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Camcorder Buying Guide
Video Cameras or Camcorders have come quite a long way since th...
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Camcorder Buying Guide

Video Cameras or Camcorders have come quite a long way since their inception, you can find them in just about every size and in quite a few portable devices in one form or another. They are an excellent way to capture and share our memories on video of special family events, news and any other things in life that you might feel you need to record for histories sake.

Camcorders are being used by most everyone of all ages to record everything and even make money from those recordings, amateur videographers are very popular and sometimes even scooping the official news reporters on news happenings. Everyone seems to have a Camcorder of one type or another in their homes, they've become very inexpensive to own and extremely easy to use that even children have them now.

When you are looking to purchase a Camcorder or even upgrade one you already have you're going to have many choices of them, there are probably tens of thousands of different ones to choose from, so which one is right for you and your needs?

When purchasing a Camcorder the first thing you need to ask yourself is what you're going to be doing with it, or basically what you need it for, the second thing is what features do you want in a Camcorder.

Types of Camcorders:

There are many, many types of Camcorders on the market today and which on you pick will depend on your needs.

Analog Camcorders are those that record video in an analog format to a tape medium, these are mostly fading away in favor of newer digital video style cameras.

DV or Digital Video Camcorders record in digital format to some sort of digital medium such as a memory card. These are by far the most popular style now as they can be quite small, inexpensive and very portable. It should be noted though that some DV cameras do record to tape as well but they are becoming obsolete in favor of faster, larger capacity storage mediums.

Recording Medium:

There are quite a few mediums that Camcorders record to, and for the most part what you pick will depend on not only your preferences and needs, but in some part your knowledge of the technical aspects of the Camcorder you'll be purchasing.

Camcorders today can record to many types of media including hard disks, flash memory and even optical discs or digital tapes.

Optical Medium:
You can purchase a camcorder today that will record directly to a DVD for you so you can just take it out and pop it into any DVD player so you can instantly watch your movies. DVD types tend to more expensive than the others, and of course you'll have to buy the blank media, so you'll have another cost on top of the camcorder.

Hard Disk Based:
Some Camcorders have built in hard disks just like you would find in your desktop computer or laptop, the type that is in camcorder is usually the same size as you'd find in a laptop. With these you are limited to the size of the hard drive inside of the camcorder as to how much you can record. Hard disk based camcorders can be expensive when compared to other types available.

Flash Memory:
Many camcorders today record to flash based memory such as an SD card or other type of flash memory card, you are limited to the size of the card, but of course you can have multiple cards and just swap them out as need be. Flash memory cards have dropped drastically in price so it is a very inexpensive and popular medium to record to, you can easily and cheaply purchase several cards and be able to record for many hours with this medium.

--There are many lower end camcorders that have built in flash based memory, these are usually very cheap and considered a disposable camera or use once type. These can be purchased at small stores and returned back to them to transfer the video to a DVD for you, the cost of transferring is usually included in the initial purchase price. Some of these use-once types of camcorders have been hacked to be used over and over again to let the user transfer their video to their own computers.

Digital Tape:
Digital tape styles of camcorders record to an actual tape cassette, they sort of resemble the VHS tapes of old but they are a fraction of the size. One main problem with this style of recording medium is the time it takes to transfer the video to your computer as it transfer in real time, so if your video is 60 minutes then it will take 60 minutes to transfer the footage over to you PC. As mentioned this style is becoming obsolete but they are still available and still being manufactured today.

With hard disk, flash based, and digital tape types of camcorders you'll have to transfer the video footage to your computer via the Firewire or USB interface and then transfer it to a DVD if you wish. This will also allow you to edit your videos and even add special effect like titles, fade-ins, fade-outs, music and more. So you will need some knowledge of how to do these things, but most camcorders come with some sort of software to help the end user with these types of things, and it's usually not that hard to do really. Keep in mind though that with Firewire and USB interfaces you'll need to make sure your computer has the correct interface, USB is not a problem as pretty much every computer comes equipped with it, but Firewire is not a standard on all computers.

What type of recording medium that is in your camcorder will ultimately depend on your uses for it, if you plan an video recording short clips or events then a flash based camcorder is all that you'll need really, but if you intend on recording for long periods of time you'll want something with a larger storage capacity for longer continuous recording capabilities.

Which Camcorder is Right for You?

Do you just need something to film family events? Then you won't need a very high end camera and you will want something that is small and portable. The types that use flash based memory are usually very small and portable and can provide very decent quality video.

What features for you need?

The type of camcorder you purchase can also depend on what features it has and those features that you need. Some cameras do very well in low-lighting conditions while other do not, so that might be something that you'll need to consider. The only way you'll know about this though is to check out reviews and other user opinions of the camera in question. Many claim to work in low light, and they do, but just not very well.

Some camcorders will come with an assist light as well, this can be in the form of an LED or standard light similar to a flash on a regular camera and some camcorders will have a space to attach an external asst light as well. So if you know you're going to be filming at some point in low light conditions you might want to take this into consideration. Speaking of low-lighting, there are some camcorders that feature infrared abilities as well for nighttime shooting.

Many camcorders today have special features included that can add effects directly to your videos, there are so many of them that it would be a waste of space to list, but some examples would be: Sepia, Mosaic, fade-ins, and much more.

The zoom on a camcorder will vary greatly between brands and styles, most include both digital and optical zoom, but both are not created equal. Digital zoom will produce pixellated and grainy images where optical will be nice and clear so you are obviously better off with higher power optical zoom, but that does come at a premium price addition. Honestly digital zoom is rather worthless, at least in my humble opinion, pay attention the optical zoom capabilities and ignore the digital.

Digital camcorders today can come with integrated still cameras as well which can be a very nice features in that you won't have to carry a separate camera to take your still photos. The problem is though that like and type of integrated device it's just not as good as a dedicated one. Yes it works, and if you don't care too much about the overall quality then you'll be more than satisfied with it, some people will buy a camcorder with still camera built in just to have the convenience of not carrying a separate still camera around with them.

As with any product, ignore the hype and do your own research, a camcorder can be advertised as the end all be all but it just isn't. Look around, talk to other people and see what features you like and need in your camcorder, then decide on a few you like and research them to figure out which is best for you and your needs.


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