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Digital Camcorder Buyer’s Guide

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography
 
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Do you want to capture precious moments of your loved ones? Maybe you want to pursue movie making as a hobby in the hope that one day you might get into the big league? If the answer is yes, go ahead and buy yourself a Digital Camcorder. Before you do, however, read this tip to get insight on what to look for in a Digital Camcorder. Since the prices of Digital Camcorders vary from $200 to over $3000, this guide will help you decide on what to look for.

So, how do you go about buying a Digital Camcorder?
Let’s start by first asking questions.

How do you intend to use the Digital Camcorder?

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Some Digital Camcorders have basic features, while others have a variety of high-end features. Usually, the features of the Digital Camcorder drive up the price. The features you need in the Digital Camcorder are dependent on the type of videos you intend to capture. For example, if you are an expectant parent, then you would probably not want fancy features because you wouldn’t actually make use of them. Alternatively, if you are an aspiring filmmaker working out of your mother’s garage, a camcorder with a range of features would be more desirable.

What recording format and media to opt for?

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After you’ve decided on the use, look for the most suitable recording format and media. Digital Camcorders can record videos in various formats, such as mini-DVD, DVD, Hard Drive, or Flash Memory card. Each format has pros and cons. In addition, the format and media chosen would impact the price. For example, a Digital Camcorder that records videos on a hard drive will be less expensive than one that stores the recorded video in a SD/SDHC (flash) card. Weigh the pros and cons of each format before deciding on it. Here are some pros and cons of each format:

- Mini-DV Tapes: Each tape records about 75 minutes of footage. The tapes are easy to archive and cheap ($3). On the lop side, transferring the video from Mini-DV tapes is a time-consuming process and accessing recorded footage needs to be done linearly.

- DVD/Mini-DVD: Great for people who want to record and pop the DVD into a player for instant viewing. Each DVD will hold about 20 minutes of footage.

- Hard Drive: Storage is dictated by the Hard Disk capacity. This media is excellent for transferring files on the computer for editing. The downside of this media is that archiving is not as easy and in Mini-DV tapes and Mini-DVDs and Hard Disks are inherently prone to wear and tear. Hence, Flash Storage was developed.

- Flash Storage: Digital Camcorders that use Flash Storage are usually small in size. This is an excellent medium for transferring footage to your computer for editing. All you have to do is pop-out the Flash Card. It is also the most expensive form of storage. However, the rates of Flash Cards have shown a steep decline.

How important is the lens?

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The lens of a Digital Camcorder dictates several things. Key features to watch for are: Zoom and Wide Angle:

- Zoom: Optical Zoom is important, while Digital Zoom is a waste of money. Look for a camcorder with at least a 10x Optical Zoom.

- Wide Angle: This is important for close-up shots. It determines how far you need to be to capture the subject of the video. Wide Angle is not necessary for generic video footage, such as when you record a video of you child’s first steps.

Note: Unlike Digital Cameras, Digital Camcorders are affected by the mega pixels, it is the sensor (s) within the camcorder that matter. These sensors give the captured footage depth. Look for a 3CCD camcorder for good results.

How important is the screen?

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The screen determines what you see while shooting a video. You will also need it for real-time playback of your recorded footage. The typically the larger the screen, the better it is for you. However, size is not all that matters. Test the camcorder in sunlight because some screens are not clear in bright sunlight.

What is Image Stabilization?

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Image stabilization is the feature that helps you create videos that aren’t jittery. Jitter is a key factor when zooming into objects because the jitter will also be magnified. If you don’t have a tripod, then you need a camera that has image stabilization. There are two types of image stabilization, Digital and Optical. Digital image stabilization is cheaper while Optical is quite a bit more expensive. Regardless of the type of footage you intend to take, optical image stabilization is best, that is, if you can afford it!

What is Low Light Performance?

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As the name implies, this is the ability of a Digital Camcorder to shoot video in low light. Unfortunately, this technology has not developed enough to give quality output in low light conditions. Nevertheless, you should test your camera in low light to see the quality. This is especially useful for people recording travel experiences or camping trips.

What additional features should you consider?

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Like I said earlier, there is a lot more to Digital Camcorders than simply displaying images. For example, they can be used for a variety of other actions, such as:

- Microphone: Spend and extra $50 to get a decent external microphone.

- Long-Life Battery: The battery of a camcorder is critical to shooting footage for long durations. This does not matter for taking family shots. However, it does matter for people recording travel experiences.

- Tripod: It is quite common for home-made videos to be jittery because the hand of the person taking the shot is not stable enough. A tripod is very useful in such cases.

- High Definition: Recently, Digital Camcorders that can record in High-Definition have been launched. They are getting increasingly popular, but are also substantially more expensive. Only opt for one if you have the spare change.

Does brand really matter?

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Brands give a sense of credibility and security to a product. Therefore, in an ideal world, a branded product is usually better than a Digital Camcorder from a yet-to-be-established brand. Though this is usually true, it is not written in concrete that branded products are indeed better. It is best to go for a branded product if it gives value and you have heard rave reviews about it. Reviews are an excellent way to determine the quality of non-branded product too. Trust me, there are many Digital Camcorders from unheard of brands that give excellent value. They are also usually cheaper!

Are there any “great” Digital Camcorders out there?

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There are many! It all depends on how you answered the preceding questions and what your budget is. You might want to consider the following:

- JVC Everio GZ-MG365 60GB Hard Drive Camcorder with 35x Optical Zoom: Under $ 400 and has an excellent display. The prices of Digital Camcorders that use Hard Drives have dropped substantially. For a newbie, it might be best to opt for a Digital Camcorder that uses Hard Drives.

- Canon VIXIA HF S200 HD Flash Memory Camcorder with 10x Optical Zoom: Over $800 of sheer High-Definition Digital Camcorder brilliance!

~Rupen Sharma

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