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DIGITAL8 vs DV: A New Camcorder Alternative
by Jon Leland

Some of the most frequently asked questions that I get are regarding digital camcorders and what's good at a reasonable price.

As you've seen from my articles over the last few years, including:
  http://www.mediamall.com/promedia/viewfinder/xl1.html (Canon's XL1)
  http://www.mediamall.com/promedia/viewfinder/projob.html (Sony VX1000 & Sharp ViewCam)
  http://www.mediamall.com/promedia/viewfinder/dvcam.html (Africa '96)
I'm generally very impressed with the miniDV format, even at the "consumer" level. In fact, I know many professionals who are using these cameras. However, I never thought to check into Sony's Digital8 until my man, Mickey Mac gave me a "wake up call." His insights are the reason for this mini-report on this alternate digital camcorder format.

While Sony's Digital8 camcorders are somewhat bulkier than smaller and lighter DV camcorders, they are indeed impressive. I was educated by my friend, cohort, collegue and co-conspirator, Mickey Mac. He's has become excited about the Sony Digital8 format as a lower cost-effective alternative to DV. In fact, after some hands-on experience, he plans to buy one. (One unit, for example, the Sony DCR-TRV315, has a discount mail order "street price" under $900.)

Here are Mickey's views which I think make sense and which bear out after some research:
Sony consumer cameras are generally fine products
Digital8 is the identical video signal as DV (comparible image quality)
It is MUCH easier and MUCH less expensive to find a tape when you need one at the last minute - (remember I am talking about consumer use)
There are MANY excellent features, including:
  Zoom Microphone - Low-light/no light capabilities
  FANTASTIC battery performance - IR wireless beaming of audio & video to TV or VCR
  EXCELLENT image stabilization
  Large LCD monitor and viewfinder
  20X optical zoom & 360X optical/electronic zoom
  Excellent ergonomics
  Many fine accessories
  Same firewire connector and controls as DV

In addition, these camcorders are fully backward compatible with Hi8 and 8mm analog tapes; and perhaps more importantly, I'm told that they can also handle an analog input (such as a VHS deck) so that you can digitize your VHS tapes for non-linear editing by using this camera. That's something that few DV camcorders can do.

Combined with Apple's new iMac DV models (see http://www.apple.com/imac/movies.html) among other systems, it appears that a new low cost "window" on digital video production is opening. It remains to be seen how many people take the plunge.

My man, the Mick also likes the iMac DV, not only because of its integrated Firewire (IEEE 1394) port, but he really like the iMovie software, especially for entry level video editing. He said that iMovie is "one of the best interfaces ever designed for the consumer. It is obvious, intuitive, easy-to-learn, and it offers almost all the features a typical consumer might want." The Mick's a pro, so I'll take his word on that.

Hope this helps, keep those questions coming, enjoy and stay tuned!

 
Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at jon@combridges.com
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