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Digital Camcorder Shopping Guide

Digital Camcorder Usage

With dozens of camcorder brands on the market and a wealth of models to choose from, shopping for a quality and affordable price digital camcorder can be a frustrating experience.

Fortunately, Dealio is here to help you eliminate much of the frustration by understanding which features are the most important to you. The guide will also help you make digital camcorder price comparisons once you've found a model you are interested in.

Digital Camcorder Usage

It's important to determine the ways in which you plan on using your video camera. If you identify how you are going to use the camcorder first, you'll be better able to understand which features you need so you can quickly and efficiently choose the best model to fit your needs.

(1) Outdoor Filming (family vacations, trips, outings, etc.)

  • Superior picture quality
  • Automatic control
  • Function (comfortable to hold and handle)
  • LCD playback
  • Media: Tape or DVD
  • Warranty

(2) Indoor Filming (weddings, trade shows, conferences, etc.)

  • Superior picture quality
  • Low light performance
  • Media: Tape or DVD
  • Automatic and manual control
  • Function (comfortable to hold and handle)
  • LCD playback
  • Superior audio
  • Tripod
  • Warranty

(3) Sports Filming (motor sports, soccer, football, etc.)

  • Superior picture quality
  • Low light performance
  • Media: Tape or DVD
  • Function (comfortable to hold and handle)
  • Automatic and manual control
  • Zoom
  • Warranty

(4) Business Videos (projects, professional presentations, instructional videos, etc.)

  • Superior picture quality
  • Media: Tape or DVD
  • Manual control
  • Superior audio
  • Tripod
  • Warranty

(5) Filmmaking (documentaries, amateur film, etc.)

  • Superior picture quality
  • Media: Tape or DVD
  • Manual control
  • Superior audio
  • Widescreen
  • Tripod
  • Warranty

Features of Digital Camcorders

(1) Picture quality

One of the most important factors to weigh when you're purchasing a digital camcorder is picture quality. Interestingly enough, the differences between brands and models can be extreme; some provide excellent picture quality and vibrant colors, while other brands and models offer picture quality that takes on a certain hue, often leaving certain colors dull and boring. Because picture quality cannot be easily tested in a store environment, your best bet is to research models that other people have reviewed and left favorable picture quality ratings.

(2) Manual vs. Automatic Control

(a) Manual Control: In general, manual control gives you complete control over your camcorder's focus, aperture, and shutter speed, so you can take the best quality videos possible. Unfortunately, this feature is difficult to operate well and does require experience.

(b) Automatic Control: A camcorder with automatic control allows you to simply "point and shoot" objects without having to make manual adjustments to optimize the picture. Unfortunately, the differences between brands and models can be extreme when talking about the quality of a camcorder's automatic control.

(3) Tripod

Most people don't want to carry a tripod around with them for the sake of improving home videos, but in applications where stability is critical (weddings, presentations, etc.), you will need a tripod to ensure that you capture quality video and professional pictures. Most tripods are sold separately from a digital camcorder.

(4) Low Light Performance

If you're going to be shooting indoors, it's absolutely essential that your camcorder has quality low light performance. Even in indoor conditions where the light conditions appear bright, your camcorder may not agree and the picture is likely to turn out dark. The only way to know if a camcorder has good low light performance is to check consumer reviews or test out a friend's in different types of lighting.

(5) Function

If the camcorder is comfortable to hold and handle, the controls are easily accessible, and you feel good with it in your hands, you'll have better quality videos. If the camcorder is awkward or you can't access the controls very easily, it will almost certainly sacrifice your video's quality.

(6) Media type: Tape, Flash, DVD

In general, digital camcorders have three different video formats:

Tape: Most of today's camcorders record to digital videotape, which is the most commonly used format.

Flash: Very few camcorders on the market do not utilize a tape or DVD mechanism. Instead, they record video to a flash media card. There are only a few types of cameras that utilize this method and they are catching on relatively slowly.

DVD: DVD recording camcorders have become increasingly popular and utilize a DVD recording device that records video directly to a DVD disk. There are three different formats of DVD that camcorders utilize, two of which accommodate in-camera editing (DVD-RW and DVD-RAM). However, DVD-R format does not accommodate in-camera editing.

(7) Zoom

Most digital camcorders have both optical and digital zoom lenses. In general, the optical zoom is the more desirable setting, because it allows you to zoom in on objects without sacrificing the detail that you would with a digital zoom. Digital zooms are different, because they enlarge the pixels of your object and thus sacrifice the video quality. In reality, there is little benefit to using a digital zoom - the more you zoom in on an object, the poorer the quality your video will be.

(8) Audio

Audio settings are generally the same for all camcorders, so there is not much you can gain between brands and models. If your video applications require superior audio quality, look for specific options that help you improve audio performance. Such options include manual audio control, which allows you to adjust the audio level of the microphone's channels. This feature would be important if you were recording a concert where the noise varied from loud to soft. Another feature to consider is the ability for the camcorder to except a microphone, so look for a microphone in-jack if superior audio quality is important to you and make digital camcorder price comparisons accordingly.

(9) Widescreen

The best digital camcorders usually come with a 'widescreen mode', which allows you to convert your videos to a 16:9 aspect ratio. This gives your videos on the television the same effect as some motion pictures (appearing with black bars on the top and bottom of your screen, with the video being displayed in the middle). This mode of view is simply a preference - some people prefer the video to take up the full screen, while others prefer seeing the video with black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. The most important thing to remember is this; if the camcorder offers widescreen mode, you can film your video in either format.

(10) Playback

All camcorders can playback video, either through the viewfinder or through an LCD screen that usually extends from the camcorder body. Any camcorder that offers an LCD screen is a plus, because it allows you to preview your video with others (instead of having to squint and look through the viewfinder). Some LCD screens and viewfinders, however, offer better playback quality than others. If this feature is important to you, look at the pixel count (usually given in the thousands, like 150K) offered by the manufacturer, and choose the camcorder with the highest pixel count.

(11) Warranty

Even the best digital camcorders are prone to breaking. If you have the option to purchase a warranty for your camcorder, we recommend that you do it. Don't believe us? Just think about all of the different ways you can damage your camcorder, and you'll begin to realize that the likelihood is high that you actually do. Warranties help protect you from this are worth the added cost.