MiniDV vs. HDD vs. SD Card (Solid State)

A while ago, late 2006, I wrote about the choice between miniDV and HDD camcorders.nBack then, I liked the convenience of not needing tapes, but was concerned about the HDD skipping when filming snowboarding (follow-cam). Plus, the HDD camcorders were still relatively new so they were more expensive than their similar, miniDV counterparts.

But what about now? Solid state, or flash, memory is getting bigger and cheaper all of the time. Are the suped-up SD cards removing the need for hard disk drives? Or do HDD models still have a place in the market? How does the choice between miniDV and HDD/SD feel now?

Some things that I know

OK, so I’m kinda outside my comfort zone writing about this stuff. At the end of the day, I’m interested in good quality video that’s suitable for the snowboarder’s environment. So here are some of the things that I think I know.

  • DV, digital video, records at 720 x 576 pixels, for PAL systems. That’s what my current camera records at. MiniDV cassette tapes are used for recording DV. DV was designed for recording to tape, so if you’re considering a camcorder that uses miniDV tapes, you’re probably looking at 720 x 576 resolution.
  • HDV, high-definition video, has a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) or 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080i/1080p). Perhaps a better description would be “higher” definition, as I’m sure there’s more to come. HDV records to cassette tapes too. It just seems that it’s more common to see camcorders that use hard disk drives or flash memory for recording…
  • There’s no quality difference between HDD and solid state; one is bigger and cheaper, the other has no moving parts and is faster.
  • Recording format aside, the quality of both the lens and the chip/sensor are going to play a big part in the final quality of the video.

Some things I don’t know

Like I said, I’m not totally sure that I’m on firm ground here. There are still a bunch of things that I don’t know…

  • MiniDV records raw video and HDV is compressed. Is that right? Or is it that the direct file-based storage of HDV is compressed, and, if you record HDV to a cassette you get raw, HD video?
  • Can you get consumer level HDV camcorders that record to tape? Or is that reserved for the higher end stuff? Are the manufacturers choosing to push HDD and SD card storage at the consumer level?
  • Is there a correlation between the size of the sensor and the final display resolution? For example, I’ve seen a camcorder that is capable of recording to either DV or HDV, how does that work?
  • Has the camcorder market confused the terms? It seems to me that they use “miniDV” to mean standard DV, even though a miniDV cassette could be used to record HDV. And they use “HDV” to mean high-definition video recorded to file based memory, even though HDV can be recorded to tape cassettes…
  • Has the editing software changed much? Are the files recorded onto either HDD or SD card easy to edit once they’re on your computer?

So what’s there to choose between?

The choices that I’m interested in are:

  • No tapes: HDD or SD card?
  • Tapes: DV or HDV?
  • Finally: tapes or no tapes?

No tapes: hard disk drive or SD card? So let’s say I like the convenience of not needing tapes. For snowboarding, I like the solid state memory. I’ve not used a HDD camcorder before, but I’ve used MP3 players with hard disks and they can skip at times. I’d hate the recording to skip just as your friend nails his best trick of the trip – or even worse, if I’m the one being filmed 🙂 And I imagine that the HDD camcorders respond less well to taking knocks or being dropped.

Trading off the storage size. OK, so opting for the flash memory means less size, 120GB hard disk or a 32GB SD card. I think that a 32GB card should supply around 70 minutes of HDV video, which should be more than enough for a day on the hill. And besides, you can always swap another one in if you run out of space.

Tapes: Standard definition (DV) or high definition (HDV). Let’s say I like recording to miniDV tapes. Is everything out there high-definition now? The thing is, more pixels doesn’t necessarily give you better quality video – if the rest of the camera is poor you’re gonna end up with a poor image. But if you’ve got a decent lens and a good sensor, then why not have HD?

At the consumer level, for recording to tape, I’m more interested in a good, all-round package. I don’t want the HDV badge at the expense of the other components.

Finally: tapes or no tapes?

As a snowboarder, I like the no tape option, specifically the SD card option. My previous concerns over the non-miniDV route were skipping, robustness and cost. Solid state memory eliminates the first two, and, now that the HDV market has matured the cost of a high-definition camcorder has come down some.

Is quality still something to consider? At the same price point, will I get better images on miniDV? I don’t know. And editing: do the file-based cameras provide something easy to work with, like an .avi, or are they propriatary formats?

It’s a big topic and my knowledge isn’t that great, so please add a comment if I’m missing something or have simply got it wrong!


  • Reply June 11, 2010


    hey my name is zak… long time reader though havent commented much. ive had all of the state cameras mini dv, sd and hdd how ever no hdv which i would like to give ago. my hdd was impossible to edit with. The camera filmed to MOD no editing program on the market even read the files. ive also edited with some sony high def hdd cameras which was easyier but still the editing programs havent really caught up to it yet. after that i went back to mini dv which i love cos as you say its uncompressed and simple to edit with. but on a resent trip we broke my good mini dv camera which left us video cameraless we thought. then we realised my brothers nikon p6000 stills camera had hd video so we tryed to film a few days on that. here is the result filming to sd does loose a little quality over tapes and hdd but it still is pretty good quality and it films to avi so very simple to film with….. my next cam is going to be sd camera…

  • Reply June 12, 2010


    Hey Zak,

    that’s interesting about the HDD editing. I checked out the video, it’s nice! So what kind of size are the files? Like, how much space does an hour of video take up? Good that it’s basic avi files too!


  • Reply June 13, 2010


    hey, thanks im glad you liked it. I think the are about 60mb a minute.

  • Reply October 19, 2010


    SD Cards / Flash Memory is shit, used them loads, many types, only solid state memory I find the least bit reliable is USB memory stick.

    Other than that I use HDD and back up everything on DVD & Blu-ray, one thing’s for sure my DVD’s and BD Discs in their jewel cases, and stored in a cool dry place inside and aluminum case will last centuries, lol my HDD’s and crappy SD cards will just lose information after a period of time if stored away and unused.

  • Reply October 20, 2010


    Interesting. Are you talking about general data storage, or video camera storage? Cheers, Gavin.

  • Reply December 2, 2010

    Movies Forum

    mini-dvs are great but digital video recorders are even coolerbecaue they are more compact .`,

Leave a Reply