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Camcorder Buying Guide

Way back when, even before we began listening to cassette tapes and watched movies on VHS (or laser disks, anyone?), the camcorder was actually two separate devices, the camera and the recorder.  After we began to advance out of the technological stone age, the camera and the recorder were combine to become the Cam(era)(re)corder.  Ever since that advancement, the human race has been on an invention roll, jumping from VHS to 8mm to DV to miniDV to DVD to memory cards and now also in HD as the recording source of camcorders.

Analogue vs. Digital

Analogue and Digital refers to the system of the device that stores the information we record.  Analogue Camcorders  rely on videotapes  as the recording and because of this, are more prone to bleeding and fading.  Analogue also does not duplicate well and there is a loss of image quality in the copying process. A Digital Camcorder  lacks this copying problem and duplicates very well with no loss in image quality or resolution.  With digital, you yourself can also transfer your footage to a computer to edit to duplicate your recordings  with any film editing software .  The downside to digital is that if something goes wrong with your computer  before you get a chance to copy, you are more prone to losing the entirety of your footage.

Formats

VHS and 8mm

No longer available on the market but mentioned purely for sentimental reasons.  These were the leading pioneers of the camcorder revolution and were hefty to say the least.  With the introduction of the DV and the mini DV, the VHS  and 8mm  (despite its size reduction from the VHS), were left in the dust since DVs and miniDV provide incredible image resolution in comparison.  You can probably find these in speciality or second-hand stores and some manufacturers will still accept them to be repaired.

DV and MiniDV

DV  and miniDV  stand for Digital Video and mini Digital Video and are the most common camcorder systems sold in the consumer market.  They are popular for their great quality yet inexpensive equipment.  Footage is also easily transferred to a computer for editing; home videos can be transformed into movies using movie editing software .  The mini DV is the most consumer friendly-system and can hold up to 90 minutes of footage while staying light and compact, and it still offers the best image quality around.  Since newer technology has begun to eclipse this system, now would be a wise time to invest since the system is being phased out and the prices of miniDV equipment are dropping but will still be widely available.

Recommended MiniDV

Sony Handycam DCR-HC62 MiniDV 

Canon MD150 

JVC GR-D760 MiniDV 

Samsung VP-D351/XEU MiniDV 

DVD/mini DVD

DVD editing software  is available, although not common, so camcorders that record directly onto DVDs  are for those who do not plan on doing minimal to no editing.  The nifty feature about using DVD is that you can pop it right into your DVD player  for viewing.  There is no need to fast forward or rewind since each taping session becomes its own section/chapter, just like on real DVDs--you can jump forward and back without breaking a sweat.  Much like burning CDs, each DVD can only be used once unless you buy rewritable DVDs, which can be quite pricey.  DVD Camcorders are the replacement models for the VHS Camcorders  and are targeted for the home video crowd for easy use and access, unlike other systems which could be for more professional uses.  Although when the DVD camcorder was first introduced, DVD got a bad rep for its low image quality, the quality has been significantly heightened.  If you are nervous about a DVD camcorder purchase, worry no more.

Recommended DVD

Samsung VP-DC173 

Panasonic VDR-D310 DVD 

Canon DC50 DVD 

Panasonic VDR-D310 

Hard Disk Drive and Flash Memory

Hard Disk Drive  and Flash Memory  have reduced the once enormous camcorder to palm-sized gadget.  Memory cards are especially handy since most will pop directly into your computer, but hard drive users beware: if you drop the camcorder, the likelihood of your footage surviving is slim to none.

Recommended HDD and Flash Memory

JVC Everio GZ-MG155 

JVC MG330 HDD 

Sony DCRSR55E HDD 

Canon VIXIA HF100 SDHC Flash Memory 

Hybrids and HD

Hybrid camcorders have a combination of hard drive memory and another system such as memory cards/DVD.  They are most frequently found in HD  camcorders, which have a higher resolution than standard definition cameras/camcorders.  HD may sound excessive now but it will be the standard for the future, so the investment will be a good idea.

Recommended HD/Hybrids

Canon VIXIA HV30 

Sony Handycam HDR-CX6 

Panasonic HDC-HS9EB-S 

Hitachi DZ-HS500 DVD+HDD 

Alternative Sony Formats

Sony camcorders also come in the Digital8  and MicroMV , which are only offered by Sony.  Think carefully before considering buying either of these two formats.

Compact Camcorders

These camcorders prove that good things do come in small packages!  Although they still come with a handful of features, some image quality has been sacrificed for the petite size.

Recommended Pro

Sony TG3 Flash HD 

Sanyo Xacti HD700 Flash 

Flip Video Ultra 

Samsung VP X300L Miniket 

Pro Camcorders

These babies will set you back a couple thousand, but they are perfect for the up and coming amateur director.  With much more advanced lenses, microphones, settings and features, they deliver amazing quality footage that would give Spielberg a run for his money.

Recommended Pro

Sony HVR-A1 Pro HDV 

Sony DSR-250P 3CCD 

Canon XH A1 

Panasonic AG-DVX100B DV 

Tips and Tricks for Buying/Using the Perfect Camcorder

Some things to keep in mind when looking for a new camcorder.

  • Size: Some models/formats can actually be quite heavy so consider this before buying. Just remember that you would be less likely to play with your new camcorder if it breaks your back every time you use it.
  • Batteries: Always carry spares with you. Trust me, you will thank me later for this tip.
  • Zoom: Before Billy's graduation, go on the field and test how close you need to be for that close up you'll want to get. Invest in a high quality zoom so then when you see other parents running to be front and centre at the ceremony, you can save yourself and your kid the embarrassment and stay a good distance away.
  • Viewing: If you are not interested in editing, go for the DVD format which you can just pop into your DVD player and watch.
  • Tripods: Unless you want to go all Blair Witch Project, complete with your audience puking, tripods might be a good investment.

Taking Care of Your Camcorder

Here are some tips to extend the life of your camcorder and keep it working like new.

  • Be extremely careful when handling your lens and only clean it with lens cloth.  NEVER touch the lens!
  • If your camcorder is feeling a little grimy, use a damp cloth, not soap or chemicals, to wipe it down.
  • A camcorder case is a great investment because leaving your camcorder to collect dust and dirt will wear it down and reduce its lifespan. Plus, you'll have a place to keep all of the camcorder's accessories.
  • Most manufacturers will fix your camcorder for little or no charge, so don't try to tinker with the inside yourself--just don't forget to send in your warranty.
  • Read your warranty carefully so you know what is covered.
  • Salt water is the grim reaper for camcorders, so be extra careful when shooting at the beach.
  • Clean your LCD screen often; finger grease isn't good for the screen.
  • Charge your battery often.  Letting it get too low can affect your camcorder.
  • Use head cleaners to clean the dust out of the interior.

Popular Brands

Camcorder Accessories

Camcorder Bag 

Tripods 

Camcorder Light 

Camcorder Microphone 

Camcorder Lens Filter Kit