Camcorders with good sound quality?

June 16, 2012 at 01:53 AM · I'm looking for a good and moderately priced camcorder to record my practice and lessons. Of course image quality is important, but sound quality is also a major concern, since I would like to be able to hear my teacher's comments clearly when the camcorder records from a few feet away, and perhaps it will be used to record videos for auditions in the future.

Here are the features that I would like to have in the camcorder (ordered by importance):

1. Supports at least 720p high definition video format (preferably 1080p).

2. Takes SDHC flash memory card.

3. Has good microphone, i.e. good sound quality.

4. Works well indoors in low light condition.

5. Can record at least 2 hours in one go.

6. Good battery life - can record at least 4 hours between recharge.

7. Supports AVCHD file format.

8. 28mm wide-angle.

9. Creates one file per recording (On my teacher's Canon camcorder: my one-hour lesson is split into two AVCHD files, because the camcorder only supports up to 2GB/file (FAT file system). I don't know if newer Canon models still have this issue).

Any recommendation would be appreciated! Thanks for your time!

Replies (20)

June 16, 2012 at 02:44 AM · Joyce,

I don't know what's your moderate price range, but I have one that I used a lot with all my lessons, and lesson last 2 hours at a time, for both vn and va.

I have Q3 from Zoom.

I'm very happy with, I used it a lot, orchestra rehearsal, concert, and you can turn the video and just turn the audio if you want just to record the audio.

I was very happy with my H2 Zoom that's why I bought the Q3. You can check the specs on their websites.

I highly recommended it.

June 16, 2012 at 06:52 AM · Elinor, I am wondering what settings you use for your Zoom? I use the presets, but in case you had checked all the settings out, I was wondering if you noticed a difference at higher bitrates?

June 16, 2012 at 07:02 AM · Olympus also makes one (LS-20M). I don't know how they compare in terms of sound and video

June 16, 2012 at 07:27 AM · I use the Zoom Q3-HD. The sound is excellent, and in stereo, but the video, even at HD, is no better than a good cell-phone, especially in lower lighting conditions (which is usually the case!)

File size is still limited to 2GB, bit a new file starts with no interuption. I got 3 hours at 720/30 on rechageable batteries.

(One point: Alkalines give 1.5v, rechargeables only 1.2v, so we have to adjust the "settings" accordingly, or the recorder will "assume" our recharchables are nearly-dead alkalines and give up very early..)

The only Olympus I have seen has stupidly put the lens on the top edge of the recorder, between the mics, so you can't put an anti wind bonnet over them.

June 16, 2012 at 07:35 AM · As far as I know there are no video cameras with good sound, even the very expensive professional ones costing many tens of thousands of pounds.

Usually the sound is taken seperately on good mics and synchronised with the video frames in post production. Even on a good video camera the mic will be worth less than £100 and on domestic ones about £2! After years of researching I have just used two very good mics for audio recording costing more than most camcorders - so you need to use mics of at least that sort of specification and price to get good sound.

June 16, 2012 at 10:07 AM · Peter you are quite right, but when I wrote that the Q3 sound is excellent, I simply mean that is has a reasonably flat and extended frequency response, little intermodulation distortion, and sufficient dynamic range.

I have done very satisfying amateur recordings with a pair of good tie-pin electrets (wide apart). The quality is enough to compare performances, and compare tone-qualities (but not judge them). We are not talking about commercial distribution!

My advice to Joyce is to use an H2 nearer the musicians, and a decent camera with good low-light rendering, and good adjustment of contrast (to avoid unrecognisable white faces against a black background). Wide angle shots are usually less than flattering, so place the camera further away, with a good optical zoom.

The Q3 is really useful tool for impromptu recordings and lessons, and more than enough for U-toob diffusion.

June 16, 2012 at 04:03 PM · Sorry Adrian but she did say good sound quality! I'm not disagreeing with you, and I sometimes use a very cheap camcorder with a 50 pence mic.

I suppose my idea of good is different from most. Even when I used to video short scenes from plays or special scripts I would use a better quality recorder with goodish mics. It means post production sync which is extra work but it can pay off. I would always use better sound equipment if I was making a video of musicians with actual performances otherwise they would complain like hell about the awful sound afterwards.

June 16, 2012 at 04:08 PM · Joyce, it doesn't sound like anyone has much to offer which is disappointing to me because I want the same -- a camcorder with good sound. But for recording one's lessons, is sound quality more important or video? If you can live with YouTube-quality video, maybe the zoom is the way to go? When I go to the youth recitals what I see is that one parent is doing the video and the other is doing sound on a Zoom or a Tascam. But then you've got to synchronize them on your computer, that sounds like a lot of work especially for someone who really doesn't need more computer work to do.

June 16, 2012 at 04:15 PM · Christian, I never bother to adjust anything, I'm happy as it is. Batteries are short live, I already know that because of my H2, so I always used the power adaptor.

The last we used it was last April, and all the light was poor but it turned out to be very clear, not grainy like the others said. The sound was great, considering it was so far.

If you are looking for the BEST, professional camera is the way to go, but if it just for something to record lessons, performances, a standard way, I really highly recommed it.

One thing about this Q3 it's just the instructions was not too detailed enough, at least for me, since I'm not too techy. I'm sure for some, that will be nothing of an issue.

All in all, I'm pretty much happy with it.

June 16, 2012 at 05:05 PM · For your video needs the Canon Vixia line is excellent. There are various models from $200 - 1000.

For good quality audio, there is no video camera with a built in mic that is even decent, let alone superior. For recording your lessons, the built in mic would probably serve your needs, but for making audition tapes, you should record the audio separately and combine the audio and video using just about any video editing software. It's somewhat of a drag, but if you do it enough you'll get pretty fast at it.

I have been using the Zoom HN4 for audio recording. I'm very happy with it.

June 17, 2012 at 08:22 AM · Thanks everyone! I appreciate your help!

Maybe I misled you guys with the "good sound quality" part. I'm sorry! What I meant was a real camcorder with excellent video capabilities and good sound in the general sense, not professional grade. Zoom and Olympus video recorders seem like good audio recorders with video capabilities. I'm pretty happy with the sound quality of my teacher's Canon (a 4-year-old high-end model) - actually I sound better with the Canon than Zoom H2 because the camcorder picks up less unpleasant noise I make and somehow intonation issues are less noticeable... ;)

I already have a Zoom H2, and I have been doing both audio and video recordings for my lessons, but I have no intention to do post-production sync for my lessons and practice sessions - it's just too much hassle!

Paul, since you are also looking, below are the results of my research so far. I'm currently deciding between Canon VIXIA HF M500 and Sony HDR CX260V, but your needs may vary. I'm leaning towards Canon because it's supposed to be more user-friendly, although Sony is more feature-rich. I have read that Sony doesn't work so well with Mac if a videos is shot at the highest resolution (1080/60p), so Apple users be warned. Recording lessons with the highest setting is an overkill anyway.

If anyone has experience with any of the models below, I'd appreciate your input. Thanks again!

Disclaimer: Joyce does not claim to have any expertise in consumer electronics, therein any specialty pertaining to evaluating specifications and merits of camcorders. She is not an employee of, or affiliated with any companies mentioned below. She also cannot guarantee the accuracy of information provided. The score given to each product here is based on her needs and her unqualified opinions. It is not intended to be a review or recommendation of any product. She cannot be held responsible for any bodily injuries, psychological distress, property damages, financial losses, or liability of any kind as a result of reading this post. Please only continue to read further after declaring "I agree" loudly and sign your name in the air, otherwise please skip to the next post. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation. (You can tell that she is not in the legal profession either. She would appreciate any pro bono assistance from the legal experts on this site to perfect this clause.) ;)

But seriously, if anyone finds any inaccuracy in the information or that my assessments don't make sense, please let me know. I hope my list is helpful to some.

Canon VIXIA HF M500

* 1920 x 1080

* Media Type: SD/SDHC/SDXC

* Image sensor: 1/3-inch HD CMOS PRO, RGB Primary Color Filter; Optical Stabilizer

- Focal Length (35mm equivalent): 43.4-436mm (10x Optical Zoom)

* Video Format: AVCHD/MP4

* Audio format: AVCHD: Dolby Digital AC3 (2 Channel), MP4: MPEG-2 AAC-LC (2 Channel); Sampling Frequency: 48 KHz (i.e. CD quality)

* Microphone: Built-in three microphone positions; External microphone terminal

* Battery life: 2hrs

* 3.0-inch LCD

* Minimum Illumination: 1.2 lux

* Hot shoe

* User experience

* Price: $527 at Amazon, but can get for < $500 elsewhere

==> score: 11

Canon VIXIA HF M50:

x same as M500 (11)

x 8GB internal memory

x Wi-Fi

x HD-to-SD Downconversion

- Price: $585 at Amazon

==> score: 10

Canon VIXIA HF M52:

x same as M50 except the internal memory is 32GB (10)

- Price: $745 at Amazon

==> score: 9

Canon VIXIA HF R300:

* 1920 x 1080

* Media Type: SD/SDHC/SDXC

- Image Sensor: 1/4.85-inch CMOS, RGB Primary Color Filter; Optical Stabilizer

- Focal Length (35mm equivalent): 38.5-1232mm (32x Optical Zoom)

* Video Format: AVCHD/MP4

* Audio format: AVCHD: Dolby Digital AC3 (2 Channel), MP4: MPEG-2 AAC-LC (2 Channel); Sampling Frequency: 48 KHz (i.e. CD quality)

* Microphone: Built-in 2ch Stereo; External microphone terminal

- Battery life: 25 min (need to shell out another ~$120 for a larger capacity battery).

* 3.0-inch LCD

+ Minimum Illumination: 0.4 lux

* User experience

+ Price: $279 at Costco (~$400 after adding battery)

==> score: 8

Canon VIXIA HF R30:

x same as R300 (8)

x 8GB internal memory

x Wi-Fi

x HD-to-SD Downconversion

- Price: $395 at Amazon

==> score: 7

Canon VIXIA HF R32:

x same as R30 except the internal memory is 32GB (7)

- Price: $499 at Amazon

==> score: 6

Panasonic HCV700K:

* 1920x1080p

* Media Type: SD/SDHC/SDXC

* Image Sensor: 1/2.33" High Sensitivity MOS Sensor

* Focal Length (35mm equivalent) 28.0-717.4mm (21x Optical Zoom)

* Video Format: AVCHD/MP4

* Audio format: AVCHD: Dolby Digital (2 Channel), MP4: AAC (2 Channel)

* Microphone: 2ch Stereo (Zoom Mic); External microphone terminal

- Battey Life: 35-40 min (need to shell out another ~$150 for a charger and a larger capacity battery)

* 3.0-inch LCD

- Minimum Illumination: 4 lux

x 3D Recording And 2D To 3D Conversion

* User experience

- Price: $449 at Amazon (~$600 after adding battery and charger)

==> score: 6

Sony HDR CX260V:

* 1920x1080p

* Media Type: 16 GB internal memory, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo, SD/SDHC/SDXC

* Image sensor: 1/3.91" (4.6mm) Back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS Sensor; Optical Stabilizer

* Focal Length (35mm equivalent) 29.8-879mm (30x Optical Zoom)

* Video Format: HD: MPEG4-AVC/H.264 AVCHD 2.0 format compatible (1080/60p:original format); STD: MPEG2-PS

* Audio format: Dolby Digital 2ch Stereo

* Microphone: Built-in Zoom Microphone; External microphone terminal

* Battery life: 2 hours

* 3.0-inch LCD

- Minimum Illumination: 3 lux

* 8.9 megapixel still image

* Face Detection with Voice Enhancement

x Built-in GPS Receiver

x Built-in USB 2.0 Cable

- User experience

+ Price: $448 at Amazon

==> score: 10


* interested (1)

+ pro (2)

- con (-1)

x don't care (0)

June 18, 2012 at 04:14 PM · Question - Can Zoom Q3-HD be used with a regular tripod for camera/camcorder? (I'm asking because it seems to have a special mini-tripod sold as an accessory.) Thanks!

[Edit] I found the answer: "And because the Q3HD has a standard tripod mount, you can use common video accessories with ease.."

June 18, 2012 at 05:31 PM · Yes! But be gentle with it: it's a fragile plastic screwthread.

They provide a mini tripod, and also a conical "handle" to go into a microphone grip, but you can not then adjust its "verticality".

If hand-held, the audio is extremely sensitive to finger movements, and the video is not stabilised.

The zoom effect is digital, so the image deteriorates if you use it.

I have used it for its convicing sound, (don't tell Peter!). As a camera, it is disappointing in low-light conditions, where I use it most. But for lessons etc. its really useful.

June 18, 2012 at 08:38 PM · Thanks Adrian. Yes, I found out that the mini-tripod is included, but power adapter is sold separately.

June 19, 2012 at 01:21 AM · Joyce, I bought my Zoom Q3HD on Ebay a few weeks ago. You should find someone selling it as a "buy now" for the same price as on Amazon, but with an additional pack that includes some A/V cables, an adapter, and possibly something else that I've forgotten.

June 19, 2012 at 01:02 PM · For recording performances, it is important to be able to manually adjust audio recording levels. Most video cameras have only "auto" audio mode which means softer sounds are boosted and louder sounds are suppressed. That's okay for recording lessons, but not good for performances.

Based on the operating guides, the Canon M500, M50, M52 have manual audio controls. You can switch between auto and manual audio modes. In manual mode, you can adjust audio recording level in small steps. The Sony CX260V only allows you to choose between "normal" and "low" recording levels, but does not support finer recording level adjustment. For me, that would be a deciding factor in favor of the Canon.

June 19, 2012 at 08:10 PM · Thanks Christian for the tip! I think I got it wrong again (So I was right the first time). The mini-tripod doesn't come with Q3HD by default. It's part of the accessory pack, as is the power adapter. Of course, when purchasing from the ebay seller, the accessory pack is part of the deal, so it saves one ~$35 than if buying from Amazon.

Y Cheung: that's a great point that I missed. Thank you so much for pointing it out!

July 7, 2012 at 02:38 AM · A few questions for Zoom Q3HD owners:

1. Is it easy to swap SD card when the unit is attached to a tripod?

2. Do you find not having an optical zoom to be an inconvenience?

3. I have seen reports that it would stop recording/shut itself off randomly after around 30-45 minutes. Has anyone experienced this issue?

4. Are the material and build quality sturdy enough to sustain heavy use, such as inserting/removing SD card several times/day and recording several times & hours/day. (I'm asking this question for my teacher.)

Thanks for your time!

July 11, 2012 at 10:26 PM · Quick answers:

1. No: in my case, impossible.

2. Yes: the video quality is poor (indoors) normally, and with the digital zoom it is worse! And there is no image stabalisation.

3. If you use rechargeables without setting the preferences accordingly, the recorder "thinks" the 1.2v (x2) provided comes from nearly-dead alkalines (1.5v when new), and turns off in disgust! I have had 3 hours of continuous recording.

4. No: the tags on the SD and battery covers are very fragile. Take some elastic bands with you.

The sound is "good", whatever Peter says. The video is as good as a good cell-phone.

July 11, 2012 at 11:43 PM · I have the Q3, but not HD.

It comes with all the accessories, tripod, cable wire, etc, and so with the adaptor.

Its OK, considering, if your recording a performances, you have to have a good light, all it will turn out to be a little grainy.

The audio is good.

i wish there's more to do with all of the features, ( or maybe there is), if it comes with a detailed manuals. For some people like me, I'm not really into high tech generations, so, I just leave whatever is the default settings.

If the regular Q3 is grainy and the HD is about the same, maybe you may want to look for something else.

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