I went out shopping yesterday for a white gold rope to go with a white gold cross pendant I bought a month or so ago. I’m no expert on jewelry, but my sister knows as much about jewelry as I do about computers and baseball combined, and she said I shouldn’t buy silver unless I was going to wear it all the time. I don’t wear jewelry all the time, so I took her advice and bought white gold.
I found the chain.
Then I wandered over to the electronics aisle. I saw a $129 KDS 17″ monitor. Pass. I saw other monitors of varying sizes and qualities. Then I walked down the next aisle, where I saw HP Pavilion and Sony VAIO computers. Nothing earth-shattering. Then I saw something that made me do a couple of quadruple takes. A Lexmark color laser printer. Price? Seven hundred bucks. I was shocked. I’m pretty sure the last time I looked, the cheapest color laser you could find was $1500. I remember in the summer of 1994 selling a number of color inkjet printers for $649. So $700 for a color laser printer is a significant milestone, and it’s reason not to pay more than $100-$150 for a color inkjet. If you’re serious about color printing, that laser will give far better output, much faster, and at a much lower cost per page.
Yes, I’d love to have one. But I’ve got a Lexmark 4039 I bought in 1996. It still works fabulously. It also still has the toner cartridge that came from the factory in it. Needless to say, I don’t print a lot. So I really don’t know how I could justify a color laser printer.
So I walked on. I spied some DVDs. I flipped through them. Just a bunch of mediocre movies, most of which I’d never bothered seeing, so I wouldn’t have any inclination to pay $12.99 for them either. Then I turned around. Camcorders! I saw some Sony and Hitachi models, VHS-C and Digital-8, priced very nicely. Very nicely. At $200, I don’t understand why camcorders aren’t as common as VCRs were 10 years ago. You can get a nice camcorder now for what a nice VCR cost then. But that wasn’t what I was looking for.
Next section: JVC and Sony camcorders. Much pricier, but they had the magic word I was looking for: miniDV. I looked at the price: $480 on the entry model. That was about half what the entry models cost the last time I looked. I played around with it. The picture was awfully nice. I played around with the more expensive models. The picture wasn’t any nicer. So I wrote down the model numbers. At $480, I was almost ready to buy right then and there. But $480 is too much to spend casually, so I did a little research online.
Camcorder tip: Go ahead and search the Web for camcorder specs and reviews, but expect not to find much. Searching the web gives the impression the JVC GR-DVL805 doesn’t exist. The low-end JVC GR-DVL100 did have some positive reviews. I searched Google groups and found lots of good insights on both models. (If I find a consensus amongst a bunch of hobbyists who bought a product with their own money and used it long enough to get an opinion on it, I generally trust them. I certainly trust them more than a salesman, and there are problems these people will notice that a video magazine won’t due to lack of time with the unit.)
The DVL100 is lightweight, does a great job of gathering light (most JVCs do, in my limited experience), reasonably easy to use, and the price is right. Only complaint I could find: the tape motor is close to the mic, so you’ll get some motor noise. That’s not much concern for me.
The 805 is essentially the same camera, but it can double as a 0.8-megapixel digital still camera. Other than that, it has the same strengths and weaknesses as its cheaper brother. Since a 0.8-megapixel digital still camera is essentially worthless unless you’re shooting pictures for the Web, that feature isn’t useful to me.
Both camcorders had a few other weaknesses: You can’t plug an external mic into them, and while you can dump video from the camera into the computer via a firewire port, you can’t dump edited video from the computer back to the camera. Those are higher-end features. Neither of those matter much to me either. When I’m doing really serious work that requires those, I’ll be borrowing my church’s professional-grade JVC camera, which does everything but autofocus and make coffee. For projects where I record the audio separately (which is common), this camera will be fine. And as a second camera, it’ll be great.
So I bought it.
I’m amazed at how much video recording and editing power you can buy for $2,000 these days. For 2 grand, you can get a Pinnacle DV500 editing board (with Adobe Premiere bundled) and a low-end digital camcorder and still have plenty left over to buy a computer to connect it all to.
Oh yes. Don’t forget the tripod. I don’t care if your hand is 100x steadier than mine, a tripod is still infinitely better. You’ll get a cleaner picture. The anti-jitter feature built into some camcorders helps, but getting the picture right in the first place will look better than the camera’s best guess as to what it was supposed to look like.