I have heard this question many many times and it seems that (in lieu of most indie filmmakers) no-one had a good grasp or concept. So with that said, I will attempt to answer this question for good [at least for now].
For starters (and I could be off on this) I believe that all HD “flash” cameras use CMOS sensors where as the Mini-DV HDV are using the 3 CCD sensors for capturing video. I would have to say that you should keep this in mind when choosing a camera to begin with. CMOS sensors [for now] have an issue with Line Scanning (or Rolling Shutter). It will cause certain footage to look like jello (and some of you already know what I mean). You will typically get this motion artifact issue when trying to film objects moving at fast speeds, running with the camera, jumping, having a camera mounted to a vehicle (vibrations) or fast panning. You will not have the same motion artifact issue with 3CCD sensor cameras. You can see a comparison between the two here.
Now its not all bad for CMOS sensors, for instance if your camera will be mounted on a tripod and you’re doing smooth, slow pans, the footage should be fine. You can also try and correct the issue by using After Effects and The Foundry’s plugin for correcting motion artifacting (found here) or you can also try to correct it using After Effects with no plugins (I’ve seen a few tutorials on the net for this process). I will however, say that if you are going to attempt to motion track any kind of faster movements (either between your actor/actress or your camera), I would use a 3CCD camera for that footage opposed to a CMOS camera. I’ve attempted to track CMOS footage that had either fast motion or vibrations in it and it is (for lack of a better term) a pain in the rear.
As for transfer speeds and ease of use (after your footage is captured and you are transferring it to a computer) HD Flash based cameras are wonderful. In a matter of minutes you can transfer a couple hours of video from a flash card (or the internal hard drive/non-removable solid state drive on the camera) to the computer. Mini-DV HD on the other hand is just like transferring any cassette based media; you either connect your camera or Mini DV player (like the Sony GV-HD700), hit the record button in Premiere or On Location and walk away…go get lunch, maybe watch some TV or play a video game); because if you have an hour worth of video on tape, it’ll take about an hour to transfer. Let me also say that if you ‘archive’ your Mini-DV HDV tapes and only use them once; you’ll also need to factor in the cost of buying tapes on a regular basis.
Now with that said, we come to quality.
Mini-DV HD does have better quality to it than Flash or Hard Drive based cameras; reason being is compression. You generally see this listed as AVCHD, MPEG4, MOV, etc. when it comes to the details and specs of the camera. Now it is only my opinion, but I personally like the quality of AVCHD compared to some of the other forms of compression. And lets be honest, your higher priced ‘Professional’ grade cameras are typically where you see AVCHD (not saying that the cheaper ‘Consumer’ grade cams don’t offer AVCHD, just saying that it’s typically where I see it used). ‘Over the counter consumer’ cameras, like the “Flip”, “Handycam”, etc. usually compress their footage with MPEG4, MPEG2, MOV, etc. (this also goes for DSLRs shooting movie mode). Mini-DV HD mostly relies on you to do the compressing to the video after it is on a computer. Here is an example of file size due to compression; I can capture around 2 hours of 1080 (30fps) on a 16gb SDHC card when using our GoPro Hero2; a 1 hour Mini-DV SD tape will consume around 13 gb of hard drive space, and if you “unpack” 1 hour of footage from a Mini-DV HDV tape, it will consume close to 60 gb of hard drive space.
Moreover, I stated at the beginning of this blog, that “I will attempt to answer this question for good”. I know that it is a misleading statement because it depends on a few factors and it is up to you to decide what you want. If you are going to be doing small tripod based shots and you don’t want to wait in order to edit your video, then a CMOS based SDHC/non-removable solid state camera might be right up your alley. But if you want to capture action packed video where vibration, jumping, jolting, sudden starts and stops are involved (or you don’t mind on waiting for video to transfer from the camera to computer via FireWire cable), you’ll probably want to go for more of a Professional grade 3CCD / Mini-DV HDV based camera.
In all honesty, we use both 3CCD Mini-DV based cameras and CMOS SDHC based cameras. It all depends on the shot that you are going after, how much post-production you want to do and how much money you have to spend. Hell, it’s not even uncommon for us to frequently use either our GoPro or our Canon T3i for some of our video. We just realize (through research and trial and error) what we can and cannot do with certain media and cameras.
Laythrom Media Production Team