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Camcorder Buying Guide







CAMCORDER FEATURES

Depending on the model, camcorders will have a mix of the following features:

Screen

A large LCD screen built into the camcorder lets you see what you're recording more easily and facilitates playback previews. But remember that some screens don't work well in bright sunlight. Most camcorders come with both an LCD screen and a viewfinder, giving you the option of using either. The viewfinder can be useful if you can't see the screen in bright light; it also uses less power than the screen, extending the camcorder battery's life

Lens

Every camcorder comes with a zoom lens that lets you get closer to your subject. Camcorder manufacturers don't always distinguish clearly between digital and optical zoom. The spec for maximum optical zoom is the more relevant figure: it denotes the maximum zoom that the lens itself can achieve without enhancement. Most modern camcorders have at least a 10X optical zoom, which should be more than adequate for general purposes. A digital zoom, on the other hand, magnifies after the optical zoom is fully extended, and the camcorder then enlarges part of the image to fill the screen. This method leads to grainy, pixelated, and generally unpleasant-looking images. At higher digital zoom settings, the quality is so poor that you often can't see what you are taping

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Image stabilization

All camcorders offer one of two types of image stabilization -- optical or electronic -- to minimize shaky video caused by unsteady hands. With optical stabilization, the camcorder's lens mechanism moves to compensate for external movement. With electronic image stabilization, the image captured by the lens "floats" on the CCD, and the camcorder uses internal circuitry after the image has been captured to interpret the video. Optical stabilization usually provides the best results, but it's typically found in more expensive camcorders

Microphones

Sound is almost as important to a video as the images. Camcorders with microphones mounted on the front tend to produce better sound than those with microphones on the top; in particular, top-mounted microphones often pick up the voice of the person operating the camera, drowning out everything else. Some camcorders offer zoom microphones that emphasize the subject's voice when the zoom lens is used, and some also come with a socket for plugging in an external microphone. Either type of microphone can be very useful when you're recording presentations or speeches

Still photography

Many digital camcorders can serve as digital cameras, saving still images to a memory card. Some can save images at the same resolution as a 5-megapixel camera. Their quality, though, isn't as good as a digital camera

Controls

Owning the fanciest camcorder in the world won't do you any good if you can't use it. Smaller camcorders can be a little more difficult to use because their controls don't naturally sit where your fingers fall, particularly if you have large hands

Night mode

Many camcorders have the ability to film in very low light, whether with the help of an infrared light (which you can't see, but the camcorder can), a special slow-shutter mode that makes the most of ambient lighting, or built-in illumination from one or more LEDs. Some models offer all three methods. Night modes can be very useful in poorly illuminated settings, such as when you're recording a camping trip or capturing on tape the creatures that wander into your yard after nightfall

Format

Most camcorders use the MiniDV and DVD formats, but a few other formats are available, such as Sony's Digital 8, MicroMV, and Flash memory. A Digital 8 camcorder records digitally to Hi-8 videotapes and can also play back videotapes recorded on analog camcorders; the downside is that camcorders that use Hi-8 tapes are typically larger than miniDV models. MicroMV camcorders use a type of tape that is smaller than a MiniDV tape and the camcorders that use such tapes are smaller than MiniDV models. Flash memory-based camcorders are smaller still, but their recording times are limited by card capacity

3CCD models

Some MiniDV camcorders record video using three CCD sensors instead of one. They record reds to one CCD, greens to another, and blues to the third. The camcorder then combines the footage into one stream

Wide angle shooting

Several camcorders now allow you to shoot in the 16-by-9 aspect ratio used by HDTVs (even if the camcorders still shoot in standard definition resolution)

High-definition recording

Two or three expensive camcorder models record in a high-definition format called HDV. Because HDV is highly compressed, it requires a very powerful computer to decode the files and an HDV compatible video-editing application to edit them. (Few consumer video-editing applications support HDV right now.) Even a powerful computer will take much more time -- hours, not minutes -- to render HDV files than standard definition, DV-format files

Flash Memory

The flash memory video format is the best and latest of the breed. A small memory card can store up to 4GB of video footage and its just only gets bigger every few months. You can easily and quickly transfer videos from one electronic device to another. Camcorders with removable memory cards give you the utmost control for you don't have to be restricted by the size of the memory card.

Hard Drive

If you want to store long duration videos, and you are equipped with gadgets to manage videos hard disks camcorders are for you. They can store up to 6 hours of footage. Hard Drive storage, like flash memory, makes your videos easily portable. Flash memory and hard drive storage share many pros and cons but it is the flash memory that is touted as the future of video storage.

Camcorder Size and Weight

Camccorder size and weight are important factors to consider specially if you intend to travel and use this outdoors a lot.

LCD Display

Too small is useless and too big is bulky. Size also translates to price for every millimeter in dimensions costs you. The display quality should also be good. What will you do with a big display if it always shows snow grained faces and cloudy sky? We recommend minimum 2.5 inch LCD display. See what works best for you.

Battery Life

Another key feature to consider is battery life. If you want to shoot long outdoor videos, you need to have camcorders with long battery lives.

Connectors

In today's advanced technological world you should consider the following:
How easily can you connect camcorder output to other devices like TV, Computers, DVD Player etc.
How easily can you feed audio to your camcorder?

CAMCORDER FORMATS

Digital8

Digital8 makes a great choice for people who want to upgrade from Hi8 or 8mm, make home movies, or buy on a budget. It plays back and records to all your old Hi8 and 8mm tapes and costs less than MiniDV. Most allow you to produce small video clips compressed for the Internet and many have a still photo feature. Like MiniDV, it can produce studio-quality video with 500 lines of resolution. Keep in mind that digital records faster than analog; expect to get 60 minutes of digital recording time out of a 120-minute Hi8 tape.

DVD

Home users and professionals who want the ability to record directly to 8cm DVD-R or DVD-RW discs should consider buying a DVD camcorder. They have similar features to mid-range MiniDV and Digital8 camcorders, with a good number of features and special effects, and the DVD media won't degrade over time like a cassette. Finalize the disc, a process that takes about 10 minutes, to play back your recordings on a set-top or computer DVD player. An 8cm DVD-R costs about the same amount as a MiniDV tape and a 8cm DVD-RW costs roughly twice as much. Spend the extra money on DVD-RW discs if you want to record in DVD-VR mode, which gives you an easier way to add titles and reorder segments.

MicroMV

Trendsetters and people who want a lightweight camera to take on vacation should consider MicroMV. Sony's line of portable camcorders measures about four inches high by two inches wide and three inches deep. MicroMV compresses video more than MiniDV camcorders and although some video-editing software can handle the format immediately, you often need to convert it to a usable format before attempting to edit video on your PC.

MiniDV

From budget buyers to professional videographers, MiniDV camcorders work for almost anyone. They have more sophisticated lenses and effects than Digital8 camcorders and come in two sizes: standard and ultracompact. The standard size models cost less and have large, easy-to-use buttons and controls. Most allow you to produce small video clips compressed for the Internet and still photos. Like Digital8 it can produce studio-quality video with 500 lines of resolution.

Analog camcorders

Although this buying guide concentrates on digital camcorders, manufacturers still sell old-school analog camcorders and of course you can find them on eBay.

8mm

Tape format with 270 lines of resolution (studio-quality recordings have 500 lines of resolution) and 120 minutes of recording time at standard speed. You can only play back video by connecting the camcorder to a TV or VCR.

Hi8

Record to Hi8 tape at 400 lines of resolution or to 8mm tape at 240 lines of resolution.

S-VHS

Super VHS tapes look exactly the same as standard VHS tapes but offer 400 lines of resolution. Although S-VHS VCRs can play back standard VHS tapes, only a few standard VCRs can play back S-VHS tapes.

VHS

Use standard VHS tapes to record your favourite shows or your own home videos. The format uses 1/2-inch videotape, offers 240 lines of resolution, and plays back in any VCR.

VHS-C

Compact VHS cassette tapes come in a smaller casing than standard VHS. Like its big brother, the 1/2-inch videotape format offers 240 lines of resolution. A VCR needs an adapter to play back VHS-C tapes.

CHOOSING A DIGITAL CAMCORDER

Users generally fall into three categories:

Entry Level

You fall into this category if you are a first-time buyer of a camcorder and want to use the camera to capture memories. If you want to edit at home, you will need to have a computer that will allow you to do basic editing and have at least 13 GB of free space, 512 RAM and over1.5 GHZ processes.

Mid-Level

You fall into this category if have owned an entry-level camcorder before and want to upgrade, or want specific features and willing to invest more in technology. If you wish to edit on your computer, you should at least those requirements of the entry-level user and probably allow more RAM and a higher processor speed.

High End

These users would are video hobbyists or professionals who have experience in using digicams.
Feature
Entry Level
Mid Level
High End
LCD Screen A large screen makes it easier to see what you are recording and play back
2-2.5"
2.5-3.5"
2.5 and above
Microphone Sound is a almost important to a video as the images. A font mounted microphone gets better results and a zoom or external microphone even better
Top or front mounted
Top or front mounted with zoom and external option
Front mounted with zoom and external option
Weight A heavy camera can tire you out before you even finish shooting but cameras with lots of features will be heavier
425g-650g
284g-650g
650g and above
Night Mode Night mode allows you shoot in very little light. This is done using special infrared or long shutter modes. In high end models LED illumination can be built into the camera
Infrared or long shutter mode
Infrared, long shutter mode, LED light
Infrared, long shutter mode, LED Light
Number of CCD'S The camcorder's CCD device captures your image information. With three CCD's each captures a different colour, resulting in greater colour accuracy and a shaper image
1
1 or 3
3
Ports S-Video and composite in ports allow you to record from other sources such as older analog camcorder
Fire Wire, S-Video Out, Composite Out
Fire Wire, S-Video In/Out, Composite In/Out
Fire Wire, S-Video In/Out, Composite In/Out
Recording Media The most widely available recording tape is the Mini DV but DVD camcorders are also growing popular
Digital 8, MiniDV
Digital 8, Mini DV, DVD, MicroMV
Mini DV

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