Kit Clinic: upgrading my cameras for live streaming

Live streaming

Pro or semi pro?

A semi-pro camcorder with an audio input, manual controls and clean HDMI will start at $1000 and can easily go up o $2000; a pro camcorder will start at around $1500… and of course there really is no upper limit. But for webstreaming, a budget of $5000 will give plenty of options for a robust camcorder which can also be used for pre-recorded filming.

That budget should cover a camcorder based on 1/3-inch chips and with a codec that produces images acceptable for network broadcast, as well as HD streaming over SDI. Some will have built-in WiFi streaming too. A slightly cheaper option would be a pro camera based on the consumer AVCHD recording standard, at the expense of perhaps only HDMI outputs.

A high-end consumer camcorder will not have pro features such as HD-SDI, timecode or pro audio inputs; pro audio connections over XLRs are incredibly useful for live production, although it is possible to add these to consumer camcorders with an audio input jack, via an adapter. But, the higher end consumer cameras will produce an image that is on par with the lower end pro cameras. As ever, it is a trade off between price and features.

It is impossible to give a comprehensive list of possible camcorders at all points in this budget, but there are a few that we can suggest as a starting point.

Canon's HD-SDI equipped XA25 camcorder.
Canon’s HD-SDI equipped XA25 builds on improvements to the HF G30 consumer model. Picture: Canon.

For a consumer camcorder, the Canon HF G25 and HF G30 are excellent. The Panasonic 900 series uses a three-chip design, which gives a great quality image. So do Sony’s higher-end camcorders, though avoid paying extra for the projector (PJ) models unless you have a use for this feature.

We also like the Sony semi-pro CX900 a lot, and there is a pro version coming out too, the PXW-X70, which adds the pro audio inputs and HD-SDI connections.

There is also a wide range of AVCHD-based pro camcorders especially from Canon, Sony and Panasonic, which can offer a good value for money choice — but at the expense of being able to record broadcast-ready footage in the future, should you need it. They are, though, a good step up from a consumer model if you need a “pro” look and a more physically robust camera.

JVC's streaming-ready GY-HM650 camcorder
JVC’s streaming-ready GY-HM650 camcorder. Picture: JVC

Our money no object choices, though, would be the JVC GY-HM650 or the Sony PMW-200. The JVC scores because it has a broadcast quality recording option but can still record on cheap SD cards, and has a range of advanced features for WiFi control. It can even stream directly via WiFi, although it won’t as yet do so directly via services such as YouTube Live.

The PMW-200, for its part, lacks some of the JVC’s advanced features, but it features larger, 1/2-inch chips. Although it costs a bit more, this makes it a great camcorder in low light and allows for a few more creative options when it comes to depth of field. It is a robust camcorder with all the professional inputs and outputs, but either the JVC or the Sony would make an excellent starting point for a professional streaming rig.

For the computer interface, we use the BlackMagic Intensity Extreme and Shuttle models here and are pleased with their performance, but again we’d suggest taking advice from the supplier of the computer you use for streaming.