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what is best camcorder for P.I. work?

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Old 04-29-2011, 12:44 AM   #1
What is HD?
 

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Default what is best camcorder for P.I. work?

I'm just starting out as a private investigator and need to know what camcorder would best fit my needs. I need something for surveillance so a decent zoom that retains clarity is important, but I will also need it in circumstances where a tripod will not be possible. It should also have low-light capabilities. I would prefer one that doesn't use a hard drive - just memory cards, but I'm not absolute about that. I haven't ever used a camcorder before (I still use my Canon EOS 650!) and my head is swimming from reading the specs on all of the ones out there! The HD have a low zoom, but the high zoom SD don't look nearly as clear, so there's a tradeoff, but the HD seems a better choice, don't you think? I wrote off a couple of possibilities because they were AVCHD and I notice that some people have problems with that, and I'm afraid I might be one of them! I am not that crazy about messing about too much with the computer. Oh yes, under $1,000! What about the Sony CX160 or the Panasonic SD90K? Please help! Thank you.
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Old 04-29-2011, 01:00 AM   #2
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Neither of those will be very good in low light due to their tiny chips. And you can't get away from AVCHD; pretty much all the consumer cams use that.

You could look at the Sony CX560v. I think the Canon equivalent is the HFS21, but it doesn't have as long a zoom. The HF21 has a longer Zoom but a smaller chip than either the Sony or the HFS21.

If all you want to do is give raw footage to your clients without editing, you can go from the Sony straight to External Hard Drive or DVD without a PC.
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Last edited by acgold7; 04-29-2011 at 01:13 AM.
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Old 04-30-2011, 12:57 PM   #3
What is HD?
 

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Thanks, Adam, I'll look into those Sonys.

Also, it would be very good for the camcorder to have a date/time stamp on the final product. I've had trouble finding one that retains the date and time on the burned CD.

Thx, Sook
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Old 04-30-2011, 01:40 PM   #4
I'll never go back to SD
 

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A real burned in date/time stamp is only available on pro models. Many PIs want this for court purposes.

All cams store date/time data as metadata which can be displayed when playing back from the cam, but it isn't really permanently part of the picture.

In the SD world you need a used PD150 or 170. In HD, you'd need at least a Z1, V1, Z5 or Z7 (all tape based but a card recorder could be added) or an NX5. I believe all of these have the DATE REC function. They are all, of course, way above your budget, although nice used PDs (which are great in low light) can be found in the $1500 range.

Unfortunately, you're not just shooting Birthday Parties outdoors in good light, so a really inexpensive cam won't do what you need. You have specialized tasks to do and you need specialized (i.e. more expensive) equipment. Just think of it as a business expense.
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Last edited by acgold7; 04-30-2011 at 01:52 PM.
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Old 06-01-2011, 10:47 AM   #5
What is HD?
 

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This is a very helpful thread for me, I am also a PI. I am considering buying a used PD 150 because of your thread. Just to help me be clear, does the PD 150 record to digital media (memory cards) or to a miniDV tape? If so, when the footage is transferred to DVD, will the date/time stamp also transfer? Thanks for your help.
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Old 06-01-2011, 12:51 PM   #6
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It records to MiniDV tape, and if the date is burned into the tape using the DATE REC function it will be on the DVD as well. It will be on everything, forever; there will be no way to remove it.

If you do not use the DATE REC function to burn the time and date into the picture, it's just like any other cam; the data is metadata only and will not transfer to the DVD.

MiniDV tape is digital media too; it's just not Solid State.
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Last edited by acgold7; 06-01-2011 at 02:05 PM.
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Old 06-01-2011, 09:04 PM   #7
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Thanks for your quick response, Adam. Sorry to pester you with such basic questions and I appreciate your patience. John
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Old 06-02-2011, 01:46 PM   #8
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No problem, John. Let us know how it goes.

(Patient? Me? Perish the thought!)
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Old 09-28-2011, 03:13 PM   #9
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Thanks to those involved in this thread. It's been helpful, but I'm still stumped.

Our medium sized investigation firm has been using DV Tape based cameras for a number of years and all has been good until now when we need to replace them. We're finding that neither iMovie, Final Cut, or Adobe Premier are able to accurately display the capture date and time from video clips obtained with flash (and hard-drive) based camcorders, let alone embed the date and time on the video during editing.

Our work is kind of unique-- our investigators are mostly women, who sometimes are shooting from the safety of their vehicles, and at other times, are shooting while "undercover" in close proximity to their subjects and therefore need to be able to conceal the cameras in a handbag-- We've used retrofitted handbags with Marshall Z pinhole lenses and couplers (like the V-ZCAM3) to accomplish this.

So, because of the date/time issue and because of our "covert" needs we have to find cameras that do can:

1) render the capture date and time directly onto the video
2) accept a screw on pinhole lens like the Marshall
3) fit into a small clutch, purse, or wallet.

Can anyone make some suggestions?

Thanks!

Mykl
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Old 09-29-2011, 12:35 PM   #10
I'll never go back to SD
 

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Yeah, you're going to need specialized surveillance equipment, which really isn't the specialty of this forum. I think there are "Spy Stores" in NYC and London; you might try Googling them.

All that stuff is sort of the opposite of HD. All the Pro-level cams I mentioned above will burn the time and date into your picture but they're all really big and won't fulfill your tiny micro cam requirement. And no software I know of can extract the date and burn it in from flash media or HD sources.

If you're going to use the footage in court, you may need to check with your local jurisdiction to see if the date added in post is even legally acceptable. We've heard from other investigators that anything done in editing would make it invalid -- only camera original is legal. This may or may not be the case in your area.
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Old 10-02-2011, 04:14 PM   #11
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As far as adding the date/time stamp, there is 3rd party software that can add this to the footage after the fact. I've played around with this program before and it seemed decent.

http://www.dvmp.co.uk/

For a small camera that has high def, you may want to look at the Countour line of cameras. They are meant to be helmet cams, but they are a very small high def camera that could be concealed fairly easily.
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Old 11-10-2011, 01:41 PM   #12
What is HD?
 

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Default Best Camcorders for PI work

I have not even taken the time to review what most have suggested here but I've done a LOT of testing in this. Sony is NOT the best overall for surveillance any longer due to the fact that they have removed "night-shot" from their cameras. The very BEST cameras on the market (lower price range) HD camcorders are the Canon HD and Panasonic HD models. These cameras have OUTSTANDING settings for PI work. Fast working, pre-record, adjustability, and the best low light settings hands down. I currently use the Panasonic HDC-TM80 as it is very compact for discreet usage, yet it's very powerful with 42 optical zoom, HD recording, and it lights up dark places like nothing else. As far as TIME/DATE stamp- I use an A/V to USB converter found at Fry's.
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