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Panasonic HC-V-757
Compact Full HD Panasonic Camcorder

A camcorder , also known as a camcorder , is a video camera with a built-in video recorder .

The fact that it is a device that consists of two clearly distinguishable components is also shown by the name camcorder . Camcorder is a cross between cam era and re corder .

Before introducing the camcorder

Before there were camcorders, videographers either had to connect the video camera to a stationary video recorder with a long cable or take a separate, portable recorder with them. The first portable video recorders were very heavy and were therefore carried on the back.

Later, hang-on recorders that weighed only a few kilograms were used ; they were used until the 1990s.

JVC camcorder based on MiniDV

Analog camcorders: 1983-1996

First generation Sony Video-8 camcorder with shoulder rest

The first devices that can be described as full-fledged camcorders were the Betamovie devices from Sony , which came onto the market in 1983. The Sony devices were able to record the image from the built-in camera directly onto a beta max tape. Playback, as it is common in almost every video recorder and camcorder today, was not possible with the Betamovie models from Sony at the time because a smaller head drum had to be used to keep the device small enough; the video tracks could only be read by a full-size head drum of the type used in home equipment. At the same time, JVC presented its own developments based on the VHS-C format. They had the advantage that the material filmed could be played back either through the camera's viewfinder or on a connected television or monitor. With today's camcorders, the data can be viewed while recording or afterwards in the camera's viewfinder or on an LC display integrated into the camera .

Bauer-Bosch brand camcorder based on VHS-C ( Panasonic - replica , approx. 1985)

In 1985, Sony after the failure of Betamax be Video-8 system on the market, the cassette about the dimensions of a Philips - Compact Cassette reached what further miniaturization enabled. Camcorders with the Video-8 system became the segment with the highest sales in the course of the 1980s and 1990s until the introduction of digital formats. Sony in particular offered stationary devices for Video 8, which was technically superior to the competitor format VHS-C, which, however, was rarely used except by ambitious amateur filmmakers and in the film school sector. Nevertheless, there was no new edition of the format war .

While shoulder camcorders were initially offered in entertainment electronics , as in the professional sector, which enabled more stable and calmer camera work, the trend in the second half of the 1980s was towards ever more compact and lighter models. In 1989 Sony finally brought the first camcorder of the Traveler series, the CCD TR-55, onto the market, which heralded the size of the palmtop camcorder. The retaining strap, the cassette slot and the camera head were arranged directly next to each other. In the 1990s, these camcorders, along with the Video-8 system, dominated the largest segment of the amateur video market. In 1991, the first palmtop camcorders in the higher definition Hi8 range were offered.

Magnetic tape: from VHS to DV

Palmtop camcorder from Grundig replica from the Sony Traveler series (approx. 1995)

The original video technology recorded the analog PAL signal ( NTSC in the US ) directly on the magnetic tape of a VHS , S-VHS , Video-8 , Hi8 or Betacam video cassette.

Since the mid-1990s, analog technology has been replaced by digital recording formats in both the professional and amateur sectors. The currently most common system in the amateur and semi-professional area is DV , there are also MicroMV and Digital8 , although the latter two formats are rarely used. Originally developed for the amateur sector, due to its quality, DV is also used in professional production and broadcasting sectors.

Compared to analog recording, DV is characterized by loss-free copying, simpler and more precise cutting and editing options, and significantly higher image quality.

There is also a trend towards the use of digital storage media in television production. While Betacam and Betacam SP were dominant in analogue recording , they have increasingly been replaced by Digital Betacam and Digital Betacam SX in recent years . All of these standards use so-called L-cassettes with the form factor of the beta cassettes. The DVCAM recording formats with the DV cassette format and DVCPro with slightly larger cassettes are also used for simpler, low-cost productions .

Magnetic tape: from SD to HDTV

With the increasing spread of high definition television, the providers have developed recording systems for HDTV video productions. For some years now, there has been a further transition in the area of ​​television productions through the use of HDTV cameras that record onto special L-cassettes using HDCAM . Competing formats are DVCPro HD on memory cards (P2) from Panasonic and D9 HD on VHS format cassettes from JVC. For smaller productions and amateur filmmakers, Sony developed HDV , which records on MiniDV cassettes as before, but compresses the images with MPEG-2 in order to obtain the same playback length as with DV. However, the trend is called AVCHD. The format was jointly launched by Sony and Panasonic. Canon has now also joined. AVCHD compresses according to a slightly modified H.264 codec. However, all three manufacturers currently use slightly different dialects of the codec, so that the video data cannot be exchanged.

Moving into the cinema

Since the year 2000 there have been camcorders which were developed for cinema production; the most important group are devices based on the HDCAM standard. These camcorders cost five to six-figure sums and were used by numerous directors, producers and cameramen for the productions when they were available. These digital cinema cameras differ significantly from cameras for TV production and home users.

Regardless of this, consumer camcorders were also used in cinema productions before, be it because of their visual style or the more direct way of working that enabled the devices, which are much more compact than film cameras. An example of a feature film shot entirely on video is Das Fest by Thomas Vinterberg , the first Dogma film.

New digital storage media

Sony DVD camcorders ...
... who writes directly on 8 cm DVDs.

A new type of camcorder has been on the market since around 2004. This works with the compression format MPEG- 2 and records the data not only on DV cassettes but also on tapeless media. As of 2007, AVCHD will be added as a further amateur format , which works with even stronger compression according to MPEG-4 and thus offers smaller file sizes with the same image quality as MPEG-2. Media used for recording are typically rewritable DVDs , exchangeable microdrives , integrated hard drives or - without any moving parts - memory cards . With this type of camcorder, too, the data is initially recorded by the image sensor as RGB data - as with digital video. With many tapeless camcorders, the image sequences can be cut, rearranged, cross-faded or deleted directly, since there is no need to rewind the tape.

The advantage of these formats is that they support HD, which DV cannot. The disadvantage of MPEG-2 (HDV) and MPEG-4 (AVCHD) compared to DV is that the data is compressed more and therefore more losses occur. MPEG-2 / MPEG-4 is therefore more recommended as an archiving codec for work that has already been completed, which is also its sole purpose outside of the amateur field; With every further processing, such as editing, the MPEG material is compressed again, so that the artifacts increase sharply, while DV saves anew with virtually no loss. This can only be minimized if a correspondingly high quality codec is used when editing .

Another disadvantage, especially of AVCHD: the system compresses so effectively (i.e., it reduces the storage requirements of the video) that you need a very powerful computer for editing.

In addition to being easier to transfer to PCs than tapes, digital storage media are also characterized by greater reliability and service life. Furthermore, DVDs from DVD camcorders can also be played in DVD players or recorders. However, not all DVD formats are compatible with all playback devices. A distinction must be made in particular between “+” and “-” formats. Subsequent editing is only possible with the rewritable media DVD-RW and DVD-RAM .

Camcorders with memory cards, usually SD cards (secure digital), require large storage capacities: A one gigabyte SD card is sufficient for around 20 to 40 minutes of MPEG-2 recording, but only for around five minutes of DV, depending on the camcorder. The AVCHD format is supported by the manufacturers Canon , Panasonic , Samsung and Sony .

Tapeless recording in the field of television production and cinema is slowly gaining ground and is e.g. B. with XDCAM and XDCAM HD (on the Blu-ray version Professional Disc for Broadcast and on SxS memory cards ) from Sony, DVCPro HD from Panasonic (on the Panasonic P2 memory card system ) and Editcam from Ikegami .

Flip video pocket camcorders were introduced by Pure Digital Technologies in the United States in 2006.

Frame rate

Videos can be produced with different frame rates . 24, 25, 30, 50 or 60 frames per second are common. For historical reasons, 25 or 50 frames per second are common in countries with 50 Hertz alternating current, for example everywhere in Europe. 30 or 60 images per second are common in countries with 60 Hertz alternating current, such as in the USA or Japan. Even 24 frames per second, although the worldwide standard for movies and Blu-ray discs, can be found almost exclusively in models that were produced for 60 Hz regions. Inexpensive digital cameras can often only record at 30 frames per second. This is not a problem as long as the videos are only viewed on the computer. However, if a PAL DVD is to be created, which requires 25 or 50 frames per second, or if videos from different cameras with different frame rates are to be cut into one video, the conversion can cause quality losses. With European models, which can usually only record 25 frames per second instead of 24 natively, there are again problems when the recordings are to be transferred to Blu-ray discs with 1080p resolution. Since the Blu-ray Disc supports only 24 frames per second with 1080p, the recording would either have to be slowed down or converted to the interlace format.


Camcorders have numerous possible differences in their specific designs, which are determined by their purpose and price. In the following, an attempt is made to illustrate the different distinguishing features of the known designs.

  • Carrying and posture design: A distinction is made between shoulder cameras that are carried on the shoulder and hand cameras that are held in front of the body. Shoulder cameras have a formation on the underside for resting on the shoulder and a corresponding focus on the shoulder. The shutter release is usually located on an attachment in the front right, with which the camera is stabilized with the right hand. The viewfinder is attached to the side. Handheld cameras tend to be more compact and lighter, with the viewfinder usually at the back of the camera and the shutter release in different places, based on the manufacturer's assumptions about how the camera should be held.
  • Recorder attachment: In the majority of camcorders, the camera head (with recording electronics and control unit) and the recorder part form an integral unit. In the case of more sophisticated cameras, however, there are models in which the recorder is attached to the head, and which can therefore be used to record on different media by exchanging the recorder.
  • Viewfinder attachment: Numerous variants are known. There are see-through viewers at the side and at the back, and many camcorders have a built-in or connectable control screen. See-through viewers can be pivoted (allows different positions of the cameraman relative to the camera) or rigid (then see-through from behind). There are cameras with interchangeable viewfinders (e.g. for models in black / white and color) and built-in viewfinders.
  • Lens attachment: There are cameras with interchangeable lenses and cameras with a built-in lens. The C-Mount , CS-Mount , Arri PL , and B4 bayonet as well as company-specific connections are used as connections . Camcorders with built-in lenses are usually much cheaper and have a zoom lens . Lens attachments can enlarge the focal length range of such built-in lenses.
  • Carrying and holding devices: Simple models do not have a permanently attached handle. More sophisticated models have handles attached to the side or bottom for holding and guiding the camera, some models also have a handle on top of the camera with which it can be carried.
Action camcorder with underwater housing on a diving mask
  • Action camcorders are small and portable. They can be easily and securely attached to various objects.
  • Connections: There can be numerous connections, for example:

Quality criteria

A number of characteristics determine the quality and purpose of a camcorder:

  • (exchangeable) lens, filter thread
  • Luminous intensity when the aperture is open (the greater the luminous intensity of the lens and the sensitivity of the sensor, the better images are obtained in low light)
  • Size of the optical zoom factor (as opposed to digital zoom, in which the image quality deteriorates)
  • Manual setting options, such as exposure, electronic signal amplification or white balance
  • Possibility of manual focusing
  • Size of the CCD or CMOS sensor used
  • Pixel size (larger pixels generally result in higher light intensity)
  • In modern camcorders also the number of pixels (in the era of tape recording, devices with several megapixels of resolution appeared, but these were only used for the photo function)
  • Real 16: 9 image format thanks to a sufficient number of pixels instead of enlarging a section ( blow up )
  • Number of image converters: One-chip or three-chip camcorders (the latter have better color detection, but this can be partly offset by the higher number of pixels on one-chip devices)
  • Optical or electronic image stabilizer (optical B. is preferred)
  • Screen size and resolution
  • Viewfinder quality: resolution in pixels, color or black and white
  • Stability, size and weight of the case
  • Sound quality, manual sound level control, dynamic compression
  • Microphone quality, placement of the integrated microphone on the housing, connection of external microphones
  • Battery life
  • Built-in video light (LED), infrared mode for night shots or, if desired, built-in flash for taking still pictures
  • Photo resolution and functionality (if desired)
  • Recording quality of the medium or format (MPEG2 / 4 disadvantageous for later video editing)
  • Interfaces ( i.Link Firewire / IEEE-1394 , USB , S-Video output / input, AV output / input, DV output / input)
  • Accessory shoe and, if applicable, its functionality (contacts for microphones / lights)
  • Switch-on time
  • Frame rate (mostly 25 or 50 frames per second)
  • Interlaced or progressive recording

In addition, the plays ergonomics an important role. Adjusting the sharpness using buttons instead of a ring on the lens can easily spoil the joy of filming. Some important settings are also hidden in the depths of the menus. A touchscreen can be advantageous here for navigation, but in practice has the disadvantage of fingerprints on the display, which is also used for creating images. In principle, functions that are switched using buttons are ergonomically preferable to those using menu items.

In the non-professional sector it can be observed that more and more models without a viewfinder are being produced. This makes the devices cheaper, especially since many users use their camcorder with the monitor that can be folded out to the side. However, a viewfinder has the advantage that you can support the camera on your head, which significantly stabilizes its position and reduces shaking. In addition, in bright surroundings or backlighting, a better image assessment is possible than on a display.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Sony History: The Passport-Sized Camcorder , accessed November 13, 2013.

Web links