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Old Tuesday 28th May 2013, 22:59   #1
Matt Griffiths
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Panasonic camcorders

Hi all,
I'm thinking of getting a digital camcorder to keep in my pocket when out birding, mainly to get record videos/shots of interesting birds at my local patch. Many of the good birds that occur there are brief fly-overs, so I need something that can capture details on a flying bird. There's two camcorder models I'm currently considering, namely the Panasonic V520 and V720 (specifications at http://www.panasonic.co.uk/html/en_G...051/index.html).

The one has a larger zoom, whilst the other has a larger image resolution, so I wonder whether the higher zoom or higher resolution would be best for getting videos to help me ID/age/sex birds I see? I know next to nothing about camcorders/cameras. Thanks in advance.

Matt
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Old Wednesday 29th May 2013, 12:28   #2
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Hi Matt,

I was in the same situation a couple of years ago (see my post on the SD90 further down the page) but neither of the two models you mentioned would be ideal for birds in flight due to the lack of a viewfinder.

If you are considering taking up video seriously then I would suggest the V720 due to its better specification. As you are probably aware, the trade-off is between a larger sensor/picture quality compared to a longer zoom range. Most potential buyers are fooled by the way manufacturers describe their zoom range, e.g. 20x or 50x. These figures are not true magnifications of actual size but are based on the wide-angle end of the zoom range. In other words, a camcorder advertised with a 50x zoom has a range from 50x the wide-angle setting which approximates to around 25x actual magnification.

Some Panasonic models have an "intelligent zoom" function which I find works surprisingly well. This somehow employs unused pixels to enhance the image (if I understand it correctly) and gives far superior results than using the "digital zoom function". If the reach of the V720 is not enough for you it is possible to attach a converter lens via the filter thread to give increased magnification.

Another benefit the V720 has over the V520 is the ability to attach an external microphone which I find useful to help cut out extraneous sounds and wind noise.

I hope that all of the above makes sense to you. The specifications of each model you will need to study before deciding which one would be best for you. If I can be of any further help or if you need anything explaining in a different way please feel free to contact me.

Good luck with your purchase.

Mike
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Old Wednesday 29th May 2013, 23:23   #3
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Having used an SD90 for a year or so I'd agree that getting flight shots with a camcorder of this type is going to be very difficult - I've tried and found it really incredibly hard even with slow moving and predictable large birds.

My SD90 has started making grinding noises (now outside warranty) so have just today got hold of a V520 (couldn't justify the extra 100 for the v720, especially when I'm not doing video shooting seriously). From my very brief play this evening it seems pretty good, though I'll need to get out and use it properly to judge how it compares to the old SD90, which I really liked but had some small foibles (lack of quick brightness adjustment for one). My short look suggested that the image quality of the very long zoom seemed to be reasonable compared to the shorter zoom of the SD90, but again I need to try it out properly. First impressions are that it's a nice camera for casual video though.
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Old Thursday 30th May 2013, 11:00   #4
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I agree with everything that has been written above. Video cameras generally have much better follow focus and image stabilisation than an equivalent still camera with video capability, in my experience, as it has been optimised for this purpose.

A possible downside is the start up time, from pocket to locked on focus is definitely not instantaneous on any of my video cameras.

I personally go for resolution over lens length as my experiments show that for me the extreme zooms are beyond my personal handholding capability even with IS. The other point is that many people use a large screen tv for looking at their video images and the difference in resolution is very noticeable - its not so important on a laptop.

Getting a camera with a viewfinder would cost a lot more money than the cameras you have selected, but does make life easier, it also improve a/f as you hold the camera more steadily giving it a better chance to lock on. However the money would be wasted unless you are really going to get into video seriously.

Mike is right about the external directional microphone - after heaving myself up a steep slope all you can hear on an omni mic is me sounding like an asthmatic cow. More seriously, the built in mic will probably suffer badly from wind noise, even when set to directional and the external mic can be fitted with a deadcat/windbreak that usually comes with the mic that solves that problem.

So I would add my vote to getting the V720, a fast SD card of decent capacity (the spec doesn't appear to mention any internal storage), and possibly a spare battery.

Last edited by iveljay : Thursday 30th May 2013 at 11:07.
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Old Saturday 1st June 2013, 13:48   #5
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One thing I've noticed in terms of sensor is that while the 720 has a larger sensor it packs a lot of megapixels into it:

V720 - 1/2.33-type High Sensitivity MOS Sensor, 17.52 megapixels
V520 - 1/5.8-type BSI MOS Sensor, 2.51 megapixels

not sure about the differences between high sensitivity MOS and BSI MOS sensors though. The V720 'should' give better quality with it's smaller zoom but for casual use the extra pulling power of the V520 surprisingly doesn't seem to result in too many image nasties, at least from the little I've shot with mine so far. Depends on your needs and expectations really.

I compared my old SD90 and the V520 in low light last night, just aiming them at a book cover in the dim light in my room - the difference in the noise levels was vast, you could only really see a splodgy mess on the SD90 but on the V520 there was a clear picture with fine grain. You don't seem to be able to get more light level out of the V520, so you can't really record in darker conditions than with the SD90, but what you do record looks very much clearer, which bodes well for crepuscular shooting.
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Old Saturday 1st June 2013, 17:03   #6
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That is useful info about the improvement over the SD90 which was better than some other cameras I played with.

I used to be a staunch supporter of Sony video as they had much better useful accessories and low light capabilities than Panasonic, but their top of the domestic range stuff seems to be aimed at 3D and other latest gimmics. You need to spend significantlty more to get a good basic HD video recorder. Panasonic seems to have remained loyal to those who just want to get good video at a reasonable price.

Looking at the specifications in detail the V520 looks very useable and most of the big differences between the two, such as surround sound is of dubious use for bird videoing (I turn it off anyway).

The bigger sensor is often a red herring for video, it seems in many cases its there purely for still pictures. Video never uses all those pixels in most cases, other for electronic image stabilisation which certainly used to have a bad name. I would still (hypothetically) buy the V720 for my use, but I agree that the V520 makes a lot of sense for the occasional birder. The improved image stabilisation probably makes a significant difference.

Last edited by iveljay : Saturday 1st June 2013 at 17:24.
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Old Monday 3rd June 2013, 22:56   #7
Matt Griffiths
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sandpiper View Post
Hi Matt,

I was in the same situation a couple of years ago (see my post on the SD90 further down the page) but neither of the two models you mentioned would be ideal for birds in flight due to the lack of a viewfinder.

If you are considering taking up video seriously then I would suggest the V720 due to its better specification. As you are probably aware, the trade-off is between a larger sensor/picture quality compared to a longer zoom range. Most potential buyers are fooled by the way manufacturers describe their zoom range, e.g. 20x or 50x. These figures are not true magnifications of actual size but are based on the wide-angle end of the zoom range. In other words, a camcorder advertised with a 50x zoom has a range from 50x the wide-angle setting which approximates to around 25x actual magnification.

Some Panasonic models have an "intelligent zoom" function which I find works surprisingly well. This somehow employs unused pixels to enhance the image (if I understand it correctly) and gives far superior results than using the "digital zoom function". If the reach of the V720 is not enough for you it is possible to attach a converter lens via the filter thread to give increased magnification.

Another benefit the V720 has over the V520 is the ability to attach an external microphone which I find useful to help cut out extraneous sounds and wind noise.

I hope that all of the above makes sense to you. The specifications of each model you will need to study before deciding which one would be best for you. If I can be of any further help or if you need anything explaining in a different way please feel free to contact me.

Good luck with your purchase.

Mike
Thanks everyone for your replies.

Mike, you say a 50x advertised zoom is actually about 25x zoom, so does that mean that the V720's advertised 21x zoom would actually be around just over 10x?

Fozzybear, I'd be interested in seeing your V520 videos if you're able to upload them. There appears to be very few videos of British bird species on Youtube atm for me to judge.

Matt
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2013, 17:40   #8
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Mark,

Yes, you are correct. Without getting too technical, and assuming that I have calculated everything correctly, this is how I understand things.

In the good old days of film cameras, a standard lens had a focal length of 50mm. This gave approximately the same field of view as the human eye, in other words, 1x magnification. If you attached a 400mm lens on the same camera that would give you 8x magnification (400 divided by 50 = 8). This used to be the standard calculation to work out actual magnification.

Camcorder manufacturers advertise their products with a zoom range based on the wide-angle (widest field of view) end which is the equivalent of 28mm in the case of the V720. In other words, the camcorder can "see" more of a scene, albeit in smaller detail, than the human eye. Looking at the specification, the V720 has a zoom range equivalent of 28mm to 729.6mm which is a fraction over 26x the wide-angle end. This equates to just just over 14.5x actual magnification (729.6 divided by 50 = 14.592). By the same calculation the 50x "Intelligent zoom" would give an equivalent of 1400mm or 28x magnification (1400 divided by 50 = 28).

In summary, the V720 by utilizing the "Intelligent zoom" function would give you a maximum of 28x actual magnification which is in the range of what you would see through the average telescope. The "Intelligent zoom" does work very well in my opinion with very little degradation of image quality. If you need more magnification than that you can always attach a teleconverter lens onto the front of the camcorder via the filter thread.

Hopefully I have explained things in enough detail. Please contact me if you need any further help or advice.

Mike
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Old Thursday 20th October 2016, 09:33   #9
Malcolm Stewart
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Just to add to this 3 year old thread, my recently purchased but 3-4 year old Panasonic V510 claims to have a 50X optical zoom, and an 80x "Intelligent" zoom. I've tried both, and have decided that I'll stick to the 50x optical zoom for my birding shots. (I'm now using a medium weight CF tripod as a lightweight CF simply wasn't up to the job at 50x.)
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