The Canon Gl2 is a prosumer video camera
Video cameras come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They range from older, standard-definition, tape-based formats to high-definition broadcast-quality cameras with interchangeable lenses. It’s important to understand the range of video cameras before you buy.
The first thing to consider when buying a video camera is the sensor that the camera uses to convert light into video. Think of the sensor as the camera’s “eye.” According to Dalsa, the two most common sensors are charge-coupled device (CCD) and complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS). (Ref. 1.)
Consumer camcorders typically employ one sensor, ranging from 1/8″ to 1/3″. They sell for below $1,000 and record to tape, or onto SD cards. They use the AVCHD format, which is more compressed and more difficult to edit than pro formats. They are small enough to be hand-held and can sometimes fit into pockets and purses.
Bridging the divide between $40,000 broadcast cameras and the $500 hand-held models, “prosumer” camcorders are used by small studios and students. They range between $1,000 and $5,000 and shoot in a variety of formats: HDV, ACVHD, AVCCAM, XDCAM and P2. The prosumer segment often includes cameras with three CCDs.
Broadcast cameras are often shoulder mounted and heavy. Most feature removable lenses and all have three large CCDs. They cost roughly $40,000, for a Betacam or VariCam. The quality is high, even when shooting in low light. These cameras shoot uncompressed, or at 100 megabits per second, compared to consumer cameras, which shoot at 24 megabits per second.
Still-picture cameras with removable lenses, capable of taking full HD video, are the latest innovation. The Canon EOS 5d Mark II is a top model. With a sensor area of 1.47″ (full frame 35mm), the video is high-quality. (The largest consumer camera sensor area is .3″.) Another popular DSLR is the Panasonic GH1, which has a sensor area of 1.3″.
CMOS sensors in DSLR camcorders and some high-end consumer camcorders have a “rolling shutter.” Avoid these models, or always use a tripod. Also, be wary of small $100 hand-held cameras that advertise 1,080 pixels. Although they do shoot at that resolution, the quality is not HD.