Digital video camcorders have made shooting and editing a movie a simple affair for many. A decade back, one had very limited options, not so anymore! You head to buy one and you find the counters are flooded with various models of digital camcorders from different manufacturers, each with an array of features and formats. Now comes the most difficult part: choosing the best camcorder one that rightly fits your purpose and budget.
The following sections are intended to guide you through the maze of camcorder models and help you select the best camcorder that suits you the most.
Of the two types, analog camcorders and digital camcorders , digital camcorders are a rage today. The analog camcorders are too cumbersome, complicated and heavy to handle. Hence these analog models are fast getting replaced. It is unlikely that the best camcorder which fits your need will be an analog one.
A camcorder with a digital camera is a digital camcorder and the ones with DVD facility is a DVD camcorder. Recording the information digitally on to a tape or DVD or hard disk and repeatedly playing them without any loss in quality are the major plus points of digital camcorders. They produce excellent quality, color and clarity of the video with 500 lines of resolution making the option of shooting videos with digicams irresistible.
Let's have a glance at the key camcorder features. This will help you understand, which of them you would actually serve your purpose.
Bigger the screen size of the camcorder, the more you can see of what you are recording. At the same time it will draw more battery power too. If you intend shooting frequently in bright sunlight, an additional feature the viewfinder will be very helpful and power saving too. There are various models with different panel sizes. You can have a look at the various camcorder models in these sizes:
1.8 to 2.4 in.
2.4 to 2.7 in.
2.7 to 3 in.
3 to 3.5 in.
There are two distinct zoom capabilities digital and optical zooms and the best camcorders have both.
Digital zoom enlarges the image i.e. it magnifies the actual pixels to achieve the maximum zoom. The final image is thus grainy in certain sections and lack clear definition. This blurring of picture due to enlargement of pixels is called pixelation . Most camcorders have the option to turn it off. It is not a very quality feature and you can afford to ignore it when purchasing a camcorder. A high digital zoom rating is impressive in figures but the images recorded are virtually useless.
Optical zooms use physical movement of lens mechanism. The focal length of the lens is changed and the entire image that passes through the lens is captured with optical zoom. Thus it is more preferred in camcorders. Higher optical zoom rating gives better image quality.
Many recording formats are available for camcorders. Each type of cassette or disc records video using a particular standard. Some of the commonly used formats are mentioned below:
MiniDV- MiniDV cassettes are the most commonly used. The video and sound quality is exceptionally good. These are mostly integrated in mid-range and high range models. The best MiniDV camcorders are small, sleek and stylish owing to the small size of MiniDV cassettes.
DVD- The three types of DVD formats are: DVD-R, DVD-RW, and DVD-RAM. With DVD camcorder you can record video directly to a DVD-R and DVD-RW. With DVD-RAM camcorders in-camera editing is possible. DVD camcorders are expensive, but the associated advantage is that even with repeated playbacks the disc doesn't degrade.
Flash Media- You can record digital stills to the Flash Media card just as it is done in digital cameras. Very few camcorder models record video to a flash media card. The various Flash Media cards used by the various manufacturers are: SD, Compact Flash, Memory Stick and Memory Stick Duo
HDD- HDD camcorders are compact and record in MPEG-2 encoded video and also in other encoded formats too. Huge amounts of video data can be stored using compression techniques. The video is saved to an internal hard disc, the data has to be downloaded to a computer, and then burnt in to a DVD; the camcorder is then ready for reuse. HDD camcorders have no moving parts, hence the recording is free of motor noise and there is less chance of mechanical breakdown.
HDV-High Definition Video- The images are recorded to MiniDV tapes and deliver 1080i resolution. The sharp, clear video looks great on 1080i capable HDTV. In case you are editing HD video the prerequisites are the computer must have a fast processor, plenty of memory to meet the requirements of video editing software.
Digital 8- The Digital 8 camcorders record digital video on to Hi-8 video tapes. These camcorders can playback analog video tapes recorded on Hi-8 camcorders. The picture quality is very good and can be viewed on your television.
Micro MV- MicroMV camcorders use tapes that are much smaller than MiniDV tapes and use a compression technology. The digital video is compressed much more than a MiniDV camcorder. The MicroMV camcorders record high quality video and are equipped with full digital editing capability. These are ultra compact, light weight and amazingly small size that can fit in your palm. And they sure do come with heftier price tags.
For shooting a good video, you need to hold the camcorder steady and it should be jerk free. The best camcorders have in built stabilization techniques which rectify errors caused due to jerks while shooting. The two types of stabilization techniques are Optical method and the Electronic method.
In the Electronic image stabilization technique the camcorder's 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.
In the Optical image stabilization technique, a part of the lens is moved in the camcorder to compensate for the shake. This technique is superior to electronic method.
The best way to get a stable video shoot would be to use camcorder with tripod.
A small compact camcorder is convenient to carry no doubt but check out whether it is convenient for you to handle the controls too. Don't compromise on usability. If you are able to see and operate all the main controls with less hassle, it will be easy for you to get the desired pictures.
The LCD monitor of camcorders consumes huge amounts of power. So to keep the camcorder going when you are recording those crucial moments high capacity batteries are recommended. Rechargeable batteries are the best options. The most common ones used are NiCd and Lithium ion batteries. Of the two, Lithium ion batteries are preferred as they can be charged quickly and they are lighter than others. Lithium ion batteries score over NiCd batteries over the fact that they do not have the memory effects that reduce the effectiveness over time. Most batteries have a life period of around six hours.
If you intend using the camcorder just for indoor shooting purposes, you will have to look for features which will make camcorders easy to handle, good stabilization, and give good performance even in low light. Look for models that will give good still performance, recording and easy VCR controls to capture family events.
Outdoor events and Vacations
Select compact and lightweight camcorder models, which have long battery life and also good viewfinder to shoot in bright sunlight. It would be ideal if the camcorders have large zoom, manual controls, audio options and preferably a tripod. For use on tripod models which load its media from side or top would be ideal rather than the ones which load from bottom. If you are recording sport events fast shutter speed would be an ideal added feature.
Professional Photographers and Filmmakers
Easy manual control buttons, audio options like good sound quality and microphones and large zoom features are a must. Select models with widescreen, onboard flash and special effect features. If you intend taking plenty of still photos look for good still resolution, quality and playback options to check the shots taken.
Cost Factor while buying Camcorders
The low priced ones are of older technology. It is easy to record and also play them back. You get reasonably good results. Various manufacturers are in the fray with these digital camcorders. If shooting videos is your new passion low cost ones are ideal to get the hang of it.
For editing the recordings, adding sound tracks and effects the camcorders are priced more. The models in this mid range come with better features, more manual options and are also capable of taking good resolution still images. Check out some of the models in this range:
High priced camcorders needn't always mean they are best suited to your needs. They are the latest in the market with a newly added feature and only few companies have monopoly over this latest technology. So before you invest in one check out how best the camcorder is suited to your needs. If you are looking for quality with high resolution and flexible digital editing capabilities spend more. With more money you are going to get more features and thus more quality videos.
If you have fixed the budget take a good look at the ratings of various models of different brands in that range. Study the full reviews of the camcorder models and the key specifications; these are helpful to make the final choice.