|Ultra Compact or MiniDV: $50-$800||Hard-Disk Drive: $200-$800||High Definition: $400-$1,500+|
While many of today's cell phones incorporate the ability to record video clips, a dedicated camcorder offers far more features and superior image resolution. The popularity of tape-based camcorders has waned in recent years as consumers opt for units that record digital video (DV) to hard-disk drives or flash memory cards. Selecting the best DV camcorder depends largely on the format and definition (standard or high definition).
Related articles: Digital Camera, Video Editing Software
- An ultra compact camcorder records and stores video to flash memory card or built-in memory, in either standard definition (SD) or high definition (HD) and costs from $50 to $800. These are ideal for snatching short video clips on the go and attaching them to e-mails or posting them on social networking sites with little or no editing. Expect a single, low resolution sensor, automatic focus and exposure, and a small LCD viewscreen. The Flip Ultra costs about $125 captures up to 2 hours of VGA-quality video on a 4GB hard drive and uses a flip-out USB arm to connect to a home computer for downloading.
- A MiniDV camcorder costs from $125 to $400 for a standard definition model. These camcorders are generally easy to use and offer an inexpensive way to record and store home videos, although the waning popularity means that MiniDV tapes are harder to find. An example is the Canon ZR960 that costs about $240 and offers a 37x optical zoom, a selection of programmed autoexposure controls and a 2.7-inch widescreen LCD.
- Mini-DVD camcorders use disks instead of tapes and are most suited to general home video recording and business use. They cost from $200 to $800. SD camcorders record MPEG-2 video to a 3-inch DVD-R or DVD-RAM disc although the format is becoming obsolete as hard disk drive camcorders offer far greater recording times and negate the need to carry additional discs. The Hitachi DZHS300A DVD Hybrid combines a MiniDVD with a hard disk drive camcorder for a street price of about $400. Video can be recorded to the 8GB hard drive and then transferred to disc or recorded directly to MiniDVD.
- Hard-disk drive (HDD) camcorders record to a built-in memory, which enables long recording times and tends to make for a compact design. The downside is that they require an external hard drive or DVD burner for long-term archiving. An HDD camcorder that records in SD costs from about $200 to $800. An example is the Sony DCR-SR67 , that records directly to a 80GB hard disk drive (enough to store up to 84 hours of video) or to removable memory stick and costs about $400.
- High definition camcorders still sell for a premium over standard definition models and while the image quality is superior, it can still present some compatibility problems. HD mini-DVD camcorders, for example, record AVCHD format (a high definition format) to Blu-ray disc, which then play seamlessly in compatible players. However, the AVCHD format is not the most convenient format for downloading to a computer or the most widely compatible format for sharing with friends. HD camcorders for general home or business use cost from $400 to $1,500. The JVC Everio GZ-HD 320B records to a 120GB hard disk drive, enough to store 50 hours of full HD 1080i video. It features a 1/4.1-inch 3.05MP CMOS sensor (a newer alternative to a CCD imager), exports video directly to iTunes and retails for about $660.
- Independent filmmakers will want to look at high-definition camcorders that record to HDV cassettes or hard disk drives. These cost from $1,500 to $4,000 and are aimed at serious amateurs looking for options such as interchangeable lenses and a three-chip sensor -- instead of the standard one -- which provides better color and higher video quality. The Sony HDR-FX7 is available for about $2,000 and captures 1080i HDV to tape and 1.2MP stills to memory stick. It also features three CMOS sensors, a 20x optical zoom and Carl Zeiss pro-grade lens.
What should be included:|
- Camcorders should come with at least one battery, a charger and all the basic cables for connecting the camera to a television or computer.
- Most camcorders also offer the ability to snap digital stills, although few deliver images of the same quality as a dedicated digital stills camera. See How Much Does a Digital Camera Cost for more information.
- A bag will protect a camcorder; these cost from about $10 to $500.
- Tripods cost from less than $10 to several hundred dollars for professional grade equipment.
- Purchase in bulk and MiniDV tapes cost from about $3 each; MiniDVD-R disc costs about $1 each.
- Additional memory cards can cost $30 to $100 depending on the format and capacity. Be sure to purchase the right kind of memory card (SD, MemoryPro, etc.).
- While most camcorders come with basic software, advanced video editing software ranges from about $50 to $2,000. See How Much Does Video Editing Software Cost.
Shopping for a camcorder:
- Online retailers such as Amazon sell brand-name camcorders in discounted outfits that include the camcorder and a selection of accessories such as a camera bag, filters and cleaning equipment. The price of these kits represent a discount over buying the items separately but make sure every piece in the outfit is one that's needed.
- B&H Photo Video offers discounts for Federal, educator and student buyers.
- Cnet offers a camcorder buying guide.
- Find competitive prices online at sites such as Amazon then look for comparable or discounted prices at local electronics retailers such as Best Buy .
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