So, you want to shoot high-quality video without having to pay the exorbitant cost of a professional camera? Good news: you can still look like a pro without having to give up an arm and a leg.
There are a wide variety of top-of-the-range hand-held devices today that will fulfil all of your video dreams, and your wallet won't resent you for it. The price range between these top-of-the-line devices only differs by around AU$500 at most, so we recommend that you pick the camera you want, and then check out that brand's lower-range models to see if you can compromise if the price is an issue.
The first thing you need to consider before buying a top-of-the-line camcorder is what you will be filming. While we don't expect you to be able to predict every moment of usage in the future, you need to think about your video habits and lifestyle.
Here are a few pointers for how to choose a camera for a variety of functions.
The everyday camera
This is the camera you want to pull out at a second's notice to catch a candid moment with your family, or for filming on the go. You'll want to consider, for example, the simplicity of the menu, since many cameras lead you on a merry adventure to discover the function you want, which is frustrating when you want to just point and click.
Also consider the quality of the simple things — zoom, colour grade, brightness and darkness and image stabilisation. If you're watching and re-watching these little videos over and over, you'll want them to be simple and precise. The Sony HDR-PJ760 is a good example of this kind of day-to-day camera. It's efficient, it produces good-quality images thanks to a spectacular image stabiliser and it looks and feels like an expensive camera.
Another winner in this category is the JVC Everio GZ-GX3B; a camera that is a complete all-rounder. It performs soundly across all areas, and has a superb smartphone/PC connectivity feature, which is such a wonderful addition to the camcorder — making it exquisitely easy to transfer and view footage wherever you are. This is a camera for the future, so if you buy it you'll be ahead of the game. Just sit back and wait for your friends to catch up.
The holiday camera
If you're planning to jet-set around the world with your new top-of-the-line camcorder, then there are a number of different options to choose from. More and more companies are releasing devices with innovative new features that would really add a kick to your travelling experience. The new GPS addition, for example, would be a fun way of tracking a holiday, as it pinpoints the location of your filming and creates a geographical timeline of your trip. The best example of this technology can be found in the Sony HDR-PJ260, or the Sony HDR-PJ760, both of which have a smart GPS function that's surely only practical to use while travelling.
To add to their travel appeal, both of these Sony cameras have a neat in-built projector, which would be convenient if you're travelling and don't have a computer or TV to play back footage — you can gather around a blank surface and watch your videos without having to make any transfers on the go.
The pro camera
So you want to show off your superior video skills? Many companies are releasing commercial top-of-the-line camcorders that deliver genuinely high-performance videos. But for an aspiring film-maker or James Cameron enthusiast, you might want to consider playing around with some fancy additions, such as 3D. The new 3D feature on cameras is a useless gimmick for the family who just wants to film their kids playing sport, but, if you want to take your filming more seriously, then experimentation with the latest technology is what you should be looking for.
For this kind of filming, you'll want the Panasonic HC-X900M or Panasonic HC-V700, although we would recommend the cheaper V700, as there is little difference in quality between the two. This technology will provide you with a great deal of entertainment and experimentation. However, if you want to produce really high-performance video quality, then we would suggest putting the 3D aside and choosing a better all-rounder, such as the Sony HDR-PJ760, which is the cream of the crop in terms of video quality. The PJ760 has the best image stabiliser we've ever encountered in a hand-held device; the footage is smooth and professional, and would suit any film-maker looking to produce high-quality video.
Tailor your camera to what kind of film-maker you want to be. The added gimmicks on some devices will be entirely wasted on a point-and-shoot family camera, but there's no denying the novelty value that they pose for holidays and experimentation. At the end of the day, you have to find a suitable match between your wallet and your ambition.