I just purchased a Sony HC36 and documented the experience for a couple friends, so I thought I’d share it here. Here’s the lowdown on the process (skip to step 9 if you want to skip how I figured out what camcorder to buy).
Consumerreports.org led me to a JVC camcorder, and any one of several Sony camcorders. Sony is the best overall brand, while a couple individual JVC, Panasonic, and Cannon camcorders rate well.
I looked at Amazon to confirm the JVC camcorder, and was surprised to find lots of poor reviews for it. I eliminated it as a candidate.
Took a look at CNET.com for the other camcorders. They had some reasonable advice, but being a tech-focused review site, they were pretty much only interested in “the best of the best of the best – sir!”. Their reviews basically pointed to buying the most expensive camcorder (like the Sony High-Def camcorder for $3600). I was able to at least discern some of the differences between the Sony units from CNET.
Narrowed search down to Sony basically due to a) price (this eliminated the Panasonic) and b) a few features (like webcam abilities that eliminated the cannon).
Googled for the differences between models and determined the following:
Of these 6 models, I determined that there is very little difference in the 2x/3x series. The 42/46 is significantly ($100) more expensive and has better technical specs, but the 2x/3x differs in just a few features and the core video capture capability is the same.
The 32 was cheapest on Amazon and I tried to do better on eBay, but was unsuccessful.
The deal I saw on Amazon went away and a friend pointed me to Pricescan.com. The price graph on the 32 showed a spike in prices in the current week, confirming prices were up overall on the 32.
Based on pricescan, the prices between the 32 and 36 were pretty much even, so I looked around various sites (Amazon, buy.com, overstock.com, outpost.com, shopping.yahoo.com) to try to beat pricescan. I was able to beat pricescan.com, but only by $2.50.
I used shopping.yahoo.com to check out merchant reviews and make a selection. The second best price came from the lowest price vendor on pricescan.com. They had a good review and Yahoo buyer protection and I was going to go with them until their website had a technical difficulty. I went to the cheapest vendor (4.5 out of 5 stars, but no Yahoo buyer protection) and placed the order there.
I needed a set of accessories, and already knew where to get the best deals, so I went straight to newegg.com. I already had a DVD burner and media, but I ordered (total cost ~$75):
- Firewire card for the computer
- Firewire cable (6 pin to 4 pin)
- 25 pack DVD movie cases
- 512MB memory stick pro duo (I hate how Sony has proprietary memory formats).
- 6 pack of mini-DV tape
I put together a saved wish list at newegg.com that includes what I ordered as well as the internal DVD burner and media I would order today if I needed them. If you need the external version of the burner it’s probably another $10-$15. Also note that the memory is optional – as far as I know, the camera only uses the memory stick for still photos. I’m also not 100% sure I don’t need a USB cable to do the webcam functionality, but right now I’m assuming I can use the firewire cable for both. You cannot use the USB cable to transfer video with that camera, you’ll need the firewire.
I passed on ordering a camcorder case. My plan there is to get all the stuff in house and then go to target and see what would hold all of it without taking up a ton of space. I did not see a significant savings by ordering the case on the Internet. I also passed on tripods, lens filters, etc. I just don’t think I’ll be going that professional, and if I did, I’d spend a lot more on the camera (the $800 price point will get you to a semi-pro level). I did get a phone call from the people I bought the camcorder from trying to sell me all the accessories. I told them “I had an older handycam and already own all the accessories”. That got them off my back pretty quickly, but I did spend the extra $30 for a 2-year warranty. I have heard rumors that the touch screen tends to wear out and it is not covered by Sony’s warranty.