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Choosing A Camcorder

Aug 18, 2007
It can be quite bewildering when choosing a camcorder, especially with so many available in the different formats combined with the array of different model numbers and opinions from different sources. If your prime consideration is to produce short video clips for publishing on your web site then there is no need to go overboard and buy the most expensive model. A lower priced model offering the desirable features mention towards the end of this article will be perfectly adequate.

Here's a quick overview of each of the main digital camcorder formats that you should consider for producing videos for your website. There are other formats not mentioned here but our advice is to choose from one of the following three formats.

Launched by Sony in 1995, DV (or Mini-DV) is the most popular consumer digital video format. DV camcorders provide what is arguably the best quality of all of the home video formats, with all models possessing the capability to transfer video signals out to another device (such as a Windows or Apple Mac computer) via FireWire, also known as i.Link. An increasing number of DV camcorders also make it possible to copy edited recordings back to the DV tape in the camcorder using what is known as DV-in. This format offers the most choice and is the standard by which all other formats are judged.

Hitachi first launched camcorders that record to 8cm DVD disks back in 2001, and several other major manufacturers soon followed suit. DVD camcorders use MPEG-2 compression prior to writing the signals to disk. One of the major problems of DVD camcorders has been the compatibility issue between DVD camcorders and home DVD players, though these are quickly being resolved. If you're planning to import your DVD footage into a computer for editing, you should note that editing DVD (MPEG2) compressed files is much more difficult than it is when working with a format like DV or Digital-8. Editing applications (as bundled with camcorders) aren't that good and it is advisable to purchase third party editing suites. However, the format is now very popular, despite the difficulties with editing.

HDD (Hard Disk Drive)
JVC is one company that is forging ahead with its drive to make Hard Disk recording camcorders more popular and push tape and disk based formats aside altogether. The Everio G camcorder range is a good example of camcorders which uses tiny internal hard disk drives very similar to the larger HDs used in all computers. The company's GZ-MG50 model, just one of many, enables recording of up to 7 hours at best quality. Apple's iPod MP3 players use very similar technology and provide a similar level of interactivity with the files saved onto them. HDD camcorders save files which can then be deleted, moved and transferred just like those on your computer or iPod. They also much more flexible in your ability to access different clips on the hard drive before editing takes place. All the major manufacturers make models of various specifications to suit every pocket. One major drawback is the fact that once the hard disk is full you need to download to a computer or stop shooting.

Which ever format you choose, and at this site we are using miniDV, bear in mind the following four desirable requirements for producing good quality videos for your website.

Firewire compatible
External microphone jack for connecting an external microphone for enhanced audio quality.
Remote control, essential if shooting a video on your own.
Quality lens.

As the mainstream consumer market favors ease of use, portability, and price, consumer camcorders emphasize these features more than raw technical performance. For example, good low light capabilities require large capturing chips, which affects price and size. Thus, consumer camcorders are often unable to shoot useful footage in dim light. Manual controls need space, either in menus or as buttons and make the use more complicated, which goes against the requirement of ease of use. Consumer units lack many manual settings, often excluding video exposure, gain control, or sound level management. For the beginner, entry level camcorders offer basic recording and playback capability.

For the more advanced user, high end units offer improved optical and video performance through multi-CCD components and name brand optics, manual control of camera exposure, and more, but even consumer camcorders which are sold for $1000 are not well suited for recording in dim light. When dimly lit areas are brightened in camera or in post production, considerable noise distracts the viewer. We recommend setting up a basic home studio with lights to make best use of your camcorders abilities and to produce good quality videos.

Ten years ago, consumer video editing was a difficult task requiring a minimum of two recorders. Now, however, a standard PC of even modest power can perform digital video editing with low cost editing software. Many consumer camcorders bundle a light (feature limited) version of such software, as do some computers, and more advanced software is highly recommended and is widely available at a variety of price points.
About the Author
Bruce Walls writes about using video on your website to increase traffic. You can read this article and more at WebsiteVideoGuide
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