Flash Memory and HDD (Hard Disk Drive) are the most recent video formats to be introduced into the consumer camcorder market and each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Flash memory (also known as solid state memory) camcorders record video information onto a small removeable memory card. If you own a digital still photo camera you’re likely to be very familiar with what a memory card is and how it works.
The main advantage of a solid state memory device is the simple fact that there are no moving parts – hence the name “solid state”. Unlike a hard drive which writes information mechanically, solid state memory electronically writes information onto the card, thereby making it more stable than mechanically written information. The other great benefit to flash memory is that it has the ability to read/write information much faster than a standard hard drive. A solid state drive on average can read/write information at approximately 40 megabytes per second whereas a good quality hard disk drive can read/write information at about 7 – 10 megabytes per second.
Of course like anything else there are disadvantages to flash memory. The first is that flash memory is more expensive per gigabyte when compared to a standard hard disk. A camcorder with 60gb of hard disk memory is generally around the same price as a camcorder that takes solid state – not including a memory card. A high capacity, reliable, class based SD memory card can cost as much as $200. That’s a significant amount of money to spend on top of the cost of the camcorder itself.
Hard disk drive camcorders are the modern alternative to flash memory. Hard drives will usually have more storage space than flash memory at a similar price. The first and most pronounced advantage to using a hard drive is obviously cost. At a specific price point you can get much more storage on a hard drive than flash memory though you will be sacrificing a small amount of reliability and speed.
In terms of reliability you shouldn’t be concerned with the camcorder suddenly up and failing on you. It has more to do with if the camera is dropped or takes a significant hit – by having more mechanical parts there is more of a chance of a component breaking upon impact. Take care of your equipment and I wouldn’t be overly concered with reliability. Certain models of hard drive camcorders can make a slight amount of noise which can be heard in the video’s audio if you’re recording in a very quiet environment. Most major manufacterer’s models don’t suffer from hard drive noise so again I wouldn’t be hugely concerned with it. The final drawback to hard drive camcorders is that they’re somewhat larger and heavier than their flash memory counterparts.
I have found that most people go with flash memory camcorders based solely on size itself. If you’re looking for a high quality, pocket sized camcorder then flash memory is the way to go. If you’re looking for a budget alternative and size is of no concern then hard drive is the way to go.
Come visit again next Wednesday for Intro to Video Formats: Part 4 – High Definition.