Dual-media camcorders announced on CES 2008 in Las Vegas
The "thing" for 2008 is tapeless dual-memory recording, which means camcorders with both internal non-removable storage in form of a hard drive or flash memory, as well as removable storage in form of memory cards. Tape-based camcorders have been equipped with memory card readers for quite a while, these cameras record video on tape, and still photos onto a memory card. But what is the point of having both internal and external storage for a tapeless camcorder?
2008 Sony hybrid camcorders
Sony bets on what it calls "hybrid" approach. These camcorders have a built-in non-removable hard drive, which stores from 30GB to 120GB depending on a model, and are also equipped with Memory Stick Pro Duo slot. It is possible to record video onto internal hard drive as well as on a memory card. Considering capacity and cost of the Pro Duo sticks (I have not seen 16GB sticks yet, 8GB Sony-branded sticks cost $120-$150) this approach makes sense for consumers who prefer Sony products.
Despite the hoopla, there is nothing new in hybrid camcorders. For example, the one-year old JVC GZ-HD7 records either on a built-in 60GB hard drive or on a standard SDHC memory card. What is more, the JVC camcorder uses proven MPEG-2 transport stream with data rates up to 30Mbps, while Sony models employ AVCHD codec with twice slower data rate.
With the capacity of memory cards constantly increasing, and their price gradually falling, the hybrid approach will remain sensible as long as the capacity of the built-in hard drive overshadows the capacity of memory cards by a large margin. Presently, I would not consider a hybrid camcorder with 30GB or 40GB hard drive, I would rather prefer an hard drive that stores 80GB or more.
2008 Panasonic hybrid camcorders
The path chosen by Panasonic with its HDC-HS9 model is quite sensible too, considering prices of memory cards. This model's hard drive stores 60GB of video, there is an option of recording onto a standard SDHC memory card. Unlike Sony Memory Pro Duo sticks, which are not available at capacities higher than 8GB, there are quite a few vendors selling 16GB SDHC cards. Presently, these cards are sold for $90-$130, while 8GB cards are routinely sold for less than $50 apiece. 60GB worth of memory cards cost $400, while a 60GB built-in hard drive costs less than $100.
2008 Canon VIXIA dual-flash camcorders
Canon chose the least sensible approach of them all, by combining non-removable solid-state memory (a.k.a. flash memory) and removable memory cards. What is the point in that? Well, these cameras are ready for shooting right out of the box, but providing a spare memory card with every camera would make more sense. Unlike hybrid camcorders from Sony, Panasonic and JVC, dual-flash camcorders from Canon use the same type of storage for both non-removable and removable media. Therefore, 16GB of built-in memory costs about the same as a 16GB memory card. How stupid is it to have two media that is is equivalent in terms of cost and throughput, but one is non-removable? Where is the flexibility?
To me, there are no benefits in Canon's dual-flash approach, only the hassle. To capture video from built-memory you need to have the camcorder, computer and a bulky cable at once. You cannot share video by giving a memory card to someone. You cannot watch video on your new HDTV set by inserting the card into TV's card slot. Can you move/copy video from built-in to external memory and vice versa? Now we are talking about file management, something that should rather be done with a computer, not with a consumer camcorder.
Case in point: I have a five-year old MP3 player, which has built-in 64MB memory (don't laugh, it was pretty good for that time), and also allows using memory cards. To add or replace tunes on a built-in memory I have to connect the player to a computer. To add or replace tunes stored on a memory card all I need is to remove/insert a card. I can update content on a card by inserting it directly into a computer, without need for bulky cables or for proprietary software. The player cannon exchange misic files between internal and external media, it cannot split a long tune between two media either, it always start playing with internal memory, it records from built-in microphone only onto internal media, etc. There is nothing but hassle with having two media in one device! I would have preferred if the player came with a 64MB memory card, which can be easily replaced, than with 64MB of oh so convenient and ready-to-use internal memory that cannot be upgraded and that has laughable capacity by today's standards.
If Canon marketing people were smart, they would have chosen a memory-card only approach and would have provided a spare memory card as part of the bundle. Memory cards are easier to use for data transfer because all modern computers have built-in card readers, so transferring video to a computer translates into inserting the card into a reader and copying files. The bundled card can be reused in a still camera or in an MP3 player. Replacing cards in the camera takes seconds, after all it is quicker than replacing a tape cassette.
If you see logic in my words, then you can see that "dual-flash" camcorders from Canon are nothing more than marketing trick, something they could do (and did) relatively cheaply and something they advertise and a new and cool feature. Don't bite on this bait, this is a completely useless approach, and you will be sorry in half-a-year when you will be able to buy 16GB memory cards for $50. You need a computer if you want to offload video from built-in memory, but if you use removable memory cards, you can just swap a card.
Now someone may say that I am bashing Canon, that I am a naysayer, that one can use memory cards exclusively and skip using internal memory. Right, but you will have paid for it! The internal memory does not come for free, it is included in the cost of a camera. So you will be paying extra for something that you will never use. Now this is good marketing. Bravo, Canon. Instead of bringing 24Mbps AVCHD camcorders that record onto Class 4 or Class 6 SDHC cards, they came up with this bogus "improvement".
Well, things are not as gloomy as I just described. In fact, for every "dual-flash" camcorder in Canon's model lineup there is a memory-card-only counterpart. This is the one that you buy. For example, the standard definition lineup includes the FS100 ($399 MSRP, no built-in memory), the FS10 ($499 MSRP, 8GB built-in memory), and the FS11 ($599 MSRP, 16GB built-in memory). You don't have to be a rocket scientist to calculate that $399 for the FS100 plus $50 for a 8GB memory card is 50 bucks less than the price of the FS10. You save $50 while having the flexibility of using external media. If you get a 16GB card, you will save $100 comparing to a silly FS11 with built-in 16GB memory. With the FS11 Canon charges $200 for 16GB, this is a ripoff even with today's prices, and the prices on the memory cards will continue to fall.
Same things with high definition camcorders. Canon's new lineup includes HF100 ($899 MSRP, no bult-in memory) and HF10 ($1099 MSRP, 16GB built-in memory). Again, Canon asks extra $200 for questionnable usefulness of built-in non-removable 16GB memory. Are they nuts? Not only you can save hundred bucks by choosing the HF100 accompanied by a 16GB SDHC card, you will appreciate having a camera without built-in memory in a year or so, when 32GB cards become the norm and will cost less than current 16GB cards.
I cannot stress this enough: do not even think about non-removable storage if you can get by without it. Built-in solid-state memory is expensive, low in capacity and non-upgreadable. Built-in hard drives are cheaper and store lots of data, but they can crash and you would have to pay pretty penny to replace them. Heck, solid-state memory can get damaged too.
If you are using removable memory cards and your card crashes, all you have to do is pulling it out and sticking another card in. Problem solved.