The Sony CineAlta PMW-EX1. The smallest cards hold 8Gb, 16Gb cards are available and 32 Gb expected soon. The 8Gb cards hold 28 minutes of 1080 x 25P at a data rate of 35 Mb/s (1920 x 1080). The camera does not use tape, but it will output through the SDI HD port to an external recording device. Shooting in HDV mode it will output through its firewire port to a HDD (eg. Adobe OnLocation on a laptop). Why choose cards? The performance and facilities of the EX1 made it a non-question.
However, if you've been reading the threads here about the Z7U you will know there are trade-offs to be considered.
Yes, the EX is a serious camera and not cheap (until you compare it to other cameras of equivalent performance). Video is compressed going onto tape (even DV) and HDV uses mpeg compression. It's how it's done and how the data is recovered that really matters. Data is recorded on the SxS cards in mpeg.
I haven't used the cameras you mention, but others here will have personal experience. The Canon HV20 has a very good reputation and I presume the HV30 continues that. One has to look very carefully into what one needs.
For consumer, stick with tape. You are not going to want to go to flash or HDD in quite a while yet. The reason is quite simple. An HDD or flash based camcorder has much more severe limitations on how much can fit onto the given media. For HDD or Flash this means you offload your footage to a PC relatively shortly after you shoot it.
Do you carry an editing PC with you everywhere you take your camcorder? I don't for sure. So what do you do when you run out of space mid-vacation? Buy a new flash memory card at lots of $$s or do you drop into the nearest Rite Aid a five-pack of tapes for not much at all (comparatively).
I am going to buy a flash based camcorder in the next few years, but at this point in time there are very practical reasons for me not to. I was in Beijing a little while ago with my camcorder and my stay got extended by a week. It gave me some days in between where I had time off, so I did all the tourist stuff, shot lots of things on big walls and in summer palaces. If I was carrying an HD or flash based camcorder then I would have limited my shooting severely (which is often a good thing, but...).
"from a fundamental point of view, does footage get compressed even more when recorded onto flash card?"
Not necessarily. Tape systems are limited by write speed. The EX1 can record at 35Mb/sec which is faster than DV or HDV. That does mean you're eating up expensive fast flash memory quickly. On the other hand the next step up from HDV tape wise is uber expensive.
The consummer AVCHD cameras do use higher compression than HDV but it's supposedly a more efficent codec. However they're still mostly consummer cameras with cheap lenses etc. One thing possibly holding back the expansion of the AVCHD codec could be licencing issues. Panasonic seem to have some high end cameras using AVCHD but at that price point an extra thousand dollars for the codec licence is easily absorbed.
In the end as Serena said at the outset you have to decide what your needs are, there's plenty of very good tape based HDV cameras around at a wide range of prices. Tapeless has a very definate place right now, if it fills your need. I've got access to a wide range of tape based cameras and still use them depending on what I'm shooting.
Tomorrow I'm shooting some little training thing and the client wants to see every shot straight away. That's a PIA with tape, a piece of cake with the EX1 and if they or I blow the shot we can delete it immediately so I don't need a lot of tape that I'm going to have to sort through.
I'm kind of with Terje on this, if you're travelling tape is sure great.
And yet I've carried my old D8 camera around a few countries and shot a lot of footage. Half of it still sits in the cupboard. I did edit one trip's 10 hours of footage down to 70 minutes and to this day I regret not taking a much, much better camera. So now I've sort of decided, we take the best camera and all the good gear or none. If I'm going through the hassle of having any camera with me I'll make it worthwhile or else just have a real holiday.
One other thing, when you travel it can really pay to have a camera that does 50Hz and 60Hz. A 50Hz camera is a bit of waste in a 60Hz country once the sun goes down.
I use Tape. It's cheap. Crazy cheap. Buy a filmmaker I know said he really likes the SD flash memory style cameras. He says it's a lot like film in how you handle media, it's fast & easy. You just don't want to loose the card or you're SOL (harder to loose a giant reel of tape!).
The advantage of tape is that it is readily available, although that's not true if you want the higher quality tapes recommended for HDV; however most people find the cheaper tapes are just as good. The advantage of flash memory is the easy access for review (as farss has mentioned) and fast download (seen by the computer as just another disk), and other advantages too. The disadvantage of the SxS cards is cost, but the Sony Z7 uses both tape and cheaper flash cards (25Mb/s performance instead of the 35Mb/s). Somebody will dis-agree, but I think camcorders using DVD are made for people who don't expect to edit their material. Tape is fine, cheap, readily available and adequately archival in terms of general use.
I am firmly in both camps. My Z7 can shoot to both tape and CF. Anything I get paid to shoot however goes to tape even if I end up transferring the footage I use from the card. I am just scared to death of not having a backup, even if it's just for the short period of time it takes to transfer and backup the footage.
Tapeless is really cool though. Transfers are much quicker. The 140 minutes I can stick on a $150 32GB card is usually plenty. I have no doubt that tapeless is the future of video.
yes, I will be travelling to USA later this year - I guess this is waht is driving this thing ATM.
I still have my Canon MiniCam MVX35i tape - but it is SD not HDV.
Please explaing why having a 60Hz camera is important when sun goes down - is it for charging reasons only?
Now, what I want to know - is this. i read so many people going to flash from tapes. I read conflicting advice (maybe I am just dumb) saying that going to flash is bad because it is heaviyly compressed - hence PQ suffers - If this is the case, why do people and PRO's still use flash then? So baffling.. :-(((
I have no issues spending dollars on multi 8GB SDHC flash cards if I have to...
"Please explaing why having a 60Hz camera is important when sun goes down "
Flicker. 50Hz camera in 50Hz countries, 60Hz cameras in 60Hz countries no problem. Other way around = nightmare.
Tungsten lights not usually a problem unless they're very low wattage. Iron ballasted discharge lamps i.e. fluro, sodium vapor (yellow street lights used in foggy areas) mercury vapor (bluish light) all will produce major flicker problem. Good discharge lights with electronic ballasts, not a problem.
My PAL camera in Vegas at night, waste of time really.
Edit: Some cameras DO have a flicker filter that'll reduce the problem. Sometimes you can get around it by changing shutter speed. At least make certain you camera has one or both of those features. Sometimes the flicker can be hard to see on the LCD viewfinder though.
I read conflicting advice (maybe I am just dumb) saying that going to flash is bad because it is heaviyly compressed - hence PQ suffers
There is no reason that film on a flash card should be more compressed than on tape, but there are practical reasons it might be. Let me use an example, you were saying you were comfortable traveling with 4x8G flash cards. Let's look at that.
An 8G flash card can hold some 35 minutes (correct me if I am wrong here, but something like that) or so of decent quality HD, but it can of course hold a lot more if you lower the quality. I believe most HD camcorders allow you to reduce the quality to more or less whatever you want. So, the PQ is more or less up to you, but at good quality, 35 minutes is probably about it.
A single tape is about 20G and holds one hour of decent quality HDV. Tape-based camcorders typically record in MPEG-2 based HDV.
So, your four 8G flash cards will hold a little more than two tapes of video at about two hours. Say you need three tapes to get the equivalent of your four cards, just for sake of argument. At that stage you are storing an equivalent amount of time at an equivalent quality.
The question is then simply - is this good enough for you? Perhaps it is, it depends on how much video you shoot when on vacation. For comparison, I typically shoot at least an hour of footage, I am usually into the second tape, for every "event" I go through on my vacation. In other words, in week one of my trip to LA, if I go to Universal Studios one day, Disney Land the next then off to Raging Waters and a trip through Beverly Hills for some shopping, I have gone through maybe 5 or 6 tapes by the fourth day of the vacation. If I was shooting on 8G flash that is approaching eight or ten flash cards by the time I am half way through my first week of vacation. I can offload this to my laptop, but it is unlikely that I will, so this won't work for me.
Also, if I make a mistake before heading off to Six Flags Magic Mountain and forget to change tape/offload my flash card, I can get a new tape at every single shopping area at Magic Mountain, and even on the various service stations on the way from LA to Six Flags. Getting additional flash cards is both cumbersome (comparatively) and far, far more expensive.
That is why I use tapes, but as I said, it is based on my behavior with the camcorder, yours may be different.
As for the HDD-based ones, yes, 120G is a lot, and it is getting tempting to move there, but again, what do I do if I am in the car on my way to Six Flags with kids and I realize I forgot to offload the movies to my laptop the night before? If I want some footage at Magic Mountain that day I only have a handful of options:
Buy a new camcorder
Return to the hotel and offload the video to the laptop
Find some other way to offload the video, perhaps there is an iPod possibility, but that would mean buying an iPod (I probably didn't bring mine for Six Flags) and some little thingy that allows me to transfer the video.
Again, all this will change for me once the 120G flash cards are out there and I can get by with a few of those, but that is still a little ways away.
Now, as I said, this is based on how I shoot and how I do and forget to do things in my day-to-day life. If you are regimented, bring your laptop where ever you go, always have enough disk space on your laptop etc, your situation will be different, and flash or HDD might be good for you.
Flicker is largely a problem in Fluorescent lights that use the older style magnetic ballast. Most new fluorescents (including virtually all of the new screw in incandescent replacements) use an electronic ballast that flickers at ultra-fast speeds that don't have problems with unmatched camera frame rates.
Neon lights are a problem everywhere. Try shooting Las Vegas at night in 24p or with a PAL camera is pretty much impossible.
Some people I know started shooting a doc in the Galapagos islands last fall. It's a big project and they have a budget, but they don't own HD cameras as of yet so they needed to make some decisions.
Since they were shooting for a month and would be on boats, jeeps, mules, or on foot, they felt like tape was the only way to go. So they took a pair of rented DVCProHD cameras. (They'd long since decided that mpeg-based formats would be off the table, so no HDV, no XDCam, and certainly no AVCHD. In part, the shooter felt it was too compressed and would yield too many motion artifacts.)
Evidently, Panasonic pays a licensing fee for tape transport technology, so tape is not in the future for them, but I've heard these friends say several times that they'd consider buying a Varicam if there was a hybrid model that did both. They do a lot of bread and butter shooting that would lend itself to tapeless, but the sort of docs they shoot really require tape.
Recently puchased the Canon HV30 specifically for the tape feature. While I'm not discounting the conveniences of tapeless, I really like the idea of having semi-permanant storage for all of the original footage.