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Camcorder Buying Guide

Sep 9, 2008
When shopping for a camcorder, it is important that you think about what you will be using the camcorder for. Will you be recording videos to watch on your HDTV, or do you just plan on sharing your homemade movies with others over the Internet? How you answer these types of questions will determine what camcorder is right for you.

The first thing you need to know about camcorders is that there are three main types available. The thing that distinguishes one camcorder from another is the way they save the videos you record.

The first type, and currently the most popular is miniDV. These camcorders record videos by storing data onto a small cassette. The advantages of miniDV camcorders are that you can record your videos in an uncompressed format, therefore giving you higher quality videos (because video quality goes down as it is compressed). Also, you can usually find blank miniDV cassettes with ease at local stores when you away from home and need more space to save those precious memories.

The second type is the DVD camcorder. These camcorders record videos by storing data onto mini DVDs. One of the main advantages of DVD camcorders is the fact that you can take the mini DVD disc out and play it on almost any DVD player. Also, just like the miniDV cassettes, the small DVDs that these camcorders record on are becoming widely available so you won't have to worry about not having enough memory while you are way from home.

And last but not least, there are the HDD (Hard Drive) camcorders. These cams record directly onto an internal hard drive, giving you a lot more storage space than a miniDV cassette or DVD disc would. Typically, these types of camcorders have a memory slot available in addition to the hard drive, allowing you to buy a memory card if you were run out of storage space. Remember that the data on the camcorder's hard drive can be transferred over to your computer and deleted off of the camcorder if you need to free up memory.

Now that you know the three main types of camcorders that are available on the market today, look below and find what our product specialists recommend our customers to look for before buying any type of camcorder.

Optical/Digital Zoom: If you plan on getting close ups of distant objects, you should consider a camcorder with a high optical zoom and digital zoom level. Note that optical zoom and digital zoom are very different from one another. The optical zoom level is the amount by which the lens of the camcorder actually adjusts, while digital zoom is merely a magnification of the existing image. A high digital zoom rating doesn't do all that much for you because you loose a significant amount of quality when zooming at high levels. Focus more upon the optical zoom a camcorder has to offer, where quality loss isn't much of an issue.

Still Image Pictures: If you want a camcorder that can take pictures as well as record video, make sure it has a still image feature. When a camcorder is able to capture still images, it can almost doubles as a digital camera. But don't expect the same high quality pictures from a camcorder to compare with what you would get with a standalone digital camera, as camcorders aren't made specifically for the purpose of taking pictures.

Storage Space: It is important that you consider the storage space available if you plan on getting an HDD (Hard Drive) camcorder. You don't take this factor into consideration for miniDV or DVD camcorders because their storage spaced is measured by the amount of cassettes or DVDs they have to record on, while the storage space of an HDD camcorder is measured by how large the hard drive is. Note that some HDD camcorders have a memory slot, which allows you to connect a memory card to record on if you were to need more space.

Editing Software: If you want the ability to edit your videos, see if the camcorder comes with editing software included. With video editing software, you can add special effects to your homemade movies making them more enjoyable.

Playback Options: With most camcorders, you can connect the cam directly into the AV inputs of your TV for playback. With the DVD camcorders you can also play the mini DVDs on most DVD players. Playback is also possible through your computer whenever the camera is connected.

LCD Screen Size: The screen size of the LCD may be of importance to you. It is typically easier to frame what you want in the shot with a larger LCD to view, and it also makes watching your videos on the cam itself more enjoyable.

Digital Image Stabilization: Image stabilization is definitely a feature you should consider when purchasing a camcorder unless you plan on recording on a tripod most of the time. If a cam has image stabilization technology, it will reduce the amount of movement of the shot because of shaky hands. This can make your videos much more enjoyable, and won't make you dizzy from watching homemade videos ever again!

Computer Connection: Most miniDV camcorders connect to a computer through an IEEE 1394 jack (also called Firewire or i. Link). DVD camcorders typically connect via USB, and HDD camcorders can be connected with any of the two. Make sure your computer has the appropriate jack so you will be able to transfer your videos without the need of an adapter.


Optical Zoom: Magnifying an image with an adjustment of the lens without reducing the quality or resolution.

Digital Zoom: Magnifying the center of an image by enlarging the already present information (from the picture) resulting in a loss of resolution.

AV Inputs: Audio and Video Inputs, which transfer the audio and video information from one electronic device to another.

Image Stabilization: Technology that reduces shakiness in motion pictures or blur in still pictures in Camcorders and Cameras.

USB (Universal Serial Bus): Connection port on a computer that is universally compatible with many types of electronic devices.
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