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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.

Enter the XF200/205

Canon did launch a larger pair of follow-up models at NAB 2013, the XF200 and XF205, with the same 1/2.84" sensor and 20x f/1.8-2.8 lens. The price jumped to a still-reasonable $3,499/$3999 and what you got for the additional $1,500 over the XA20/25 was 3G HD-SDI out, full-size HDMI out, a 50Mbps codec, a different battery, and three rings on the barrel.

It also overcame one of the XA20/25’s biggest problems: poor design. The XA20/25 has a poorly located exposure toggle button on the bottom of the camera that you use to toggle between the iris and gain selections, before adjusting the value by turning a dial at the front of the camera body. Unfortunately, it felt like the designers never actually mounted the XA20/25 on a tripod in testing their design, because doing so made pushing the toggle button very difficult (Figure 1, below). 

Figure 1. The usefulness of Canon's XA20 is limited by poor button placement. Click the image to see it at full size.

Equally frustrating is that tripod plates mount so far back on the camcorder that they have to first be removed before you can swap-out the battery. Initially, I thought I was running into problems only because I use Vinten tripods that have a larger tripod plate, but I encountered the same issues using the more common Manfrotto 501PL plate (Figure 2, below).

Figure 2. Battery placement vis a vis the tripod QR plate is another concern with the XA20 (right). Placement is much more astute on the Sony PMW-X70 (left). Click the image to see it at full size.

Ultimately, Canon nailed most of the items on my wish list with the larger XF200/205, but because they were based on a 1/2.84" sensor, it would have the same high-noise-at-high-gain limitation that I didn’t like about the XA20/25. I sold my Canon XA20 in December 2014 and didn’t replace it with a Canon camcorder.

1/2"-Sensor XDCAM Option: The Sony PXW-X200

Moving to a larger 1/2" sensor video camera like the new Sony PXW-X200 (Figure 3, below) means gaining a slightly larger sensor size, and the PXW-200 will be a very fine addition to the respected XDCAM lineup, albeit at a higher cost of $6,299. On the plus side, it does have a very nice 17x f/1.9 lens, offers Sony’s new XAVC codec, and has a professional-looking form factor. This model compares favorably to the previous models in this line, the PMW-200 and PMW-EX1/R, which had only a 14x zoom lenses.

Figure 3. The Sony PXW-X200

Another thing I didn’t like about this line of cameras was its reliance on SxS cards and either an ExpressCard slot (which none of my three current laptops supports) or an expensive $335 SxS memory card reader to capture the cards with. I much prefer using recording media like SDXC cards that I can hand off to a client, buy a replacement virtually anywhere, and capture with an inexpensive internal laptop or external USB card reader. Of course I insist on using fast SDXC media that I can capture at 45-90Mbps and with a USB 3.0 card reader, but in a pinch I have more options to offload footage from an SDXC card than from any other recording media on the market today.

The new PXW-200 will support streaming with a later firmware update. I’m interested in this and other similar models that promise, with firmware updates, the ability to webcast live, via an LTE USB stick, to popular webcast service providers such as Ustream, even though I’m rarely asked to webcast only a single stream, and typically need to switch multiple cameras or computer inputs.

Ultimately, for me, the image quality and shallow depth of field benefits of a 1/2" sensor are not dramatic enough compared to a 1/3" sensor to justify the jump in cost, and the requirement to move away from SDXC cards to SxS cards.

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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.