Camcorders have become an integral part of the modern world. It is now possible for individuals to capture all of life's precious minutia on film, immortalizing any moment, from the birth of a child to the wedding of young lovers. The features on camcorders vary, as do prices. With costs for basic camcorders hovering around $300, it is becoming more affordable to record memories for years to come. Avid videographers and budding filmmakers can spend up to $2000 on more advanced devices. Regardless of how much you have to spend, you should be honest about what you can afford and establish a budget right away. Once you understand what matters about buying a camcorder and start exploring your options, you'll be able to find the best model in your price range. Read on to learn more about finding a great camcorder to film life's precious moments.
Understanding how a camcorder works is the first step in shopping for one. Getting a better idea of the terminology and specifications, gives you an edge when faced with a salesperson who is just trying to sell you what's hot.
Latest & Greatest
For the most part, camcorders today are digital. Some people still have (and love) their old VHS or Hi-8 tape camcorders, but these dying technologies with several limitations and downfalls. Want to hear more about the debate? Click here for more information. As for digital camcorders, here are the most common formats that are used:
* '''CCDs & Image Quality'''
** CCDs (charge-couple devices) are often referred to as chips.
*** "Chips" vary in size and the bigger the chip, the better the image the camcorder will record.
*** Typically, CCDs will be from 1/6" to 1/3". The better camcorders have 1/2" chips or bigger.
** You'll often see cameras that boast three CCD technology, the best there is so far to date.
*** Such camcorders have not one, but three CCDs in it, one to detect each primary color.
*** While more expensive, these camcorders will produce some of the best quality recordings.
** CMOS sensors are becoming more common on high end camcorders these days and offer high resolution and high-definition images.
** For more information on CCDs, please see this helpful article by Electronic News.
* '''Lux Rating'''
** A lux rating measures how capable the camcorder lens is in different lighting conditions.
*** A very wide lux rating, say 10 to 100,000, means that the camcorder is capable of performing well in instances of pitch black and in glaring sunlight.
*** The darker the setting, the lower you want the lux rating to reach.
** If you'll be shooting in darker settings, say at a backyard barbecue, a graduation ceremony or your niece's sixth birthday party. You need the camera to pick up as much light as possible to get crisp, clear, colorful images. Aim for a lux rating somewhere in the 100 to 1,000 range.
* '''Optical vs. Digital Zoom'''
** Two ratings: optical and digital.
*** Digital zoom will always seem very high and salespeople will often talk about a camcorder's great digital zoom. But digital zoom just replicates the image you grab at the furthest optical zoom in the camcorder, resulting in blurry, distorted or noisy images.
*** Optical zoom counts the most. If you enlarge an image taken with a 10x digital zoom, you'll get a distorted, pixilated and blurred image. But if you enlarge an image recorded with a 10x optical zoom, you'll get a clear, crisp image in comparison. For an inexpensive camera with impressive zoom, check out the Panasonic VDR-D200 DVD Camcorder with 30x Optical Zoom.
** Don't forget to compare the '''zoom speed''' when testing camcorders. The smoothest moving zoom will look best when recording.
* '''Sound Recording Quality'''
** Microphones are tricky. Most are average at best and it's hard to really know how good they are unless you can test out recordings before buying. If you hear any ticking on a playback, that's a bad sign that the mic is picking up the motor of the camcorder or your fingers tapping on the buttons.
** If you plan to record things that are sound centric, such as dance performances, orchestral music or a piano recital, sound is important. make sure that you can get an external mic for the best sound recording possible.
** Models that offer sound adjustment can help limit distortion. These are usually more expensive, but the sound quality will be much better.
** Camcorders don't weigh much, but it only takes a little shake to make you sea sick while watching a video. The lighter the camcorder, the less your arm will tire, hence less shaking.
** Consider how it feels in your hand. Are you able to get a firm hold on it with just one hand? Do you feel like you might drop it? How sturdy does it feel?
** Check where the buttons, knobs and zoom are located. Are they conveniently placed? If so, you won't have to shake the camera much to adjust them.
* '''Other Features'''
** Image stability is something that most camcorders have integrated into them as part of the package.
*** Those with the best image stabilizers will tend to cost more.
*** You always want to dish out a little bit more for improved stability, especially if you shoot in low-light situations.
** Big, clear LCDs are on nearly all camcorders these days.
*** But do you also want a viewfinder? Not all camcorders have them.
*** Keep in mind that the quality of the LCD screen is not relative to the quality of the recorded image.
*** The only true measure of a camcorder's quality is what it produces in the end: the videos.
** Some camcorders now come with a slot for a memory card so that you can get even more storage possibilities. It could be useful in case you get caught without enough tape, DVD or remaining hard drive space.
** Still images on a camcorder? Don't bother. Get a real digital camera to take real pictures. A camcorder simply won't do the trick.
High Definition Technology
Deciphering Your Needs
The two most important things to consider are your needs as a filmmaker and your price range. First, ask yourself how much you are able to spend: $200-$500? $500-$700? $700-$1000? $1000-$2000? Just because you can only afford something for $300, don't assume that you won't be able to get something good. Good is entirely subjective depending on your need. Find the description that best fits your style and see what features should be important for you.
Below is look at some of the options for each price range and videography style.
Compact Digital Camcorders
The hottest new trend these days are compact digital HD camcorders. You can fit these in your pocket and they are actually quite cheap. They are perfect for filming short clips that you can share with your friends and family. The only drawback of these amazing camcorders is that they generally require you to buy an additional memory card to save any video at length.
Features vs. Needs
You won't always need something that offers great stability if you'll only be shooting outdoors in bright light. On the same token, high quality audio might not be a necessity if the camcorder is only for general indoor use. What you buy and how much you spend for better quality features, all depends on what type of recordings you expect to make. Below is a breakdown of some things you will need for particular events or gatherings.
** '''Vacations or Sports'''
*** Excellent battery life.
*** Good ergonomics and a light, compact design. The more rugged, the better.
*** Stability enhancements.
*** Excellent zoom.
** '''Family Get-Togethers'''
*** Excellent low-light performance.
*** External light mount.
*** Good ergonomics.
*** Stability enhancements.
** '''Recitals or Performances'''
*** Top-notch low light performance.
*** Tripod mount.
*** Good audio, stability and zoom.
*** Audio options.
*** Microphone mount.
** '''Creative Enthusiasts or Film Students'''
*** Manual controls.
*** Audio options.
*** Good zoom.
*** Built-in effects and wide array of editing possibilities.
Analog vs. Digital
There are two types of camcorders available on the market today: digital and analog. The most fundamental distinction between digital and analog cameras is in how they store moving images. Analog camcorders record film onto analog tapes of varying sizes and grades depending on the camera and digital camcorders record onto a hard disk, DVD or other detachable storage device. Below is a short comparison that will help you determine what kind of camcorder is right for you.
These days, it's not easy to forget a digital device at home since they are all integrated. You've got your camera smartphone MP3 player PDA with built-in GPS and you're all ready to go. So when do we get all that plus the ability to record video? Now. Well, at least it's getting there.
For this resource in your home country, please see:
! DE: Camcorder