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Over the last year, high definition video has moved entirely out of the realm of early adoption, and now even a number of pocket models offer HD. Lucky then that the next big thing is already here, and that’s 3D video.
However, it’s still very much at the first stage. Panasonic has released the first credible 3D camcorder for the rich semi-pro or enthusiast, the HDC-SDT750, and you can pick up a cheap 3D shooter in the shape of the Aiptek 3D i2. However, with its early teething problems, we’re not quite ready yet to recommend this format.
So HD remains the format of choice if you want the best camcorder currently on the market. It’s also now the format of choice if you’re on a budget as well. There has been little change in recording formats, with AVCHD remaining the most widespread option, although more general MP4 has also found favour. This is because one of this year’s developments, 50p Full HD shooting, is not supported by AVCHD. So camcorders wishing to offer this option have had to look elsewhere.
The continually falling price of Flash memory has meant that there are signs of this storage format taking over, although there are still plenty of models using hard disks, which offer greater capacity.
With the core camcorder features remaining relatively static, competition has moved onto other areas. In particular, image stabilisation technology has improved. Now many higher-end camcorders offer more than one choice of stabilisation, tracking different frequencies and axes. So whether you’re shooting whilst walking, recording from a moving vehicle, or simply trying to get a solid shot when operating handheld at full zoom, the top models from the likes of Panasonic and Canon are more likely than ever to keep your footage stable.
Another feature gaining in popularity is the Advanced or Intelligent zoom, which is a happy halfway house between purely optical and digital telephoto. Whilst the former physically moves the lenses to zoom in, the latter just blows up the frame digitally, resulting in a loss of resolution. But many recent camcorder models have sensors with more pixels than is required for Full HD. So you can crop into the sensor area to provide a zoom that doesn’t lose resolution, although it can reduce low-light sensitivity.
Overall, though, the last year has been one in which camcorder pricing has returned to the direction we have come to expect for all devices containing semiconductors: down. At the beginning of 2009, the weakness of the pound and general recession problems meant that camcorder pricing actually went up slightly. But now you can buy a decent Full HD model for as little as £230, and our high-end choice is still under £800. So this Christmas you can seriously consider high definition video making, even if 3D isn’t quite there yet.