Consideration of Choosing a Camcorder

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When choosing a camcorder, the range of features can be confusing. Actually, there are key features that differentiate one camcorder from another. The following is a consideration on the major distinguishing features of a camcorder.

Price

With camcorders, VHS, VHS-C and 8mm formats generally have lower prices than S-VHS, Hi-8 and Digital formats. However, when a model becomes older, its price drops, and more and more manufacturers are making higher resolution camcorders and selling them at lower prices. Price range is from $300 to $5,000. Most of the camcorders fall within $400 to $1000 with an average price of $500.

Format

Camcorders can be in different formats, which indicate the type of tape that the camcorder uses, and the method of recording the information. The key differences among camcorders are their compatibility with a VCR (whether you can play the tape directly in the VCR, or have to play it by hooking the camcorder up to the television), maximum recording time, and picture resolution (measured in horizontal lines). Available formats are VHS, VHS-C, S-VHS, 8mm, Hi-8, MiniDV, Digital8, and MiniDisc. Here is a list of the current formats and their features:

  • VHS
    • Records directly onto a VHS tape, which means it can be played in the VCR with no adapters.
    • One tape holds about 2 hours.
    • Lower resolution (250 lines)
  • VHS-C
    • Records onto a compact VHS tape which can be played in your VCR with an adapter.
    • One tape holds 40 minutes.
    • Resolution is the same as VHS, about 250 lines.
  • S-VHS
    • Records onto S-VHS tapes, which are playable only with the camcorder or an S-VHS VCR.
    • One tape holds 2 hours.
    • Resolution jumps from the VHS standard of 250 lines to around 400 lines.
  • 8mm
    • Records onto 8mm tapes, which are smaller than VHS, but can only be played with the camcorder.
    • One tape holds up to 5 hours.
    • Resolution is about 270 lines.
  • Hi-8
    • Records onto 8mm tapes, which aren’t compatible with a VHS VCR.
    • One tape holds up to 5 hours.
    • Hi-8s improve on the 8mm format, increasing the resolution to around 400 lines.
  • Mini-DV
    • Records images digitally, with a very clear picture and no reduction in picture quality with copying.
    • Uses tiny mini-DV cassettes, which must be played back through the camcorder onto the television.
    • Recording time can vary from from 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
    • MiniDV camcorders have the highest resolution of all the camcorders, at about 500 lines.
  • Digital 8
    • Records images digitally with a very clear picture and no reduction in picture quality with copying.
    • Records on 8mm cassettes instead of mini-DV (these are cheaper, and any 8mm recording will play on the camcorder).
    • One tape holds about 2 1/2 hours.
    • Resolution is around 500 lines.
  • Mini-Disc
    • Records images digitally with a very clear picture and no reduction in picture quality with copying.
    • Records onto minidiscs, which allows for easy editing and minidisc sound quality.
    • One minidisc holds about 20 minutes of digital video.
    • Resolution is around 500 lines.

(Vaughan, 1998; What’s the best camcorder? [on-line])

Image Stabilization

This feature steadies the video and so that the shakiness which is common with hand-held camcorders is mostly eliminated. It can be done digitally or with the optical lenses. Manufacturers have different terms for this feature, such as Electronic Image Stabilizer (EIS) or Steady Shot. Horizontal Resolution

The maximum number of vertical lines counted horizontally across the screen. The higher the resolution, the better the picture.

LCD Monitor

The Liquid Crystal Display monitor can be used as a viewfinder or playback screen. It comes in a range of sizes, and is often put on a swivel so that it can be turned around for different viewing angles.

Optical Zoom

This allows the viewer to focus in on far away objects with the touch of a button. An optical zoom rated at 16X means that the camcorder can magnify the image up to 16 times larger than normal. There are two types of zoom, optical and digital. All cameras have optical zooms and most have digital. Optical zooms range from 10 up to 26X magnification, while digital zooms can be over 300X. An optical zoom uses the actual lens to magnify the image, whereas a digital zoom uses
computer imaging to magnify the image. Although, digital zooms can go much farther than optical, they sacrifice quality as they are only computer approximations of the image, rather than the actual image (Active Buyer’s Guide [on-line]).

Size

Camcorders have gotten progressively more compact, and today’s models are the smallest yet. In general, VHS camcorders are the largest and heaviest, with S-VHS camcorders a bit smaller. The VHS-C is much more compact, but generally not as lightweight as the 8mm or Hi-8 camcorders. Digitals are the smallest ones on the market; in fact some of them are even small enough to fit in a pocket. These are general guidelines, however, there are some amazingly small
8mm camcorders and larger digital camcorders packed with features. Keep in mind that the more compact camcorders often come with a higher price tag (What’s the best camcorder? [on-line]).

Color Viewfinder

This is a great feature, especially for those who don’t have an LCD monitor. A color viewfinder allows you to check the balance of colors, and see whether the settings need any adjustment.