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HD Camcorders for Webcasting

The requirements of a professional video camera for live-switching and webcasting can be different than in other markets, but ultimately I am looking for a video camera that both outperforms other camcorders in its class and costs less than you would expect it to.

I’m always on the lookout for the next big thing when it comes to an affordable HD camcorder for live video switching and webcasting. The requirements of a professional video camera in this market can be different than in other markets, but ultimately I am looking for a video camera that both outperforms other camcorders in its class and costs less than you would expect it to.

When evaluating video cameras for use in my own video production company, most of the time I am left disappointed that an important feature is missing, often withheld and reserved for the more expensive camera lines. Usually my top camcorder selection is a compromise and comes with caveats: high cost relative to similarly equipped cameras; living with and designing workflow solutions for missing professional features; or just poor ergonomic design. No one camera can do it all, and even when you narrow your requirements to a specific workflow, you often end up selecting a camera that isn’t well suited for other workflows.

DSLRs are a great example of a camera form factor that is great for handheld event filming, but is limited when you need a 20x zoom lens, XLR audio inputs, HD-SDI or full-size HDMI outputs, long record time, ND filters, zebras, histograms, and countless other professional features. Large-sensor video cameras solve many of the problems associated with DLSRs used for video but at an added cost. Finally, recent camcorder development and features have been rather boring and limited compared to that of large-sensor video camera and DLSR models.

Pros and Cons of the Canon XA20/25

In general, the image quality from small-sensor video cameras will always be inferior to the image from a similar class of large-sensor camera designed for video. The reason comes down to pure physics, and larger individual pixel sensors start with more information than do smaller ones. It is this massive leap in image quality that a single large-sensor imager can deliver that is the reason so many video production companies have embraced large-sensor video cameras and DSLRs.

Personally, I am not that interested in most small-sensor video cameras because I know I can get a better image with my large-sensor cameras. This hasn’t stopped me from checking out the Canon XA20/25 at NAB 2013, buying a Canon XA20 in December 2013, choosing the XA25 as a “Gear of the Year” selection in April 2014, and throughout this time, recommending the Canon XA20 small-sensor camera on several occasions in articles and conferences in 2013 and 2014. To me, that camera was a great value with its 20x f/1.8-2.8 lens on a 1/2.8” sensor, its OLED screen, and dual image stabilization. I also liked its WiFi connectivity and control, dual SDXC slots, XLR inputs, ND filters, and affordable cost of $1,999.

I used it for handheld work where my Sony FS700 and FS100 were impractical because of poor LCD placement and overall ergonomic design. I used it to film conferences where I needed a single camera to be able to zoom in really tight and with the same lens, zoom out really wide. I also used it as a third camera angle, often a reverse-angle audience shot or a wide shot that served as a reference to later synchronize with PowerPoint slides and as a backup angle.

But I didn’t use it for legal video depositions as it lacks a time and date stamp. I didn’t use it for interviews because it couldn’t deliver a pleasing shallow depth of field. And I didn’t use it when I wanted to impress my client with a large video camera because it was just too small. I’ve often joked that I wish sometimes I could just put it in a larger camera body so it would look more impressive. I also didn’t prefer to use it for video switching and webcasting because it lacked an HD-SDI output, and the more-expensive Canon XA25 had only a 1.5G HD-SDI output, while I wanted a 3G HD-SDI output that could handle progressive video, and the HDMI output was from a mini-HDMI port and I wanted a full-size HDMI output.

Ultimately, the XA20’s image quality was great in normal use, but when I pushed the gain or ISO to its limits, my image became too noisy or busy and left something to be desired.

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Unlike most camcorders in its price range (MSRP $1,999) and compact form fact, the Sony PXW-X70 boasts solid sensor size (1") and a host of other pro features, including dual XLR audio inputs, dual recording slots, 3 ND filters, a full-size HDMI output, 3G HD-SDI output, and NFC and wireless LAN control, along with future upgrading to 4K UHD internal recording.