Camcorders Buying Guide
Why digital camcorders
Smaller, lighter, easier to use, easier to edit, better picture and better sound, these are just some of the reasons why digital camcorders have come to dominate the home movie market in the last few years. Recording information digitally, whether it is on tape, DVD or hard disk means there is no loss of quality after repeated plays. It also makes it easy to input into your PC for editing and that means you can create effects previously only available to professional filmmakers. Recording formats can be confusing, and you will need to be clear about which features you really need, but there is a type and price to suit almost everyone.
Choosing digital Camcorder
Beginner: If all you want to do is record things in the easiest way possible and then play them back, a basic digital camcorder with good automatic controls will allow you to point and shoot and achieve good results with the minimum of fuss. You can find models that will support these functions for under $250. These are likely to record on to mini-dv tapes, have an optical zoom at the lower end of the range (x10 to x20) and have a limited number of manual overrides.
Advanced: At the high-end price range, some digital camcorders are perfectly practical for budding filmmakers. You may need some talent to win an Oscar, but the features available on camcorders above $1000 mean your efforts can at least look and sound similar to the professionals. At this level you may be looking at models with three CCDs, one for each of the primary colors, rather than the single CCD most camcorders have, and with some sophisticated electronics to overcome difficult lighting situations.
Key features of Camcorder
Zoom: The zoom feature key on a camcorder. The ability to get closer to your subjects can make a huge difference. The optical zoom ranges are the most important. These move the image closer by internal lens movement. Basic camcorders will allow you to zoom in by a factor of 10. Others will let you get 26 times closer. Look out for models proclaiming their digital zoom factors.
Image stabilization: Failure to hold a camcorder steady will result in shaky and jerky recordings. To keep this to a minimum almost all camcorders have some form of image stabilization device, usually electronic but sometimes optical. Poorer electronic ones can cause loss of sharpness or resolution. Electronics aside, the best way to get a stable picture is to use the camcorder with a tripod.
Recording formats: One of the surprising things about digital camcorders is that many of them still use tape (in cassette form) to record data. Others use DVDs or solid state memory. digital 8 was the earliest of digital formats but now under threat from other storage media, these digital 8 camcorders, exclusive to Sony, record digitally on the same Hi-8 tapes older analogue camcorders use. You can also use a digital 8 camcorder to play older tapes through a TV. DVD camcorders record directly onto DVDs. These are smaller than DVD movie discs but can play in DVD players. However, DVD camcorders record in one of two formats: dvd-R - which will work in most DVD Players - but can only be recorded on once; or dvd-rw, which can be used for multiple recordings but which, at present, fewer DVD Players will accommodate.
Battery life: This will depend on the type of battery you are using, the speed at which you are recording and the recording mode that you have selected. There are three main types, NiCad, NiMH and Lithium Ion (Li-Ion). Lithium is lighter than the others, and therefore becoming the standard, but the key point is that some camcorders will only use one type. There are rechargeable options available for camcorders. Sonys InfoLithium batteries will give you information about their capacity and amount of recording time left in the corner of the LCD screen.
digital stills: Some digital camcorders can be used to take digital stills. These are stored on a memory card and can be transferred to a PC for further use. Most digital cameras will provide better quality pictures but it may be a useful additional feature on your camcorder if you dont have one.
Tapes and disks: Prices and the amount of recording times will vary according to format and mode of recording. Generally speaking, tape cassettes are cheaper than disks which are cheaper than memory cards.
Editing software: Many digital camcorders are supplied with connections to a PC and editing software that you can download to make a professional job of your recordings. Soundtracks, visual effects, and time and date of recording can all be added. Other editing software packages can be bought.
Carrying bags: The best way to take care of your valuable equipment when youre out in the field is using Camcorder carrying bags.
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