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by tgodsey

Buying A Video Camera: Formats and Options

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What Do You Want to Record?

There is big difference between a camera used to film Aunt Wilma's Thanksgiving Feast and the one used to shoot Braveheart.  Take a minute to figure out what you want capture. Ultimately, you need to ask yourself how often you intend to use it and for what occasions.

woman with a video camera
woman with a video camera

Choose a Format

There are 4 main formats for recording data on your camcorder.  They each have their pros and cons.

• MiniDV- This is the oldest of the formats.  Uses small tapes that cost about $3-5.  Can be downloaded directly to your computer in a digital format that can be edited with most editing softwares. 

• Flash Memory- Uses an internal memory card.  This impacts a camcorders size and increases portability and convenience.  Recording time varies.  SD cards can also be added to increase memory, while editing and uploading to your computer or website can be done with relative ease.

• DVD- Can be a standard DVD disc or a mini-DVD.  These are often useful for making quick movies, but limit your editing capabilities.  Size of memory is often an issue, with each disc capable of 30-45 minutes of recording.

• Hard Drive- Some camcorders come with large hard drives built in, and enable the user to record for longer periods of 5-7 hours, while also minimizing the need to purchase additional accessories like DVD, SD cards, and cassettes.  Can be directly uploaded to your computer and edited easily. 

Options

Take note of other features and options that may or may not fit your needs.

 Optical vs. Digital Zoom
Most cameras have zoom capabilities that will range in their strength.  This ultimately is a question of quality.  Digital zoom capabilities DO NOT actually zoom closer to an object, rather they magnify the current image using pixels, which when you zoom in closely will result in pixelated (tiny squares) images. 

*Optical lenses are a little more expensive, but well worth the extra penny

 Image Stabilization: This helps minimize the effects of hands shaking when recording. Most cameras have this feature, although some are better than others.  Ask a sales rep at your local electronics store to let you compare this feature by holding up 2 cameras at once and seeing how they differ.  Optical image stabilization is preferred over digital image stabilization.

 Megapixels: If you intend on using your camcorder for both picture taking and video, it is recommended that you think twice before doing so.  Still shots are often of poor quality and resolution when taken from a camcorder.  Thus, megapixel size really doesn't matter a whole lot.  Use a designated camera for still shots instead.

• CCD's- Charged Coupled Devices impact the color quality of your camera.  The higher the better.  3CCD is going to be clearer, sharper, and smoother than 1CCD. 

 HD- HD camcorders will give you the best overall picture and sound.  This represents the highest level of quality offered.