HD camcorders group test

Introduction

From social networks to the iPhone 4, home video and video recording are everywhere these days. It’s partly inspired by the narcissistic, celebrity-fixated times we live in, of course, but it’s also because the technology is so widely and cheaply available: even Apple’s lowest-end MacBook has a built-in video camera.

The problem is that a lot of the video we’re shooting is either low quality or deemed just ‘good enough’ – a bit like making mix tapes by recording songs off the radio or listening to low bit-rate MP3s. Ultimately, it’s not going to be very satisfying. That’s especially true when it comes to capturing our most precious memories of friends and family, or a great holiday, or something more. Do you really want to capture baby’s first steps or an amazing Amazon adventure as a 320 x 240 video clip? Probably not.

What we’ve lined up in this group test are six high-end HD consumer camcorders that promise the best possible picture quality, while offering a great mix of automatic and manual features, bags of storage and ease of use. The six camcorders are the Canon Legria HF M32, Canon Legria HF S21, JVC GZ-HM1, Panasonic HDC-HS700, Panasonic HDC-TM700 and the Sony HDR-CX550V.

One thing that’s common to all these 2010 models is that they’re pushing the boundaries of HD video quality. Most of them max out at 1080i 24Mbps resolution, which is the highest quality available using the AVCHD video codec. Panasonic’s HDC-TM700 goes even further, including 1080/50p video to give you Full HD quality, but at a cost – you’ll find out why later.

All the camcorders in this test make a virtue of new standards in image stabilisation, which helps your handheld footage look smoother, along with the inclusion of face recognition technology, which can help the camcorder stay in focus when filming people, either as individuals or in small groups. We’ll be looking to see how both of these advances help you capture better quality video. Or not.

Then there’s the question of usability: these camcorders need to be pleasurable to set up and use for everyone, from complete novices to video enthusiasts. So we’re looking for a good range of auto features and comprehensible, logical menus, as well as manual controls to help you make the most of your footage.

Finally there’s storage: our six HD camcorders offer a mixture of storage options, from built-in flash memory and hard disk drives to removable flash memory cards. We’ll help you discover which works best for you and whether they allow you to easily switch between different options for continuous recording. Ready?

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