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Simple Guide to Buying a Camcorder

May 23, 2008
Ten years ago the only video cameras that were available were the analog type that were so big and bulky that they had to be carted around on a trolley while professionals used them to shoot video for television. Camcorders have come a long way, they are smaller, slimmer, user-friendly and have tons of options that are available on many different models. Also with today's digital technology comes the digital camcorder, which makes shooting and editing a movie a simple and fun activity for many people.

When buying a camcorder it is important to choose one that fits with you. Store counters are filled with a great variety of brands and models each with an array of features and formats. It is important to understand these features when buying a camcorder and buying the right camcorder which fits your purpose and budget.

The following guide to buying a camcorder details these features and will give you the guidance needed to buy the right camcorder the first time.

While analog camcorders still exist, digital camcorders are the camcorders of the day. Digital camcorders provide a superb recording quality by recording audio and video digitally without any loss in quality. In fact the quality far outweighs analog in yielding excellent color and clarity with 500 lines of resolution. And while digital camcorders are more expensive than analog, the price difference has shrunk enough in the past couple of years to make it very worthwhile to purchase the digital type.

Digital camcorders display recorded images by using the fantastic flat LCD screen feature. These screens can be rotated about 290 degrees along the vertical line, and horizontally about 90 degrees. These screens have made digital camcorders very popular with consumers since the recording process becomes so easy and fun when you are able to see what is being recorded on the LCD screen in real time. Also it is important to note that the DVD camcorders LCD displays a list of the recorded scenes for quick, easy searching.

When buying a camcorder you want to get an LCD screen that is as large as you can afford. The larger the screen the more you can see what you are recording in real time. One thing to keep in mind is the larger the screen the more battery power it will draw.
Another feature of LCD screens is the viewfinder, which is intended for shooting in bright sunlight and helps to save power. The panel size of LCD screens is presented in inches ranging from 1.8 to 3.5 inch screens

Camcorders have two types of zoom capabilities, digital and optical, and many camcorders come with both. The digital zoom enlarges images by magnifying the actual pixels. The finished image is thus affected and lacks clear definition. Pixilation is the term that defines this process of blurring. This option can be turned off on most models of camcorders and should be for optimal image quality.

The optical zoom feature actually utilizes the movement of the lens. The focal length is changed and image that passes through the lens is captured with optical zoom. Higher optical zoom ratings give better image quality.

Very often the audio that is recorded with your camcorder is just as important as the video. Mostly camcorders have the same audio quality. Some problems may occur, such as recording of tape motor noise, no sound at all, noise from hand movement and even times when the camcorder will record the wrong thing. The best thing you can do when buying a camcorder is to look for options, and make sure that the camcorder has a microphone jack to which you can attach an external microphone as opposed to relying on the camcorders internal microphone. An external microphone will be of great benefit at those times when you are recording something like a concert, wedding or graduation speech because the external microphone will allow you adjust the channels to fit with the sound levels you are recording.

There are several media formats available with digital camcorders. When buying a camcorder this feature is very important to look at and choose the right format that fits your needs and budget. This is the feature which determines how the video is recorded and what kind of storage device is used.

DVD Camcorders - Before discussing the actual DVD media camcorders, first let's take a look at the different types of DVD formats of which there are three: DVD-R, DVD-RW, and DVD-RAM. DVD-R is a recordable DVD format with a write-once only capability. DVD-RW is a recordable DVD but it allows rewrites and so provides unlimited writing to same disk. DVD-RAM - DVD Random Access Memory is a DVD disc, which can be recorded with information, erased, and recorded again. DVD-RAM is considered a highly reliable format, as the discs have built-in error control and a defect management system. Therefore, DVD-RAM is perceived to be better than the other DVD technologies.

There are two versions of DVD camcorders. The first one works with rewritable DVD-RAM discs requiring a DVD player with RAM playback or a PC with a DVD-RAM drive. The second works by using the more popular DVD-RW and DVD-R discs that work with most ordinary DVD players and allow for actual recording of images to the DVD disk. A great feature of this recording format is the ability to edit in-camera and with repeated playbacks the disk does not degrade.

MiniDV Camcorders are types of camcorder that store recorded data to MiniDV cassettes. The video and sound quality is exceptionally good. The MiniDV camcorders are small, sleek and stylish because of the small size of MiniDV cassettes.

MicroMV digital camcorders use tapes that are much smaller than MiniDV tapes and also use more of compression technology. The MicroMV is compressed much more that the MiniDV and records very high quality video as well as possess the capability of full digital editing. The MicroMV is also very compact, lightweight and ultra small.

Flash Media Camcorders record images to an internal Flash drive and Flash Memory cards. Flash Memory cards include: SD, Compact Flash, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Duo.

HDD Camcorders, or hard disk drive camcorders are compact and record in MPEG-2 video as well as other encoded formats and recorded data is stored to an internal hard disk. The upside of this format is the ability to store huge amounts of video data by using compression. The video is saved to the internal hard disc within the camcorder and then downloaded to a computer and burnt onto to a DVD. The HDD camcorder has no moving parts and so there is less chance of mechanical breakdown.

Digital 8 Camcorders record digital video to Hi-8 videotapes. Digital 8 is a consumer digital videotape format developed by Sony, and introduced in 1999. Digital8 equipment uses the same videocassettes as analog Hi8 equipment, but differs in that the audio/video signal is encoded digitally. Picture quality is fairly good and this format allows playback of analog videotapes recorded on Hi-8 camcorders.

VHS Camcorders are types of camcorders that record video digitally to VHS videotapes. Picture quality is good and this format allows playback of analog videotapes.

HDV Camcorders, are the newest standard in high definition recording and viewing. High Definition Video camcorders usually utilize MiniDV tapes or Hard Disk Drives which yields a full high definition 1920 by 1080 resolution. This resolution provides a superb high-def video picture quality, which looks great on a high definition television. When buying a camcorder with this capability it is important to know that for editing high-def video a computer is required with a fast processor and lots of memory to meet the requirements of video editing software.

Hitachi has manufactured the world's first full HD digital camcorder which both records and saves image data in the Full HD format on both the hard drive and on Blu-ray Discs, which are the next standard for recordable media.

When buying a camcorder a key feature to consider is built in stabilization. Unless you are shooting video with the camcorder sitting on a tripod, which most home users do not do for everyday shoots, the hand must be stable while holding the camera to avoid image distortion caused by unsteadiness or jerking of the hand. This feature helps to fix these errors caused by jerking of the camera in the hand while shooting.

The stabilization feature comes in two types, Optical and Electronic. Superior to the electronic technique, the Optical Image Stabilization technique is where a part of the lens is moved in the camcorder to compensate for the shake.

With the Electronic Image Stabilization technique the camcorders internal computer shifts the image electronically in the opposite direction of the shake. This is achieved by slightly zooming in on the image. Poor electronic techniques can cause loss of sharpness or resolution.

Controls and Camcorder Size. When buying a camcorder you do not want to compromise usability for size. While a small camcorder maybe cute and convenient to carry, it is important to make sure that it is also user-friendly. You want to be able to reach and use the controls of a camcorder with ease while recording, if the camcorder is so small that you cannot easily access the control buttons the recording experience will be hindered and it will also become a hassle.

The battery a digital camcorder uses is also a vital feature to consider when buying a camcorder. Does the camcorder come with a rechargeable battery? How long recording time is available on a fully charged battery? The best option is to purchase a camcorder which has a rechargeable battery. Generally different models of camcorders have different battery capacity which allow for varying amount of recording time on a fully charged battery.

The two most common rechargeable batteries are the NiCd and the Lithium Ion. The lithiums are usually preferred because they take a charge quicker, are lighter than others and have a longer life span. Most full charges give a battery 6 hours of life.

The brand of camcorder will of course play a role when buying a camcorder. There are plenty of manufacturers of digital camcorders including but not limited to Canon, Panasonic, Sony Hitachi, JVC and Sharp. Canon has some of the best high-def machines on that market today, JVC has a couple of great budget models and Sony is best known for their handycam, which provides superb picture quality in compact machine.

In the end, the most important factor to consider when buying a camcorder is your personal use, the features you desire and price. Ratings of brands are available and the list of key features and specifications should be looked at to determine if the brand and model fits your needs and budget.

Digital camcorders are not cheap, in fact they are often thought of as a hefty investment that could range anywhere between $280 to over $2500 retail price. Something to consider is that in todays world with the Internet providing a stage where millions of sellers and merchants compete for your business it is easy to save significant amounts of money by avoiding retail merchants and purchasing discount digital camcorders.
About the Author
To learn more about digital camcorders and to browse and buy all models and brands of Discount Digital Camcorders please visit: JR's Discount Digital Camcorders
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