Camcorder Buying Guide

Be it recording a night out with the friends or the first steps of your baby, camcorders make sure that the best moments in life are always stored with you for easy access at any point in time. However, buying the right camcorder isn’t as easy as it may sound, since there are a lot of technicalities that one needs to understand before deciding on one from the many options.

 

The right format

 

Unlike earlier times, a record tape isn’t the only option that’s available in case of camcorders. There are mainly four kinds of storage formats you can go for according to your liking :

 

Mini DV tape camcorder

 

Although one can easily argue against this format by referring to the fact that tapes are a very old concept, there are a lot of benefits in tape-based camcorders :

 

  • They are very easy to store and archive, the only thing needed is shelf space, which really isn’t that big a problem in most of the homes.
  • The pricing of tape-based camcorders is way below than a mini-DVD or storage type variant.
  • Transferring the recorded video content to a PC/notebook for editing/viewing is easier, and does not require faster PCs to run, since HDV and DV formats work with a majority of the editing softwares and on PCs with a reasonable speed.
  • The video quality is remarkable, and only very few of the present and upcoming camcorders can come upto the mark.

 

However, on the downside, one would have to incur costs for buying tapes over and over again, if recording videos is a regular habit. The footage too, is recorded linearly, and can’t be accessed at random, unlike storage-based and DVD camcorders. The quality is also at a risk of depreciating over time and with repeated usage.

 

Hard-drive & Flash-drive camcorders

 

A newer innovation among camcorders, this type negates the need of any external storage media like tapes or discs, and stores the video content on an in-built hard drive/flash drive. However, one would need a significant amount of PC space to transfer the same from the camcorder. Hard-drive based camcorders provide more storage capacity, but are also more prone to wear and tear due to the moving parts, unlike flash-based camcorders.

 

Mini DVD camcorders

 

This kind of camcorders are a little larger than the MiniDV ones, and much larger than storage-based camcorders. Their main advantage is that one can simply take the disc out of the device and view it on a set-top DVD player. However, in case you want to view it on your notebook, these discs, due to a smaller size, might not fit if the former has a slot-loading optical drive. They are also not as easily available as MiniDV tapes, and are more expensive. The quality is also poorer than MiniDV or storage-based camcorders.

 

SD and SDHC card camcorders

 

With a majority of the present HDTVs, digital photo frames and similar electrical equipments having support for SD and SDHC cards, camcorders too have been innovated with the same as the storage media. One can simply pop out the card and insert it in the card slot to access the videos, minus the cables. However, one must ensure that the kind of cards being used in the camcorder are compatible with the other equipment. Also, one should purchase a Class 4 or 6 SD card, which is faster in writing than a Class 2 one.

 

HD or non-HD

 

Generally, all present camcorders record videos in HD, or high definition, and while they do offer stupendous video quality, there are quite a few limitations. First up, the price factor; HD camcorders are much more expensive than non-HD ones. There is also a persistent codec issue, as many storage-based camcorders use AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition) compression, which is not compatible with all video-editing softwares. One would also need a faster PC for the editing part. However, it takes many hours to render AVCHD or HDV (format used by MiniDV camcorders) into the standard DV format.

 

Vital features

 

Screen

 

A big-sized LCD screen in the camcorder lets you see the recorded picture more clearly. However, some camcorder screens don’t work well in the sunlight, despite being larger in size, so size isn’t the only thing you need to consider. Further, camcorders these days come with both an LCD screen as well as a viewfinder, as the latter is particularly useful in bright conditions, and also uses lesser power than the screen.

Lens

 

There is a zoom feature in every camcorder, which is there to get a closer view of the object you are shooting. However, many manufacturers don’t clearly specify whether their product is offering optical or digital zoom. A decent camcorder has around a 10X optical zoom, which means that you can magnify the image upto 10 times its original size. A digital zoom magnifies the image after the optical zoom has been extended completely, which leads to pixilated images with a poor picture quality at highly magnified screen resolutions. So in case you have encountered such things on somebody’s else’s camcorder, rest assured that this is pretty normal, but you must purchase a camcorder with a better zoom if you are to regularly capture magnified videos.

Image stabilization

There are two types of image stabilizations :

  • Optical; wherein the camcorder’s lens mechanism adjusts itself to not affect the picture in case of external movements
  • Electronic; wherein the camcorder uses internal circuitry to interpret the video after the image has been captured

Optical stabilization is the better one of the two, but comes generally in higher priced models.

Batteries

Very important when you are out to use a camcorder. An additional battery costs anywhere between $50-100, and is a handy investment. Buying an additional  long life spare battery is a smarter idea as you can replace the original battery with the spare one when you have a long shoot outside without being able to charge the battery. One should try to use the Viewfinder rather than using LCD Screen to conserve battery power whenever possible.

Microphones

Camcorders with the microphone at the top give a lower sound quality than the ones that have the mic in the front, as the former tend to capture the sound of the person recording the video more often than not.

Low-light situations

 Almost all the present camcorders have the provision of assisting the user in recording in low-light conditions. This can either be through infrared light, a slow shutter mode, or an in-built illumination from LEDs. Select models also offer all three in one! However, the picture quality while using these tools is not as good as in sufficient light.

Ports

Generally, all MiniDV camcorders have FireWire ports that assist in transferring videos to the PC. However, some models also have a USB 2.0 port, which allow you to transfer still images, and almost all camcorders have composite-out and/or S-Video-out ports, which also allows the user to record from other sources, like older analog camcorders.

One must consider all of the above-mentioned points to ensure that money is not wasted and the right camcorder is bought according to your needs.

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