Look At Me Play Guitar – Sony HDR-MV1 vs Canon HF R500

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

I read lots of posts by guitar players and other performers who want to shoot video of themselves performing. They want decent quality video with decent or better audio, usually on a budget. And they usually don’t want to embark on a technical education project or take up a new hobby, they just want to point and shoot and play.

This market for Look At Me Play Guitar video cameras has attracted a range of products over the years from both camera makers and audio equipment manufacturers. Today we see Sony and Zoom slugging it out. My little comparison of the Zoom Q4 and Sony MV1 gets more comments than any other, I think.

What About a Camcorder?

But there’s another class of camera that gets overlooked a lot these days, one that might be the best choice for “Look At Me Play Guitar” video. The consumer camcorder will take video as good as the Q4 or MV1 and probably better, with the advantage of an optical zoom. The music camera usually has a wider angle lens, stereo directional mics, better specs in the audio department along with better handling of external sound sources. But while the wide angle lens brings the camera mounted mic closer to the source I have found that for my solo acoustic guitar videos the optical distortion spoils the picture. Still, other folks find the wide angle useable and for them the audio quality is a key feature.

If we’re going to use a consumer camcorder for LAMPG video we’re faced with a few question. Like, how bad or good is the audio on a low cost consumer camcorder? Which of the many camcorders out there should we consider? And how much should we expect to spend?

Canon Vixia HF Series

When I set out to identify the choice camcorder, the Canon Vixia HF series jumped out at me. It’s generally the top choice of reviewers and it’s a consistent popular seller, so there are lots of them in the used market. Even better, the performance seems to be consistent from the 2013 R4x models to the latest R7x line. Each model year includes three models, for instance the R500 basic unit, the R50 which adds onboard memory and WIFI, and the R52 with larger internal memory, WIFI, and a bigger battery. From looking at specs and reading reviews it seems that all the cameras from the 2013 R400 to the 2016 R72 shoot the same picture. Looking at the price is a very pleasant surprise. Even new these cameras are priced about the same as a Sony MV1, but on the used market they are as inexpensive as the the stripped down Zoom Q2n. With a little patience some really great deals show up in the Canon refurbished equipment listings.

I really really don’t need another camera, but my willpower is weak and the price of a used R500 on Ebay was too tempting. My camera cost about $140, came with a carrying bag and charger but no memory card or original packaging. I’ve seen a number of similar deals since I got mine, including both newer and higher end models, like the R62 or R70.

Some Clips for Comparison

Here’s a video showing various comparisons between the Sony and Canon. We’ve got cameras at the same location, cameras at the same framing, and same framing with an external mic feeding the Canon. Notice that the Canon does not support plug-in power on the mic input, so only dynamic mics or those with their own battery can be used. In this video I used a Zoom H1 recorder as a powered mic, by feeding the headphone output of the H1 into the Canon mic input.

How Did They Do?

I was a bit surprised by the difference in video quality I saw in these clips. The Canon uses face recognition to drive the autofocus and exposure adjustments while the Sony seems to set an exposure based on the average of the whole scene. Shooting in front of a black background resulted in some dreadful skin tones in the Sony clips.

On the other had I was not surprised by the visual distortion in the Sony images. These effects of the wide angle lens and close placement have kept my Sony MV1 in the drawer rather than out shooting video.

The Sony audio picked up my foot tapping which was not a problem with the Canon, but the Sony is delivering more low frequency information which makes for a richer guitar sound to my ear.

Both these cameras offer a lot of settings that might improve the quality of the audio and video. They both offer “low light” and “spotlight” settings as well as audio noise filters. If you’re considering either the Sony HDR-MV1 or any of the Canon Vixia HF series I really recommend finding the manual online and checking the features.

This entry was posted on Saturday, December 31st, 2016 at 4:44 pm and is filed under Comparisons, Video. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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    2 Responses to ' Look At Me Play Guitar – Sony HDR-MV1 vs Canon HF R500 '

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    1. Patrick said in post # 1,

      on January 1st, 2017 at 11:45 am

      First, a Happy Year 2017 to you!
      Great comparison, thanks ever so. The Sony, in my opinion, is clearly the best here as far sound is concerned. Personally I would tend to add an HPF, at 60 HZ or so, at mixing. But the signal from the Sony is solid, very clean and true enough to the original guitar sound. It sounds like condenser mic. The mic of the Canon, on the other hand, reminds me of a cheap electret, which is a pity as the image is really nice.
      I was wondering what you think of the H1, which is also used in this video. I find it very frustrating in terms of signal to noise ratio, in that it is only quiet when the input value is low, but you can’t have it too low either, as you get fierce digital artefacts when the setting is below 30… Also I found it has no headroom. If you play a chord fortissimo or even forte on a acoustic guitar it inevitably clips.
      People say the H4n (and now the H4n Pro) has far better mics and preamps. Would you agree on this?
      Thanks again for this video, great to hear your guitar playing again, and hoping to see more of your videos in the months to come.
      Patrick (Paris)

    2. Fran Guidry said in post # 2,

      on January 1st, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      Patrick, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I use a Zoom H6 regularly and it is significantly better than the H1 in terms of self-noise. As I understand it, the H4n Pro and the H5 use the same preamps as the H6 and should have similar performance. The original H4n and H2n were superior to the H1 but not as good as the current generation.


    Leave a reply

    About the Blog

      Howdy, my name is Fran Guidry and this is my Homebrewed Music blog.

      I play Hawaiian slack key guitar and recorded my solo acoustic CD at home. Most of the recording information I find on the internet seems focused on bands, drums, multitracking, and so on but my main focus is recording solo acoustic guitar. Lately I’ve been enjoying video recording along with audio, so that shows up in the blog as well.

      I’m also a guitar nut. I love big ones and little ones, handmades and factory guitars, cheap ones and expensive ones. So I’ll be sharing the fun of exploring guitars as well, along with the challenges of amplifying acoustic guitars for live performance.



      My recording philosophy is pragmatic, skeptical, not super critical. After all, the performance is by far the most important component of a track, and every aspect of any recording is a matter of taste.

      But I do like to know “about stuff.” Back in hifi days I learned about double blind testing. I learned that we humans can easily hear differences that don’t really exist. The more I’ve learned about our human auditory system, the more I’m skeptical of what people say they hear, especially if they claim that a particular microphone or preamp or cable has some magical property.

      I’ve only been recording since 2001, and when I started I found the usual places on the internet. I sought advice and accepted it, thought I would improve my recordings by using more expensive equipment. It didn’t work.

      Two things that did seem to lead to better recordings were experience and room treatment. Getting an appealing sound is the combination of many small details, and learning those details only comes from experience. Amd the sound of the recording space is obviously a big factor.

      I’ve only recorded seriously using digital technology, but I remember trying to record rehearsals and gigs back in analog days. I don’t have any nostalgia for analog recording and playback systems at all. I think even low end digital systems can capture marvelous recordings. So when I look at gear, I look for good specs: low noise, broad flat frequency response, wide dynamic range, low distortion. I’m not interested in colorful components, mics and preamps with a sound, I want the sound to be the sound of my guitar.

      But the last word is that I’m just learning and I hope you find something useful in my posts.