This is a post I’ve been trying to get done for quite some time now. First I tried to write up instructions on how to use the manual focus, exposure, ISO and white balance controls available on the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 camcorder. But it turned into quite a long, tedious experience that was difficult to finish. Then I decided that it would be better to simply make a video demonstrating how to use these controls. This endeavor because easier when I recently got my Sony NEX-5 camcorder which shoots HD video.
Part one of this video demonstrates how to find the manual controls for focus, exposure (aperture and shutter speed), ISO and white balance using the CG10′s menu. Part two of the video–coming shortly–demonstrates how to assign “shortcuts” for these controls so they can be more easily accessed without using the more cumbersome menu.
I can’t emphasize enough how being able to use these manual controls really sets the Xacti camcorders apart from most other inexpensive HD camcorders, especially the popular Flip and Kodak models. The newer Xacti models also have manual controls, so these instructions should work as well for the VPC-CG20, VPC-CG21 and VPC-CG100.
One of the most impressive features of my Sanyo VPC-CG10 camcorder has been its audio recording quality. But sometimes you don’t realize how good something is until you have a chance to compare it. This weekend I made an inadvertent comparison and I came away all the more pleased with the CG10′s audio performance.
On Friday night I brought my Sony NEX-5 with me to see the legendary rock band Killing Joke at a very small club here in Chicago. My primary purpose for brining the camera was to take pictures. But when the intro music started I decided it would be nice to at least shoot some video of their entrance. When I reviewed the footage the next day I found that the sound with the band playing was distorted beyond repair.
Now, I wasn’t really surprised that the audio was so distorted. While it’s a great camera, the NEX-5 doesn’t have pro audio features like manual levels, any sort of level meter or a headphone out. The camera uses auto-gain (AGC) exclusively, and under normal conditions it works well. But Killing Joke is a loud band, and I was pretty close to the stage. Apparently that was just too much sound pressure for the NEX to properly deal with.
However, I’ve used the little Sanyo at a lot of different concerts, both indoor and outdoor, and it’s been able to handle loud amplified music like a champ. The Sanyo also doesn’t have any manual audio controls or meter, but somehow its combination of microphones and AGC is able to outperform the much more expensive Sony. Searching around the internets I’ve heard similar complaints from people using the NEX cameras, as well as other video dSLRs from Canon and Nikon. And, really, that makes sense. The NEXs and other dSLRs were designed as still cameras with video as an afterthought. Even tough the Sanyo Xacti is a very inexpensive video camera, that is its primary function. Nevertheless, I am glad that it does so well.
So my lesson here is that if I want to have just one camera to shoot some concert video the Sanyo CG10 is the best candidate. If I want to get better quality video using the NEX-5, then I should consider using dual sound, bringing along my Zoom H2 to record audio. Dual sound is slightly more complicated, mostly because it requires bringing more gear and having to futz with it all.
One option that many recommend now is the newest Zoom recorder, the H1, which is even smaller than my H2. Folks using dSLRs sometimes get adapters to mount it to the camera’s flash hot shoe. The NEX-5 has no such shoe, so a different mounting method would need to be found.
I will probably just use the Sanyo CG10 for impromptu concert recording. I’ll use the NEX-5 when I’ve got time to set up and do a more thorough job, such as when recording gigs put on by friends.
I don’t normally go in for deal tracking here at mediageek, but this is one I have to pass on. Thanks to Scott Eggleston at the Frugal Filmmaker, I just learned that B&H has my favorite palm-sized camcorder, the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10, on sale for just $109. That’s a good 40% less than what I paid about sixteen months ago.
Although Sanyo has released several newer models in the pistol-grip Xacti line, none of them appears to be much of an upgrade over the CG-10, which was Sanyo’s first HD camcorder coming in under $200. What I like about the CG10 over similar palm-sized camcorders from Kodak and Flip is that it offers manual control over exposure, focus and ISO. You do have to work a little bit to get these settings the way you want them, and you can’t change them while shooting. Nevertheless that modicum of control permits the more serious videographer to squeeze more performance from this camcorder than its competitors.
To get better video performance in a similarly small package I think you have to step up to one of Sanyo’s high-end HD palmcorders costing more like $400, or get a high-end point-and-shoot digital camera like a Canon G12 or Panasonic LX5.
I’m always complaining about how most consumer-level camcorders don’t feature microphone inputs, or even decent mics. My Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 has pretty good mics for camcorder of it’s size and price. But because the mics are on the camera and there’s no input to add an external mic, they’re still inappropriate for interviews or any sort of shoot where you need to record voices clearly because the mics will be too far away.
Now Zoom has upped the ante by adding HD to create the Q3HD, featuring full 1080p HD video. I’m surprised that the Q3HD still lacks a microphone input, however it does add a line input. In its promotional literature Zoom says that the input is good for recording multiple microphones using a mixer “for sophisticated recordings.” While this is certainly useful, I question whether someone using a tiny hand-held camcorder wants to drag around a mixer and multiple mics just to get better sound. Being able to just plug in a single lavaliere mic would be much more practical.
Like most Flip-style camcorders the Q3HD has no optical zoom, and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of manual control over the video. So, in essence it’s a Flip camcorder with vastly improved audio. I think it would be vastly more useful if Zoom were to combine something like a Sanyo Xacti style camcorder, that has an optical zoom, with the enhanced audio recording of their “handy recorders.” That would really make for a DIY videographer’s dream pocket camcorder.
The Q3HD is supposed to be available by the end of the year for $299. My guess is that the street price will be a good bit lower than that. However, I’d gladly pay $300 or a bit more for my dream of an Xacti + Q3HD.
There’s a common idea amongst serious photographers that it’s a good idea to always have a camera on you, because you never know when you’ll see the stuff of a great picture. Seeing as how it’s often impractical to always have an SLR or other larger camera with you, many photogs adopted smaller point-and-shoot cameras they could easily toss into a bag or even keep in a pocket. In the digital age these are often called “serious compacts,” because they offer enough control for the experienced photographer without being enormous.
While these ideas seem to be quite common in still photography I don’t often hear them repeated in video circles. It could be that photos and video often are thought of differently, or perhaps serious videographers look upon video shot in the moment to be too much like bad home videos to be taken seriously. Or maybe it’s because it’s a very recent occurrence that there are video cameras that are as small as compact still cameras.
Not exactly pocket-sized.
Home video camcorders are about thirty years old now, but for the first ten years of their existence they were big shoulder-mounted affairs. In the 1990s the birth of 8mm, VHS-C and then miniDV led to so-called “palmcorders.” Yet, they were still a little bigger than most film SLR cameras. That is to say, one might take it on vacation to record special moments, but only a dedicated few would take one on a walk through the park or to a party.
In the early 2000s there were several miniDV camcorders shrunk down to about the size of a couple of paperback books. While this seems to have encouraged more folks to carry camcorders with them, the relative delicacy of their complex tape mechanisms and the need to carry blank tapes still served as discouragement from keeping one in your bag all the time.
By 2005 the ability to record video crept into most point-and-shoot digital cameras. At this point I think a lot of average folks started to take more video, primarily because it was simple and built into the camera they were hauling around anyway. But the quality of the video still was lacking compared to a decent dedicated camcorder, often with much poorer sound. So while many more videographers played around with their digicam’s video function, it doesn’t seem like they were taken too seriously.
Now we’re finally at the point where there are good camcorders that will fit in your pocket. Whether it’s a Flip cam, a Sanyo Xacti like I use, a point-and-shoot digital camera with HD video or even an iPhone 4 it’s possible to shoot quite credible video using a device only slightly bigger than a miniDV videocassette. Thus begins the era wherein serious videographers can indulge in taking “video notes” of daily life and events in the way still photographers have been doing for decades.
I’ve realized that’s the real value to small camcorders, having the ability to easily shoot video without a lot of planning and schlepping. As a result I think I’ve shot more video with my Xacti VPC-CG10 in the last year than I shot with my miniDV camcorders over the previous nine years. The miniDV camcorders, as relatively small and easy to use as they were, still required more forethought and planning, along with carrying an extra bag for the camera and tapes.
What I’ve really enjoyed is shooting short “slice-of-life” videos that last no more than a few minutes once edited down. Not coincidentally, this is the perfect length to share on the web. So I also think that having the ability now to share HD quality video so easily on the web contributes to the value of the pocket-sized camcorder, where before the venues to share such video widely were quite a bit more limited.
I’ve got quite a bit of video in the queue waiting to be edited. Luckily, sometimes I end up with a solid 3 minutes that requires minimal editing. As an aside, while I still lament the lack of a proper microphone input jack in most small camcorders, I continue to be amazed at the quality of the sound recording in my Xacti VPC-CG10. It truly rivals the quality of dedicated digital audio recorders like the Zoom H2. The Xacti doesn’t quite measure up at the low-end, and emphasizes the midrange a little more than I’d like. But a little equalization cleans that up pretty easily. I now notice that the new Sanyo VPC-PD2 that I wrote about yesterday sports some fairly serious looking microphones that I am curious to hear.
Here’s a short video I shot of the classic post-punk band Mission of Burma at the Wicker Park Fest street fair here in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. This was shot hand-held from the crowd in the street. There was no room for a tripod or monopod. The only reason I was able to grab the video was because I had the camera in my bag and could easily grab it. I’m able to hold the Xacti much more still than a Flip style camcorder because of it’s pistol-grip design and flip out screen which makes for a more stable two-handed grip.
The sun was starting to go down so I switched the CG10 into black and white mode which I think works better in low light. I accidentally underexposed it a little, as I’ve learned that the LCD screen isn’t the most accurate way to judge exposure, so I had to boost the gamma in post. This makes the video a little more contrasty in a way that I like and is more film-like, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Sanyo just announced a new Xacti camcorder that looks interesting due to the way it breaks from the company’s typical pistol-grip style camcorders and due to its lens. The VPC-PD2BK has a form-factor more like the Flip-style cams, but with a 3x zoom lens that looks like it came from a compact still digicam, therefore also featuring a faster maximum aperture of f/3.1 than on their pistol-grip style cams which usually start at f/3.5. Every little extra bit of light gathering helps.
As I’ve noted before, while I really like my Xacti VPC-GG10, I find that it’s lens is not up to the standard of the average digicam. In everyday use this matters less for video than for still pictures. But this better looking lens on the new PD2 gives me some hope that perhaps this cam will deliver better stills alongside full 1080p HD video (alas, only at 30 fps, rather than the cinema standard of 24p).
The PD2 also doesn’t include a mic jack or optical image stabilization–two features which would be very welcome. But at a pre-order price of $169 over at Amazon, if the quality matches or betters the VPC-CG10 (which is what I’d hope), the PD2 may still be a very appealing option for videographers looking for more flexible image control than available with the typical Flip-style cam.
Hey Sanyo, if you’re reading, how about sending me one for review? I promise to send it back ;->,
As I’ve blogged before, I’m having a blast using my Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 palm-sized HD camcorder. I’m starting to hear about other videographers who appreciate the CG10 not just for its cost, size and HD, but also for its manual control over exposure and focus.
I’m actually working on a blog post discussing how to put the Xacti camcorders’ manual controls to good use in just about any setting, and how that will make your video look just that much better than anything that comes from a Flip-style camcorder, or even a shiny new iPhone 4.
Over the last three years I have not been shy about airing criticism of the newest wave of low-cost flash memory camcorders shooting alleged high-definition video. My critique has largely rested upon video quality being lower than established tape-based HDV camcorders and the difficulty of editing footage shot in the highly compressed AVCHD format.
Kodak Zi6 HD camcorder
The last time I posted on the topic was about a year ago when I took on Kodak’s entry into the field with the first HD camcorder priced under $200 the Zi6. I started to warm to the concept based upon the low price which then also makes higher quality videography more widely accessible. I never had a chance to get my hands on a Zi6 until very recently when I was in a store to check out a different model of inexpensive HD camcorder, which I’ll get to in a moment. The Zi6 takes on the Flip camcorder style form factor. That is, it’s shaped like a bar-style cellphone, with a lens on one side and a screen on the other. The controls are largely limited to record, stop and play with the intent to keep operation simple and easy.
Finally this year I began seriously to consider taking the plunge with one of these small HD camcorders. There were two motivations. First, I realized that I barely used my miniDV camcorder any more, bogged down by its relatively large size and the hassle of having to capture tapes in real-time. Second, I tried to make some videos using my digital camera. While the camera’s specs say it shoots video in a resolution equivalent to full standard definition DV (640×480) I found the resulting footage to be really lacking in quality. On top of that, the video files were recorded in a relatively inefficient and obsolete format.
Although the simplicity of the Flip-style camcorders hold some appeal for me, I’m really not sure I can be satisfied with their lack of manual adjustments, zoom and other basic camcorder settings. I recognize how the average user probably doesn’t care and doesn’t miss them, and that the Flip brand camcorders have succeeded because they deliver good video with absolute operational simplicity. But I’m a bit more of a power user than that.
My Xacti CG10 and it's box in Radio Shack red
Then I got wind of Sanyo’s newest and least expensive camcorder in their Xacti line, the VPC-CG10. I was enticed by both the price, under $200, and the fact that it has a real optical 5x zoom. Sanyo advertises the model as a “Dual Camera” because it is both a 10 megapixel still camera in addition to shooting 720p HD video. I learned that the Radio Shack near work had the Xacti and a few other low-cost HD cams in stock and stopped in on my way home to check them out. Read more »