Through the advancement of technology, camcorders have become more responsive, easier to use and record in high definition. No longer bulky with short recording times on clunky VHS tapes. Filmmakers of any experience can benefit from the available camcorders. They are a great way to document the important and fun events in your life. Besides heartwarming birthday, wedding, and party videos, you can create your own films of family, friends, and places, and share your videos with others.
Choosing a camcorder can be confusing, especially with the proliferation of multiple recording formats. The days of the VHS monopoly are long gone: now you can choose between MiniDV, DVD, Hard Drive, and Flash Memory. Camcorders also come with a wide array of options and features. Each one carried their own pros and cons. For more information, follow the guide below.
Recording Formats - When you are choosing a camcorder, the most important decision will be the camcorder recording format. Camcorders do not all use the same and the format you choose will affect how you play back your recordings, and the quality of your video and audio. The digital format has a host of advantages. For starters, video quality is very high, at 500 lines of resolution for standard definition and 1920 x 1080 for high definition. Color richness and accuracy is much improved as well, since digital records across a wide color spectrum. In terms of sound, the digital format can record 16-bit CD-quality audio, and most digital camcorders also let you record 12-bit audio in two channels for layered soundtracks.
One of the biggest advantages to the digital format is that it lets you
make digital copies with no loss of quality, unlike any of the other formats.
Digital camcorders allow you to take digital still shots as well, essentially
giving you a digital camera as a bonus. The biggest misunderstanding about
digital, however, is that you can simply plug your digital camcorder into
your computer and download your videos. While you can do this with digital
still cameras, video is a different matter. You can certainly download
and edit your digital video, but you will have to purchase a separate
video capture card first. And you should be aware that digital video takes
huge amounts of storage space.
DVD Right behind Mini DV and growing strong are camcorders that use 8 cm DVD-R/DVD-RW/DVD+R/DVD+RW/DVD-RAM discs instead of digital videotape. Many consumers appreciate having the ability to record video and then play it directly from a DVD player. However, this format has a distinctive drawback. The discs must be specially formatted by the camcorder before they can be played back on a home player, after which they are locked and no more information can be stored on them. However, there are disc
s that overcome this problem, such as the +/-RW and DVD-RAM discs. RW discs are rewritable and allow the user the opportunity to re-record video. DVD-RAM discs can also be reused, but they are expensive and their format makes them incompatible with some home DVD players.
Hard Disk Drive (HDD) - Many camcorders do away with the need for DVDs and videotapes and record video directly to a built-in hard drive. The advantage of this is that the hard drives can hold a large amount of video information because they compress the video files. The disadvantage is that they record video in a format that is not used by most video editing programs. Plus, if you fill up the hard drive while you are away from your computer, you are stuck. With other camcorders you can put in a new DVD or videotape, but with HDD camcorders you cannot swap out the drive.
Flash Memory - These camcorders use flash memory cards just like digital cameras. The small capacity of the cards means the recordings are highly compressed, which in turns creates difficulties in editing. The advantages of flash memory camcorders are that the units are small, and the lack of moving parts allows for a quick response time. Also, the use of memory cards makes these camcorders more shock resistant than other recording storage systems. Remember that the quality of the captured video will be nowhere near as good as that from other formats.
Hybrid Recording - This format is a crossbreed between Flash Memory and Digital/MiniDV or DVD camcorders. It allows users to record video to a memory card, in addition to the native media format of the camcorder. Sony has come out with an updated version of the hybrid camcorder which enables the user to record almost an hour of high-quality, high-definition video to the internal memory and then transfer it to the DVDs in the camcorder or directly to a computer. This version of hybrid recording is a cross between Hard Drive and Digital/Mini or DVD camcorders.
Resolution - All of the media types explained above come in two types of definitions: standard definition and high definition.
Standard Definition - This resolution meets normal video standards, but is not considered enhanced or high definition. The resolution is 640 x 480. Up until recently, standard definition was the only choice. With the advent of HDTV, you can now buy camcorders that record in the widescreen format with high resolution video and surround sound. But you pay extra for these goodies and have fewer choices. For most people, an SD camcorder is the right choice, but you might want to check out the HD ones, just for fun.
High Definition - HD Camcorders are coming to the market quickly and are poised to become the new standard in the upcoming years. There are two HD formats: 720p with a resolution of 1280 x 720, and 1080p with a resolution of 1920 x 1080. They cost a little more than SD, use up your recording media more quickly, and some editing formats are still problematic. But today's HD camcorders are solid products, providing widescreen, high resolution recordings and even surround sound. Most HD camcorders can also record in SD, as well.
Viewfinder - The viewfinder of the camcorder lets you in on the action--it shows you what you are recording. Modern viewfinders will show you when you are zooming in on a subject or using a special effect. Camcorders come with three different kinds of viewfinders:
LCD viewfinder - Many camcorders now offer large LCD screens, which can range from two to four inches. LCD screens let you see what you're recording without peering into an eyepiece. They're helpful for recording while moving around (so you can see where you're going) and for getting a better idea of what you're shooting. Many LCD screens are built to swivel--some over 180 degrees--so you can record while holding the camera above your head or put yourself in the picture. The only disadvantage to LCD screens is they take more power, which slightly lessens battery life. Some camcorders have both LCD and eyepiece viewfinders.
Zoom - Many camcorders offer zoom capability, which lets you move in closer to a subject or magnify an area. Zoom is great for sporting events, weddings, nature, and other situations where you're far away from your subject. Camcorders use two technologies for zoom:
Optical Zoom - Optical zoom physically increases the length of the lens, essentially creating a magnifying glass. It produces a higher-quality image than a digital zoom, but you usually won't find it at a higher power than about 42x. When comparing camcorders, you should concentrate on the optical zoom figure, which is usually 10x or above. The greater the optical zoom, the more you can enlarge your subject without sacrificing picture quality.
Digital Zoom - Many camcorders also have a digital zoom, which takes a portion of the image and enlarges it electronically. You often see very powerful digital zooms that can magnify 150, 200, and 300 times. While these high-powered zooms are useful in some situations, the image they produce at high magnifications can be degraded, since they basically enlarge the same set of pixels without adding detail. They simply crop the edge of the image and fit the remaining picture into the same space to give the appearance of zoom.
Power Source - Most camcorders run on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which lasts one to two hours. They usually include a recharger (which often acts as the AC adapter as well) or the camcorder itself can recharge the batteries. Camcorders also come with an AC adapter, handy for limited-range indoor recording and for playback. Some models also have car adapters you can purchase separately.
Light - While most camcorders do a good job of recording in low-light
conditions (inside a house, overcast days), you will encounter situations
where the available light isn't enough to get a good image. Many camcorders
come with a light built in for these situations--most often the light
can be set to automatically come on when the natural lighting is too low.
Some camcorders also have connections for snap-on external lights.
Image Stabilization - Many camcorders have a handy feature called image stabilization that helps correct for camera shake. Recording while walking, using a powerful zoom, or recording a fast-moving subject all can lead to shaky images that make viewers dizzy. Image stabilization detects camera shake and helps steady the image. You can get electronic, digital, or optical image stabilization. Electronic image stabilization adjusts electronically for shaking, while digital image stabilization also senses when you pan or tilt the camera and doesn't overcompensate. Optical image stabilization uses a set of lenses to adjust for unwanted motion; usually only high-end or professional camcorders use optical image stabilization because it is expensive and can add to the bulk and weight.
Face Detection - Some newer camcorder models are including this function that is found in most digital cameras. Face Detection automatically recognizes a subject's face in the scene and adjusts focus, exposure, and color levels to the correct brightness level. This feature also helps make skin tones appear natural without affecting other colors. Face Detection is beneficial in dim or backlit scenes.
Microphone - Most camcorders have a built-in microphone; often the microphone is recessed to decrease wind noise. These built-in microphones are usually more than adequate for home recording needs, but if you're doing a lot of semi-professional recording, many higher-end camcorders also provide connection capability for a separate external microphone.
Exposure Modes - Camcorders usually automatically sense the correct exposure during the recording; some also have special settings you can use in certain situations. These can include backlight compensation (for dark subjects against bright backgrounds), fast shutter speed (for sports or other fast-action events), and other exposure modes that compensate for glare, low lighting, spot lighting, dusk, and night lighting. Many also include the option to manually adjust the exposure and focus.
Special Effects Many camcorders now offer special effects that could be done only by a professional with expensive equipment. Some camcorders let you fade out at the end of a scene (and fade back in at the beginning). Some give you a whole range of fade options, including fade to black, white, or another color choice; wipe the screen; close and open on the screen like a shutter; fade to a blurred mosaic, and more. Some camcorders also let you record in special video modes, including effects such as sepia, black and white, negative, and solarized (an effect that makes everything look a bit like an oil painting) and record in slow-motion for an artistic or serious effect.
Still Image Capability - All digital camcorders function as digital cameras as well, letting you take a large number of still shots on separate memory cards. These still shots can be downloaded, edited, and printed from a computer.
Motion or Audio Sensing - A few camcorders also offer security recording: they use a motion or audio detector to trigger recording.