Rugged Video Camcorders

9/15/2007 By: James Careless

from Technology & Learning

A look at the best rugged video camcorders.

Video camcorders have become a staple of K–12 classrooms. So, unfortunately, have broken camcorders. The reason is ruggedness, or the lack thereof. Consumer camcorders, which are made for mom and dad's careful handling, often fall victim to the drops, hits, and general abuse heaped on them by children.

So how can you get a rugged camcorder? Your best bet is to spend up to $3,000 on a "prosumer" model from manufacturers such as Canon, Panasonic, or Sony. Prosumer cameras are built along the lines of professional broadcast cameras. This means their cases have more metal in them and are designed to be knocked around (to a certain degree). They still won't survive the worst abuse from your students, but chances are they will last longer than cheaper, plasticshelled consumer models.

All prosumer camcorders have sophisticated zoom lenses, focusing systems, and microphones built-in. All are also laid out in the style of broadcast cameras, rather than the palmcorder-style sold to consumers.

As for recording media? These days, you can buy digital camcorders that record to videotape, DVD, disk drive, or onboard memory. The prosumer camcorders on our comparison chart all record to MiniDV videotape. DV is the prosumer recording format of choice. Both MiniDVC and DV videotapes record in this format.

Finally, do you need an HD camcorder? No. However, buying an SD (standard definition) camcorder that can shoot in regular (4:3 aspect ratio) and widescreen (16:9) will give you some degree of "future-proofing." All 16:9 SD video looks okay on an HDTV monitor and costs less than true 16:9 HD.

Buying Tips
  • Check how solid the camcorder's shell, lens, and protruding switches are—the more rugged, the better.
  • Avoid cameras that only have flipout LCD screens; choose models that also have viewfinders.
  • Choose simple features whenever possible.
  • Buy camcorders using the MiniDV/DV recording format.

Best Buy

Panasonic AG-DVC20

At $1,595, the Panasonic AG-DVC20 is the least expensive of the four camcorders we compared.

However, had this camcorder not been up to the job, we would not have picked it as our Best Buy.

Strickly speaking, all four prosumer models are really much more than schools require, while less expensive consumer models lack the ruggedness that educators need. The AG-DVC20 offers a good compromise between these two extremes.

As well, the AG-DVC20's shouldermounted design is easier to use for students, making it more likely they will capture steady images.

James Careless is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa, Canada.

If you have only the budget for consumer cameras, try to buy models that do not have flip-out LCD screens. These can be hard to find—you may have to look for older models, in fact—but worth it when it comes to survivability. Flip-out screens are easy to snap off; embedded screens and viewfinders tend to stand up a little better. Remember, ruggedness is paramount in student video camcorders!


Canon GL2 Panasonic AG-DVX100B Sony DCR-VX2100

Company Name/URL

Canon www.canon.com

Panasonic www.panasonic.com

Panasonic www.panasonic.com

Sony www.sonystyle.com

Model

GL2

AG-DVC20

AG-DVX100B

DCR-VX2100

Recording Format

DV

metal DV

DV

DV

Recording Medium

MiniDV videotape, multimedia card/SD memory-card capability (limited storage)

MiniDV videotape

MiniDV videotape

MiniDV tape, also Memory Stick media, Memory Stick duo (limited storage)

Aspect Ratios

4:3 regular

4:3 regular

16:9 widescreen and 4:3 regular

4:3 regular

CCDs (for capturing light)

three 1/4-inch CCD, 410,000 pixels

three 1/6-inch CCDs, 460,000 pixels

three 1/3-inch CCDs, 410,000 pixels total

three 1/3-inch CCDs, 380,000 pixels total

Low-Light Sensitivity (minimum lux)

6 lux

1 lux

3 lux (F 1.6, 18 dB gain, 50 IRE video output)

1 lux

On-Camera Viewing System

yes

yes

yes

N/A

LCD Screen

color viewfinder and color 2.5-inch flip-out LCD screen

color viewfinder and color 2.5-inch flip-out LCD screen

BW/color viewfinder and color 3.5-inch flip-out LCD screen

Color viewfinder and color 2.5-inch flip-out LCD screen

List Price

$2,399.99

$1,595

$2,995

$2,999.99

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