Camcorders buying guide

Camcorders

Whether you want to capture a memorable event, add sound to your holiday snaps or just create home movies, a camcorder is a good investment. These days digital technology has completely revolutionised filming techniques.

This guide explains the different types of camcorder, so you can decide which type is the best one for you.

Types of camcorder

  • Mini DV camcorders: Mini DV camcorders give you excellent video quality and good value for money by using inexpensive mini video tapes. These are basically small video cassettes on which you can store up to an hour of material. They can be played back relatively easily on your TV, and are computer compatible. An optical zoom feature is often also available.
  • DVD camcorders: DVD camcorders record directly to DVD, so the footage can be played on a standard DVD player immediately. You can also record over the same DVD as many times as you like, or preserve a movie forever, depending on which type of DVD you use.
  • SD camcorders: SD camcorders (Secure Digital) record onto a memory card format, which is both lighter and smaller than most compact flash cameras and is fast becoming the standard. SD cards are extremely compact in size. The amount which can be recorded varies; larger capacity memory cards mean longer recording times.
  • HDD camcorders: HDD Camcorders work rather differently to most other types. Instead of using DVDs or SD cards, information is stored on a small, internal hard drive, similar to that in computers. This means much more memory is available; HDD camcorders can record in excess of 12 hours video footage. Content can also be transferred to a computer for editing and viewing.

Additional features

When deciding what to buy it is helpful to know about some of the many features built into camcorders, and to understand some common technical terms. Below is a guide to some of the basics:

  • Digital and optical zoom: although all camcorders provide a zoom function, the difference between digital and optical zoom is considerable. Digital zoom enlarges the centre of an image, but can cause a drop in clarity as only part of the image is being enlarged. Optical zoom uses a lens, meaning it magnifies without the loss of picture quality.
  • Digital still: a digital still photography function offers the option of taking photos as well as movies, effectively giving you a camcorder and camera in the same unit.
  • Format and screen size: different camcorders will film in different ways; many have several options. What you choose will depend on the technology you have, and the type of film you are looking to make. If you want the benefit of a full cinematic experience, it is worth finding a camcorder which films in widescreen. Some models will even film in High Definition (HD). An LCD screen is handy if you are planning to watch movies via your camcorder itself. It's also worth noting that larger screens generally make it easier to access menu and other functions within the camcorder. A widescreen setting makes your home videos more like a cinema movie.
  • Light and sound: one advantage of digital camcorders is that you don't have to fiddle about with lighting to maximise the effect of filming. Digital camcorders have a number of automatic modes, meaning they will adjust to the scene as appropriate. They also include the ability to record in stereo. Some are even capable of recording in Dolby Surround Sound, to give you an authentic cinematic experience.
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