my stereo audio and a wireless lav and another audio feed, all in one stream.
I’ll also need high-quality mic preamps and audio specs. Edirol, Roland, M-Audio, Zoom, and others offer high-fidelity, 24-bit audio recorders for around $200. A $6,000 HD camcorder really ought to have a low noise floor and frequency response that at least matches these inexpensive recorders, if not exceeds them. In addition to the built-in stereo mic, I want individual, balanced, mono 1/8" jacks for each external mic input. I want a switch to select between internal or external mic. I want to be able to add one wireless receiver and still use half of the internal stereo mic, with jacks halfway up the side of the body facing downward so anything plugged in does not stick out, like the FireWire jack on the Sony FX1.
I want user-selectable audio meters on screen at all times, manual audio or not, and individual level controls I can adjust by touch, in the dark. The camera should also have individual switchable pads on all audio inputs.
I want a 16x lens or better with optical image stabilization. An auto-focus, image-stabilized lens gets more difficult shots, better and faster. Try the 1 foot-to-4 feet-away move with a manual lens—you have to move every ring it has. I want a flawlessly smooth zoom, like Panasonic’s DVC-30. When I put the camera up on a crane, I need manual iris control via LANC in my hands on the floor.
I want a 4" LCD or larger with no overscan. Having the LCD on the side of the camcorder or the back would be especially useful for studio work. I don’t want the LCD to swing up like the FX1’s, because that means I can’t hold the LCD to stabilize the camcorder. A separate LCD display (visible if the big screen is shut) needs to tell me minutes left on the tape and the battery.
Another wondrous feature I could use is the swivel grip like the one found on the first HDV camcorder, the JVC GR-HD1U. From ground level to over my head, I never had to move my hand from the grip or zoom rocker. This made it easy to do potentially difficult handheld “crane” shots. If they could make the screen swivel in unison, it’d be like a hot knife through butter. It must have a composite out. Specialized cables are fine for component or full AV, but basic video out must be built-in, along with SDI. And FireWire out must be able to down-convert HD to DV on the fly.
I want to do more than just fade to and from black or white. Sometimes I need to edit in-camera. I need dissolves and wipes—like older Sony DV camcorders had—but with control over parameters like the length of the transition, or whether audio needs to fade in on the dissolve. Plus I’ll need shockless white balance, so I can fix my shot while recording, and not have it be obvious that something was wrong. Also, I’d like on-screen focus assist while shooting. For an image-magnify, don’t use the whole screen, just the center, and let me toggle it on and off manually. The camera needs AE-shift on a dial (not a menu) that’s always accessible while recording. User-assignable buttons can reduce camera clutter, but need to be able to access any camera menu function I want, not a small subset.
I want a 6 or 7 V hot shoe so I can power a dimmable LED light from the camera battery without additional cabling, and handle whatever future accessory may need power, like an on-camera hard-disk recorder. I want the camcorder to be able to integrate an SATA drive accessory as well, so the drive should slide in and out like a PC card. I also want an SD slot for easy transfer of camera setups and other data, and a CCD with 3MP-plus and the ability to record full resolution, non-interlaced stills at the same time as video, as on the Canon XH A1. Those stills go to SD while the 2MP 1080i video goes to tape or hard drive.
How about an accessory that transcodes the video to DVD or HD optical native formats? This way we can drag and drop footage into an encoder, pick a theme, and burn a disc. Consumer PVRs are already recording MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 in real time. Why can’t pro gear do this?
I want a low-cost filter/hood accessory that holds a 4" square in front of the lens. The Lee Wide Angle Lens Hood costs under $200. Anything more is too much. And it’s high time we moved beyond the wimpy 1/4" thread to secure these expensive camcorders. Bogen’s 3271 offers four square inches of stability for $11. Why doesn’t a $6,000 camcorder already have this built in?
I want one 24p standard, not four. I also want one standard lithiun-ion battery, not several that are 99% identical but don’t fit in the same cameras. Sony’s Info-lithium battery, with its minute-by-minute data, is a good model.
These are a few of my wishes for my dream camcorder. Each is designed to make the camcorder more powerful, easier to use, and better able to assist us in our event productions.
Anthony Burokas of IEBA Communications has been an event videographer for almost 20 years, and is technical director of the PBS series Flavors of America.