I’ve used three different video cameras for skiing/ski touring without having found one that is perfect. I’ve also done some filming using the video features of digital cameras.
Here are a list of features which I think are important:-
* fast startup time
* image stabilization
* good battery life when cold
* possible to use with gloves
* colour viewfinder
* simple controls
* lens attachments
* uncompressed video recording
Unfortunately with today’s technology some of these are incompatible. Fast startup is very handy because people don’t like waiting around in the cold while you wait for tape heads to position themselves etc. My Sony and Sanyo cameras take an age to startup. It also means that you risk losing shots. I’ve not tried DVD, but I’d be worried about it being too fragile a technology and I’ve never owned a DVD that started quickly, ditto harddisk. That seems to leave Solid State, with 32MB SD Cards there seems to be scope to take films in this format. I also don’t like tape for the slow Firewire transfers.
DVD, HD or SD Card would appear to be the solution. Transfers to computer for editing can be very fast. However they all record in compressed, lossy formats. These make editing harder work. Many packages have problems working with the more exotic formats like AVCHD and H.264 forcing you through some intermediate format… even the latest Sony Vegas is unstable editing High Definition footage. They also mean lower quality footage, especially when rendering to another highly compressed format.
Small, but not so small to be unusable, is really important to me. I want a camera I can tuck in an easy to reach inside pocket. Not something I’m going to lug around in my sack. Zoom, at least 10x, to get amongst the action. Battery life is a big issue when it is chilly.
A viewfinder is nice as often you will be filming in bright sunlight. Image stabilization, preferably optical, is useful as you will rarely be filming with a tripod.
Most recently I’ve been using the Samsung SC-HMX10 8GB HD Camcorder. This ticks only some of the above list. It is small and easy to use. However the MP4/H.264 videos it produces are a pig to edit unless you use the supply Cybersuite of tools and then I think they are converted to some kind of intermediate format. It can film in HD, which may be really nice if you have a HD TV or Projector. The SD videos are very sharp. Auto focussing can track around a bit at times but there is a manual option. There is no viewfinder, although the flip out screen is reasonably bright in sunlight. The batteries are not particularly long life, you get about 90 minutes of on time and it takes an internal, custom battery so no chance to fit some massif superstamina battery. It is enough for a day’s shooting if you are thinking of getting around 5 minutes final output. You can get spares from eBay.
I liked the idea of 60fps progressive videos (on the US model) as this would be great for slow motion. However I have to transcode these to MPEGIV using Super in order to edit them with Vegas. A bit rate of 2k-4k seems not too loose too much quality. However MPEGIV is slow to edit. The rest of the time I transcode to MPEGII, again using Super. The new Samsung SC-HMX20C will even do 300 FPS in burst mode, but not at a very high definition. I’ve not shot much HD footage yet.
So the conclusion is that Solid State is the future, but we are not there yet.