GrokSurf's San Diego

Local observations on water, environment, technology, law & politics

Makers of camcorders must be armchair photographers

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 16, 2010

Test high def camera: only the smallest of hands will be able to finger the controls easily (holding it with one hand, my fingers and thumb almost completely encircle it)

Today I went to the Ocean Beach north jetty to test an HD camcorder (Sony HDR-XR150, built-in hard drive with 25x optical zoom) by filming some surfing action. My own camcorder (Sony DCR-TRV103, Hi-8 cassette tape with 20x optical zoom) doesn’t do badly for standard definition–that’s what I’ve been using for all the surfing videos I’ve posted here–but I wanted to see what can be done with a high def camera.

Alas, the test camcorder’s LCD display completely washed out in the sunlight, making it extremely difficult to follow the action. Since the camera has no optical viewfinder I had to jerry-rig a cardboard hood in order to see the LCD images at all. The resulting video looks very shaky, partly because I could hardly see what I was shooting, but despite built-in image stabilization and being on a tripod, this camera just didn’t perform to my expectations when it came to shooting action, especially at a distance.

My standard definition dinosaur--my hand can grasp about half of it

My experience reinforces my earlier opinion that a camcorder without an optical viewfinder is of no use for serious photography. I don’t know why manufacturers insist on omitting this critical component; I can only surmise they haven’t tried shooting action in bright sunlight themselves. Either that, or they just don’t care. Another thing most HD camcorders seem to lack is adequate optical zoom–this test model was unusual with 25x, but most consumer HD camcorders offer only 10x optical. Strangely, many standard definition camcorders have well over 25x optical. In any case, I don’t think the camera is worth the $700 asking price. As for other makes and models, I’ve looked all over without luck for an HD camcorder with an optical viewfinder and at least 25x optical zoom. If you know of one, please let me know where you found it!

Otherwise, it was a nice day at OB…the waves just kept coming, one after the other. Combined with the long paddle to get out, it made for a good workout (a fun one, though) for everyone.



Here’s video shot with the high-def camera. Although wide-angle shots with slow panning came out okay, the action sequences reveal the camera’s weakness. Keep in mind I was using a tripod here:



March 17: For comparison, here’s video I shot with my old camcorder. Its zoom isn’t as powerful and it isn’t high def, but the overall quality is much more satisfying to me.


One Response to “Makers of camcorders must be armchair photographers”

  1. Bill said

    I have both Cameras and I have to say The HDR-XR 150 is so much better!! It’s Like Night and Day.
    I do 100% understand what you’re saying about the Viewfinder That still Makes me Nutts.
    For a HD camcorder with a Viewfinder you have to spend $1200.00 plus Dollars That just to much Money for everyday people. Good Luck with your Search!! Type to you Later!!
    PS Great Video!!

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