Camcorders for chasing: 2019 edition

Jan 14, 2011
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Bill, I have the same issue on my JVC HM170, infinity is not the same through the zoom range. You can be at infinity with the lens at the wide end, then zoom in just a little, and the picture goes out of focus. On mine, for some unknown reason setting the focus ring at 100m and then keeping it on manual will maintain focus for just about anything in the zoom range except very distant objects. Obviously this isn't an ideal solution though, especially for storms. I have many ruined tornado shots on this camera due to the picture going out of focus when zooming in.

I am ready to replace this camera with something that doesn't have these problems, so will be doing some research in the coming weeks. Will post findings here.
 
Aug 9, 2012
459
953
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Galesburg, IL
tornadoguys.com
I have the AX100 and the AX53, the AX100 is my go-to camcorder for weather events. I just purchased an A7RIII and waiting on it to arrive, so curious to see how this stacks up against my AX100. I usually leave the 100 on manual focus though, the auto-focus is good, but I like to have control over my focus and not trust the auto-focus. My only advice is to get an external microphone, the on-board mic is decent, but I've noticed an external microphone makes a huge difference in audio quality. I don't use the AX53 that much, the image stabilization I've noticed is better on the AX53 than the 100, that is really my only observation on that.
 

James K

EF4
Mar 26, 2019
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I too would like to find a decent camcorder, one that:
* Is not expensive (I do not need a bunch of features, mainly a decent optical zoom, auto-focus, and an infinity lock)
* Is not a massive beast - I searched a couple of the models mentioned here on eBay, and they looked like the beasts news-guys have .lol.
* Will actually work reasonably for night videoing,
* And (very important) doesn't take pic's/videos like the attached cell-phone image, if it encounters a 'real' light. (I believe this is the same issue that causes problems with lightning videoing?)
* Oh and 4k is not important to me, although I have a 4k TV, I have nothing computer/software wize that can handle it. So HD 1080P is what I'd be looking for
------------

I currently have a Panasonic HC-V180. I picked this one because of its 50x optical zoom, Stereo microphones (a requirement), price ($200, this is the range I'm looking for), and it had decent reviews.
For its daytime performance, I'm satisfied (same for audio). But for night I'm pretty disappointed, autofocus doesn't work, and manual focus is very difficult on the small screen it has (doesn't have an infinity-focus option), I found 2 somewhat solutions, depending on what I plan to video...
* I can while its light out auto-focus on what I want to video, go to manual focus & lock it at setting which it will remember even when turned off. Then go back at night, and video -- this works when for example I want to do Christmas lights during Holiday season.
* It has a HDMI port, so I can attach an external screen, (though the little USB-powered screen I got isn't great-not the camera's fault) -- this works _ok_ if I want to try recording lightning when I can't pre-set a manual focus... If I can get it focused, lightning seems to turn out ok - atleast for storms in the distance.


Warren Faidley said:
With peaking, a blue (or other selected color) haze or highlight glows around the subject when it's in focus. This makes it easy to focus though the rear screen without looking though the viewfinder.
Interesting. The camera mentioned above that I have does sometimes do a blue spotty thing around subjects when I was trying to manually focus. I thought it was some some sort of weird bug. I'm going to have to take it outside sometime & do some tests...
 

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Drew Terril

Staff member
I'm still using the Canon HF R70 that I picked up a few years ago for pretty cheap after the following year models came out. It's done fine for me as far as video quality, I just don't like how horribly light it is weight wise. It gets rocked on the tripod too easily (actually had a close call with it falling over at Minneola in May), and when shooting handheld I have trouble keeping something that light steady. So I'll be looking for something that has a little more mass to it (such as the XF100 that @Adam R Davis uses and has gotten some great shots on), and relegate the HF R70 to dash cam duty.
 

Drew Terril

Staff member
To resurrect this a little bit,

@Bill Hark, Mac users can still import via Firewire to Thunderbolt adapter pretty easily. iMovie and Final Cut Pro still maintain support for importing this way. A lot of the newer PC laptops will have a Thunderbolt port as well, although I'm not sure how well the FireWire to Thunderbolt setup works on the PC end, as I do not have a laptop new enough to have a Thunderbolt port (mine from 2013/14ish still has a half size ExpressCard slot). And with that said, I believe you have to pay for the Premiere Pro yearly subscription to be able to import from DV; I don't think that Premiere Elements (which I have on my machine) supports that anymore. Yet another reason why I want to find a used Mac for editing purposes, aside from the fact that I prefer FCP to start with. I'm not a fan of paying a yearly subscription for a program; I'd rather pay a larger amount once and be done with it.

With all that said, I have considered one of those older models that you alluded to in your first post. I'm not sure if or when I'll ever need to be able to shoot in 4k, and I'm also a bit leery of spending a grand on a camcorder only to find out, like you said, that something is just "off" about the shots that it takes. I am kind of curious about the HF G50 that came out this year, but I just can't make myself spend that kind of money for something that may or may not shoot well in low light. I'll stick with the HD that I've been shooting in for the time being.
 
Aug 9, 2012
459
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Galesburg, IL
tornadoguys.com
I have the AX100 and the AX53, the AX100 is my go-to camcorder for weather events. I just purchased an A7RIII and waiting on it to arrive, so curious to see how this stacks up against my AX100. I usually leave the 100 on manual focus though, the auto-focus is good, but I like to have control over my focus and not trust the auto-focus. My only advice is to get an external microphone, the on-board mic is decent, but I've noticed an external microphone makes a huge difference in audio quality. I don't use the AX53 that much, the image stabilization I've noticed is better on the AX53 than the 100, that is really my only observation on that.
I know this is an old thread but figured I'd post an update. After having the A7RIII for a year, I picked up another recently as the footage it shoots was leagues above my AX53 and AX100, I even briefly had the AX700 and returned it as well after a couple days (sold both my AX53 and AX100). When using the A7RIII combined with G-Master glass (24-70mm F/2.8 or 24mm F/1.4), its almost unstoppable. Even the native audio without my shotgun mic is leagues above the results I got from my AX (700/100) series cameras. So 2021 will be the first year I no longer own a "dedicated video camera". I think the time for the dedicated video camera is slowly coming to an end, just like the DSLR is slowly phasing out in favor of full frame mirorrless devices, which are extremely tough to beat.
 
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Bill Hark

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Jan 13, 2004
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I know this is an old thread but figured I'd post an update. After having the A7RIII for a year, I picked up another recently as the footage it shoots was leagues above my AX53 and AX100, I even briefly had the AX700 and returned it as well after a couple days (sold both my AX53 and AX100). When using the A7RIII combined with G-Master glass (24-70mm F/2.8 or 24mm F/1.4), its almost unstoppable. Even the native audio without my shotgun mic is leagues above the results I got from my AX (700/100) series cameras. So 2021 will be the first year I no longer own a "dedicated video camera". I think the time for the dedicated video camera is slowly coming to an end, just like the DSLR is slowly phasing out in favor of full frame mirorrless devices, which are extremely tough to beat.
Ethan, thanks for your update. Sadly, the information on this "old thread" is still relevant since not much has changed in the world of camcorders in over a year. I still like the camcorder form factor as I'll set on up on a tripod, hit infinity focus, record and then shoot stills with a DSLR. I assume the issues with focusing past infinity is the same on the A7RIII as with any other camera. On my DSLR, I have to find a focusing point, then "lock." Sort of a pain on the fly. That would be even more difficult with a mounted dashcam. I use a Canon HV20 and can easily hit infinity when I want to focus while driving.
 
Aug 9, 2012
459
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Galesburg, IL
tornadoguys.com
Ethan, thanks for your update. Sadly, the information on this "old thread" is still relevant since not much has changed in the world of camcorders in over a year. I still like the camcorder form factor as I'll set on up on a tripod, hit infinity focus, record and then shoot stills with a DSLR. I assume the issues with focusing past infinity is the same on the A7RIII as with any other camera. On my DSLR, I have to find a focusing point, then "lock." Sort of a pain on the fly. That would be even more difficult with a mounted dashcam. I use a Canon HV20 and can easily hit infinity when I want to focus while driving.
The nice thing about the A7R/A9/A7S cameras, you don't focus using your lens totally like with the DSLR cameras. You can switch to manual focus and then when you turn it, the touch screen zooms into a distant detail of your choosing and you can turn it to infinity until everything is in focus to your liking. Pretty cool. I find this especially useful when shooting at night when its dark and I can't see much without a flashlight. But yes the deal about mounting on the dash is still something I'm hashing out. I'm going to have to purchase a larger mount as the weight of my A7RIII + 24-70mm GM is significantly heavier than any of the AX series cameras I've had and I'm afraid of it falling down and jamming the lens up. I think as of right now, the A7SIII is the best stills+video camera on the market as far as mirorrless goes, but I opted for more resolution as I like my stills more and the A7RIII offers more than enough for me video-wise.
 
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Jan 7, 2006
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Happy to read any and all new experiences with video gear. Since starting this thread almost two years ago, I've gone through probably 3 or 4 short phases of being determined to buy some sort of replacement for my crappy camcorder, but always end up exasperated and back at square one. It is just laughable how quickly the market for high-end consumer/prosumer camcorders dried up, leaving only options with such a poor cost-performance ratio that I can't entertain them purely on principle. But all is well in the world, since the new $1200 iPhone improved the sharpness of ass-shaking TikToks by 3% over the previous model! I guess I'll continue mulling over some kind of mirrorless option for 2021, although I just can't see mechanical zoom or limited zoom range on a per-lens basis meshing with my chasing style, where I focus my attention on stills and usually let the video roll unattended.
 

Jeff Duda

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Oct 7, 2008
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Happy to read any and all new experiences with video gear. Since starting this thread almost two years ago, I've gone through probably 3 or 4 short phases of being determined to buy some sort of replacement for my crappy camcorder, but always end up exasperated and back at square one. It is just laughable how quickly the market for high-end consumer/prosumer camcorders dried up, leaving only options with such a poor cost-performance ratio that I can't entertain them purely on principle. But all is well in the world, since the new $1200 iPhone improved the sharpness of ass-shaking TikToks by 3% over the previous model! I guess I'll continue mulling over some kind of mirrorless option for 2021, although I just can't see mechanical zoom or limited zoom range on a per-lens basis meshing with my chasing style, where I focus my attention on stills and usually let the video roll unattended.
I was never terribly big into video captures during chases due to the slower-evolving nature of the even exciting elements I like to capture. Unless you're within a mile or two of a tornado or are capturing a massive hail fall, there tends not to be a big reason to take video...stills often times give you better quality documentation. That said, I did more videoing during the early part of my chasing career and have largely abandoned it since about 2016 or so. However, I have found my D750 has impressive video capabilities, so in a pinch I can use that. Of course, it restricts me from shooting stills at the time. So...obvious solution...get a second camera!

Get another mid-range DSLR and a decent zoom lens and you can probably produce reasonable quality HD video without spending $4000+

Or use your cell phone. The damn things are getting so good...
 
Oct 10, 2004
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I bit the bullet and got myself a Canon Vixia HFG60 over the summer. It's 4k-capable although so far I've just used it in 1080p mode due to digital storage and processing constrictions, which still produces worlds better video than the Vixia HFG10 (itself a high-end camcorder in its day, c. 2011) it replaced. Because of the paltry regional chase opportunities during this pandemic year, I haven't shot a storm with it yet, only trains.

 
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Warren Faidley

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May 7, 2006
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One camera to avoid right now is the GoPro 9. They have a very serious issue with their touch screens. It's likley going to take a rebuild to fix the problem. I had one for testing and had to return it. (Details on the GoPro discussion site). I will likely go to GoPro's for hurricane chasing once the bug is fixed.

As these types of small cameras shrink and their processors are maxed out, heat and / or battery life is becoming a big issue. Even my DJI drone camera's processor went down while filming a dust storm this year due to heat.
 

Mark Blue

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Feb 19, 2007
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I’m that guy who bought a GoPro 9 Warren. So far it hasn’t been put through the paces but there is no doubt they run hot and blast through batteries like crazy. They do make sharing to the web a snap which makes them hugely convenient but the heat issue has been there all along. Jeb Corliss seems to have good luck with GoPros but he’s flying through the air in a wing suit, which probably super cools his cameras in flight.
 
Mar 5, 2010
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I have actually been really happy with the Canon Vixia Series. I had the R600 and really liked it. I just moved up to the R80. The optical zoom is really good and makes an awesome mounted dash cam.
 
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Jan 16, 2009
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The GoPro 8 is not much better. It has sound recording issues and the screen will randomly show lines across it which makes taking the shot hard to frame. I climbed a few 14ers with it on my helmet and there is no sound at all. Might use it more as a side camera or something now grrr
 
Jun 4, 2018
106
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Altus, OK
I've been running a GoPro Hero 7 white as my dash/ timelapse camera. Video and sound quality is fine, but it has some odd bugs in the user interface that make it cumbersome to get footage off of. Things like freezing and requiring a hard reset, which then means I have to reset all my settings including date and time. And it happens fairly often. I deal with it because when it works, it works well. Maybe next year I'll find room in the budget to upgrade. I've heard good things about the Sony ActionCams.
 
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May 25, 2014
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Decided to upgrade from my Sony HDR-CX440 camcorder after some very pitiful nighttime performance.

I was considering the Sony AX-100, AX-700, and AX-53, but decided to go a completely different route due to budget, and picked up a Panasonic HC-VX891K.

I guess we'll see how it works once it arrives.
 
May 25, 2014
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We may be at a point of diminishing returns at the moment, as pertains to video camera and capture development. I mean, we are at the point were you can get small form factor 4K cameras for under a G. I don't see much more new development until 8K starts getting pimped as the next big thing, which likely won't happen until most people have 4K TVs, and 8K TVs are in the pipe.

The next 5 years will tell.
 

Nate M.

EF0
May 16, 2019
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Neosho Mo
I used my Gopro 9 the other day for the first time. Overall I love it, but there are some issues with battery life and the weird little side door that isn't a door at all, but a mic water drain. Don't try to pry it open or you void warranty. Like many of you, I would be a buyer for a decent 4k camcorder that didn't break the bank. There aren't a lot of options and although DLSRs are great for stills, I just feel clumsy trying to get video with my Canon.
 

Nicholas Isabella

Enthusiast
May 19, 2018
3
1
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New York
Just came across this thread. Sorry my post is a bit long since this thread was camcorder specific but I figured I'd include where my current thinking is. Thought I'd chime in with my camera gear for the upcoming season. For a few years I used a Panasonic 4k camcorder. The built in stabilization and the zoom capabilities are great. But over time as I get into more documentary style videos including behind the scenes stuff of our actual chase the camcorder limitations start to show. I find that cinematic quality just isn't there. Charles Ryan Mauk alluded to this in another thread (shooting 8bit video vs higher end 10 bit / pro res raw quality). Shooting in raw video is similar to editing a JPG image vs a raw image with a dslr. You have a lot more control in post processing with exposure, shadows, highlights, etc. The downside is achieving these codecs hasn’t always been cheap but they are now. These codecs use to be restricted to cameras that cost $7000+. But many sony and nikons (the Nikon z6 is the one I use) mirrorless dslrs allow pro res raw with an external recorder like the Atomos. The file sizes are much bigger but it records directly to a SSD. The downside as mentioned above is having to switch lenses depending how far away the storm is. The zoom isn’t the same as a camcorder but I can film up to a mile or two away with my longer lens. The lenses and camera also have built in stabilization making run and gun shooting easy. It gives me greater depth of field / Bokeh that a camcorder just isn't capable of doing unless you step up to the pro ones. With that being said, here is my camera gear I plan on using.

Nikon Z6 with the atomos recorder and a rode microphone.
Nikon D750( mostly used for timelapsing and stills)
Some lenses include:
Nikon 24-70 F4 Z. (Planning on getting the 2.8).
Sigma 14-24 2.8
Sigma 70-200 2.8
Sigma 150-600
Nikon 50mm 1.8

Panasonic 4k camcorder. The majority of the time this will be my dedicated streaming camera. It stays mounted in the windshield connected to my laptop. I stream on twitch and it's easy for the weather channel to pick up the feed.

Gopro Hero 8. Usually this stays mounted to the front bumper. I can control it via and app and usually use this for a timelapses. I have a battery pack that attaches giving me 6 hours of shooting. Also toying around with running a constant power cord to it under the hood.

Go Pro hero 4. My first gopro I picked up a few years ago. Lacking some of the fancy new features but gets the job done. Usually keep this facing backwards on the outside for some extra B roll footage in my videos.

New this year is a few cheap knockoff action cameras from Amazon. They are surprisingly good 4k quality. I mount a few of these inside the vehicle facing us. One on my side and one on the side of my chase partner. Another dead center dashboard facing back. These are really good to capture discussion and reactions during chases. I use to be focused on just outward facing videos of the storms but I also want to document behind the scenes stuff. Pop a 256gb micro SD card in and it's good for the entire day.

Insta360 ONE R 360 camera. I got this a few weeks ago so I'm still learning all the features. Great investment as you can really do a lot of neat tricks with this camera.

DJI Phantom 4 drone. Had this for quite a few years and it never let's me down. It's bulky and takes up space but the quality is great. I chase the plains often but I also live on the east coast with less than ideal terrain so the drone really comes in handy.
 
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