Top 5 high-definition camcorders

From budget to premium, we rate the best HD camcorders on the market

High-definition camcorders continue to sell like the proverbial hot cakes, and with good reason. With a maximum image resolution of up to 1080p, they are capable of delivering broadcast-quality video that will continue to dazzle for years to come. All major digital video formats — including MiniDV, hard disk and removable flash memory — offer high-def models. Below is a selection of our favourite HD camcorders, across all categories and price points. For an in-depth review of each product, as well as pricing and specifications, click on the links.

Canon HV30 — Best for Traditionalists

Despite its high-def credentials, the Canon HV30 sticks to the oldest and most venerable digital video format: MiniDV. This makes it the perfect stepping-stone for experienced videographers who prefer the familiarity and reliability of digital tape

Without question, the HV30 offers some of the best video quality we've seen from any camcorder in this price range. It records video in the HDV format, as opposed to AVCHD. (While AVCHD is more efficient at video compression, HDV offers the superior picture.) It will prove particularly suitable for amateur film-makers and people who want to extensively edit their videos.

A 25p progressive mode mimics the look and feel of celluloid; this will be handy if you want to send something into Sour Grapes or Tropfest.

Special mention must also go to the HV30's excellent audio options. In addition to an impressive inbuilt microphone, the camera comes equipped with a hot accessory shoe and external microphone and headphone jacks. You can also manually adjust audio levels via the camera's miniature joystick. This makes the HV30 an excellent choice for budding film-makers who require crystal-clear sound.

The HV30 also comes equipped with a MiniSD memory card slot for capturing still images at up to 3.1 megapixels (Mp). All in all, a very solid performer.

What's hot: Performed excellently in low light, 25p Cine mode, unique and arresting design, extensive audio options

For full specifications and an in-depth review of the Canon HV30, click here.

Sony HDR-SR12 E — Best for Storage

The HDR-SR12 is the creme de la creme of Sony's current HDD handycam range, offering a massive 120GB of hard disk space to record your high-definition videos. Along with the ability to record video at a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, this camera comes packed with an assortment of ultra-deluxe features, including a memory stick slot for additional recording, 10.2Mp (!) still image capture, an external microphone jack and a 'smooth slow recording' mode.

This makes the HDR-SR12 an incredibly versatile camcorder that will suit everybody from makers of short films to sports photographers. Handily, a camera control dial is also included to the left of the lens, allowing you to quickly adjust focus and brightness levels on the fly.

With 120GB of memory to play around with, the HDR-SR12 offers an impressive recording time of 48 hours, or 14.5 at the highest quality. When combined with a memory stick, this is boosted even further.

The HDR-SR12 is equally impressive when it came to shooting in dim environments. While noise is still evident, its presence is far less noticeable than most other high-def camcorders we've looked at. Highly recommended to those who can afford it.

What's hot: 120GB inbuilt hard drive, vibrant high-definition video quality, 10.1Mp stills mode, solid picture quality in dim lighting.

For full specifications and an in-depth review of the Sony HDR-SR12, click here.

Panasonic HDC-SD9 — Best for Portability

The HDC-SD9 is the world's smallest 3CCD high-definition camcorder, measuring just 65x67x126mm and weighing a barely there 275g. As such, it is perfect for frequent shooters who always need a camera at the ready. Its ultra-compact design will fit easily into most pockets.

The HDC-SD9 records high-def video to SDHC memory cards in the AVCHD format. Up to two hours of 1920x1080p video can be stored onto one 16GB SDHC card. If you plumb for the SD9 kit version (RRP: $2229), a 32GB SDHC card is included in the sales package (along with a mini-HDMI cable and VW-BN1E DVD burner).

Rather spiffily, the HDC-SD9 also supports standard-definition video, which makes it a good investment if you plan to upgrade your television further down the track.

Like the Sony HDR-SR12, the SD9 also benefits from a 25p Cinema Mode. This recording option offers rich, true-to-life colours that mimic the feel of celluloid — useful if you're into making short films.

If you're new to video, you may also be interested in the SD9's Intelligent Shooting Guide. This is a new shooting mode that basically acts like an onscreen tutor, alerting you when you do something wrong (such as pan too fast) with handy tips and messages. It will also automatically open the correct submenu when you need to change modes or settings.

What's hot: Ultra-lightweight design, stunning 'full HD' video resolution, solid still images mode, Face Detection technology

For full specifications and an in-depth review of the Panasonic HDC-SD9, click here.

Samsung VP-HMX10 (XSA) — Best for Budget Shoppers.

The Samsung VP-HMX10 (XSA) is a good quality high-def camcorder that practically anyone can afford. Retailing for just $1199, it is actually cheaper than some of the standard-definition models on the market.

The VC-HMX10 records video to SD/SDHC memory cards in the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video format, which offers superior rates of compression. It offers five different settings for video quality: Super Fine (HD), Fine (HD), Normal (HD), Standard (SD), and Economy (SD). This should be enough to keep everyone covered, regardless of their hardware or memory restraints.

Overall, the video quality of this model is quite impressive, with accurate lifelike tones and a distinct lack of ghosting or motion blur, even when shooting fast-moving images. Much like the Panasonic HDC-SD9, it is an incredibly compact unit, with the included carry bag almost doubling as a sunglasses case.

Surprisingly for an entry-level offering, the VP-HMX10 (XSA) comes equipped with an external microphone jack. If you're a serious film-maker on a limited budget, this will be a huge selling point, offering the ability to capture clear audio to go along with your high-def video.

Another neat feature is the swivelling hand grip, which allows you to twist the camera through 135 degrees while keeping your wrist straight. This is extremely handy for shooting footage at unusual or awkward angles. If you're after an affordable high-def camera to use with your shiny new LCD TV, the VC-HMX10 represents good value for money.

What's hot: Affordable HD, decent video performance, external microphone jack, swivelling hand grip

For full specifications and an in-depth review of the Samsung VP-HMX10 (XSA), click here.

Sony PMW-EX1 — Best for Professionals

With its sub-$9500 price tag and dizzying array of recording modes, the Sony PMW-EX1 is for serious users only. Sporting a Fujinon Professional HD lens specifically designed for this unit, with a trio of 1/2in CMOS sensors and recording capabilities of up to 1920x1080p, it arguably offers the best image quality of any camcorder on the market.

The PMW-EX1 records HD video using the 'SxS Pro' memory card format: a new form of flash media developed by the PCMCIA that complies with the ExpressCard/34 standard. The camera comes equipped with two SxS Pro slots, allowing for up to 140 minutes of continuous recording. You can also hot-swap between cards while shooting — something that freelance videographers will adore.

When you're paying this much for a camcorder, you naturally expect to have your socks blown off, and in this regard the PMW-EX1 won't disappoint. Without question, it produced some of the highest quality video we have ever encountered, with unprecedented levels of detail and very few instances of noise. The inclusion of three 1/2-inch Exmor CMOS sensors — each with a pixel count of 2.2Mp — offers a significant boost over most competing units, which typically sport inferior 1/3in sensors.

Being a professional model, the PMW-EX1 is equipped with three independent rings along its lens barrel for focus, iris and zoom. For audio, a shock-mounted stereo microphone has been built into the carrying handle, along with a pair of professional XLR terminals, a 3.5mm plug-in socket and a sturdy attachment holder for external mics.

It will surely suit any industry professional or independent film-maker — provided they're bold enough to adopt a new (and unproven) technology.

What's hot: Unparalleled 'full' 1080p high-definition video, huge array of benefits offered by SxS Pro recording format

For full specifications and an in-depth review of the Sony PMW-EX1, click here.

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Chris Jager

Good Gear Guide
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