Buying a digital video camera, often interchangeably called a digital camcorder, is easier than ever. Technology has shrunk quality digital camcorders down to palm-size and optics and recording technology, whether mini-DV tapes, DVD disc or an onboard hard drive, is easy to use.
Other than price, the decision factors are fairly easy to master, and a digital camcorder bought today will likely be technologically current for years to come.
Covered in this guide:
1. What to look for in a digital video camera
2. Buying a consumer model camcorder
3. When to consider a 'prosumer' digital camcorder
4. Learning more about digital video and camcorders
Understanding digital camcorder basicsThe important differences are video format, the size of the LCD-screen viewfinder, maximum optical zoom and weight of the camera. Look to buy digital rather than outdated analog technology. Get an LCD that's big enough to comfortably view at arm's length, and focus on optical, not digital, zoom.
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Decide first what your camcorder will do for youThe vast majority of camcorder buyers simply want to shoot home movies they can play back easily on a television. If that's you, then your choices are pretty easy: Buy a consumer model camcorder in either mini-DV or tapeless format and get shooting.
Want more than a standard video camera? Go prosumerIf you expect to shoot video for editing and professional use, a higher-end camera can be had for about twice the money as a consumer model and can accomodate different lenses as well as carry a stronger battery pack and capture high-quality audio.
Learn more about digital video camerasA good way to get in slowly is by reading up in the enthusiast press. Camcorder owners tend to be a bit obsessive about small details, and their insights can help you choose your camcorder.
- Digital zoom is a software trick, not true zoom, and results in lower quality images. Rather than focus the lens physically, bringing distant subjects closer, digital zoom blows up a small part of the existing image, distorting it.
- Go down to the electronics store and ask the salesperson to put the one you are considering in your hand. Are the buttons too small or unclear? Is the LCD as clear and bright as you'd like? Usability is a factor you cannot determine by looking at Web sites.
- It's less crucial, but some camcorders are wireless video cameras. A remote control can be helpful if you expect to be in the shot, but it's a nice-to-have more than a dealbreaker.