Camcorders and USB: Is Steve Jobs Right?

Much is being made of the lack of FireWire in the new MacBooks. Seems like everyone’s weighed in on this topic, myself included.

Even more recently, an email response to one irate customer set off more controversy. In this email, Steve Jobs himself is alleged to have responded

Actually, all of the new HD camcorders of the past few years use USB 2.

So, is that true? Perhaps the best way to find out is to look at Amazon.com and see what’s selling, then check what interface they use. 

I hit the bestsellers list from Amazon for camcorders, and the first thing I noticed is that the Flip series occupies five of the top 10 slots (as of this writing). The Flip supports USB 2.0, so it qualifies, but in case some people would like to have a little more camera representation than that, I decided to include the top 20 (which includes two more Flips).

Not counting the seven Flip cameras, the camcorders rounding out the top 20 are: 

  • Panasonic SDR-H40 40GB Hard Drive Camcorder 
  • Canon VIXIA HF100 Flash Memory High Definition Camcorder 
  • Canon VIXIA HV30 MiniDV High Definition Camcorder 
  • Canon VIXIA HF10 Flash Memory High Definition Camcorder 
  • Sony HDR-SR11 10.2-MP 60GB High Definition Hard Drive Handycam Camcorder 
  • Sony DCR-SR45 30GB Hard Drive Handycam Camcorder 
  • Sony DCR-DVD610 DVD Handycam Camcorder 
  • Canon FS10 Flash Memory Camcorder 
  • Aiptek A-HD+ 1080P High Definition Camcorder 
  • JVC Everio GZ-MG330 30 GB Hard Disk Drive Camcorder 
  • JVC Everio GZ-MG330 30 GB Hard Disk Drive Camcorder 
  • Canon VIXIA HG20 AVCHD 60 GB HDD Camcorder 
  • Oregon Scientific ATC 2K Action Cam Flash Memory Camcorder

So you’ve got Flip, Panasonic, Canon, Sony, Aiptek, JVC, and Oregon Scientific all represented.         

I need to make it clear that I make no statement, good or bad, about these companies nor the individual cameras represented here. They were selected solely by virtue of being the Top 20 Bestsellers on Amazon.com at the time of this writing.

As mentioned, the Flips all support USB 2.0, so my next task was to look at all the others and see if they support USB 2.0 for video as well (some cameras may include USB for stills; I wanted to make sure video support was available).

The results? I believe all but one of these models allows USB 2.0 for video. The one exception being the Canon HV30, which appears to include USB 2.0 for still shot transfers only.

Not counting the HV30, it’s interesting to note that prices range from $88 (the Oregon Scientific) to $775 (The Canon HG20), with a few located in what might be considered the “sweet spot” for consumer camcorders in the $300’s. 

Of course, if the camcorder you currently own is not due for replacement, and only supports FireWire, this news is of little use to you. I understand that, but then again I’m not trying to answer each individual case; ultimately only you can decide for yourself. Rather, I simply reviewed the current crop of popular camcorders to see if FireWire or USB is the most common interface. Clearly, it’s the latter, and overwhelmingly so. I can’t say I’m too surprised. In my opinion, if Apple didn’t already know this they wouldn’t have pulled FireWire from the MacBook to begin with. 

Finally, I’d like to point out that this “top 20″ list didn’t just materialize in the last week. It seems clear the movement away from FireWire in the popular camcorder space has been in the works for a while, else they wouldn’t so thoroughly dominate the top 20 now.

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