A Beginners Guide to Digital Camcorders

By: Alicia Taylor

Digital camcorders record information in electronic, or digital, form, to a range of digital storage media, including tape, DVD and hard disk.

Key Features

Popular recording formats for digital video, nowadays, include Mini DV tape, Mini DVD and hard disk drive (HDD) storage, akin to that used in computing technology. Mini DV tape is becoming scarcer, but, nevertheless, still provides arguably the highest video quality, and easiest editing. Mini DVD camcorders record to special DVD disks, 8cm in diameter, which are compatible with many, but not all, domestic DVD players. Mini DVD files are more difficult to edit than those recorded to Mini DV. Hard disk drive digital camcorders may allow up to 7 hours, or more, of highest quality video to be recorded, and files can be manipulated, and deleted, in the same way as they are on a computer.

The performance of a camcorder in low levels of light is often what sets a good model apart from a lesser model. This performance is determined by the size, and other characteristics, of an image sensor, known as a CCD ("Charge Coupled Device"), or CMOS ("Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor"). The larger the image sensor, the more light that can be admitted, and the brighter and more colourful the resulting image(s). Consumer camcorders normally contain a CCD between 1/6 and 1/3 of an inch in size. The Mustek 8200 model, for example, offers a 3.0 mega pixel CMOS sensor, and a maximum resolution of 8.0 mega pixels.

When it come to actually shooting video footage, a large, integrated LCD ("Liquid Crystal Display") screen can make it easier to see what you are recording, particularly in situation where using the viewfinder if difficult, or impracticable. An LCD screen can also be used to play back video footage, once it has been recorded. Most LCD screens are around 2.5 inches, measured diagonally, although screens as large as 3.5 inches are available. A larger screen inevitably means a larger camcorder, and probably a higher price tag, too. The Mustek DV535A model, for example, features a 2.4 inch TFT LCD screen.

The size and weight of a digital camcorder determine how easy it is to carry around - and, therefore, possibly, how often you take it with you, and use it - and how easy it is to physically operate. The emphasis on smaller and smaller camcorders means that price may, in fact, be inversely proportionate to size, despite tiny camcorders having fewer features and less accessible controls.

Conclusion

Specifications can be useful in helping to narrow down your choice of digital camcorder to a manageable number, based on your available budget, but there really is no substitute for physically getting your hands on your chosen camcorder. This allows you, for example, to feel the weight of the camcorder, and to check that its controls are large enough for your fingers. Bear in mind, too, that unless you intend to use a tripod, some form of image stabilisation - digital, or better still, optical - will probably be required.

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