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Camcorders buying guide

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Camcorders Guide - An Introduction

A camcorder, derived from the word Video Camera Recorder, is an electronic device that combines both video camera and video recorder in a single unit. While many devices, such as compact digital camera, include video recording as an additional feature, what sets a camcorder apart is that it has video capture and recording as its main function.

Ever since the invention of the first, bulky analog camcorder in 1980, camcorders have passed through series of transformations and evolved to what we know today as digital camcorders. Unlike the conventional analog camcorders that were big and heavy to carry around, modern lightweight camcorders are so small they can fit in your palm.

The working of a camcorder begins with its lens. Most Camcorders incorporate adjustable zoom lenses to focus on the target, adjustable apertures to control the exposure of the image, variable shutter speeds to control brightness and regulate motion blur, and various other settings that can be used to get that perfect shot. Many camcorders automatically tune these settings; however, some camcorders allow users to modify the settings as desired.

The lens of the digital camcorder focuses the incoming light on an array of small light sensors referred to as the imager. Each sensor has a filter over it that allows only red, blue or green light to pass through. When a light of appropriate colour falls on the sensor, the sensor becomes charged and sends a signal to the computer. The sensor then resets itself and records the next image. On average, a sensor can record up to 30 frames per second.

Now the computer fuses the red, blue and green dots together to form the final seamless image. The image is then stored on a storage device depending on its format. Modern camcorders have a transfer cable that can be used to transfer the video to the computer for storing and editing purposes. Many brands of camcorders are available such as Easypix, Crayola, Kodak, Ewa Marine and Chaumet.

Tips to consider before buying Camcorders

Considering the wide range of camcorders available, buying a camcorder can be a daunting task. However, the following tips will lighten the burden of picking the right camcorder for you.

  • When you are looking for a camcorder, the first thing that you have to base your search on is what kind of camcorder you want. For instance if you want a camcorder to record family events such as parties, and vacations, you will need something which is light and easy to carry, e.g., Video Pro Disgo camcorder . If you are someone involved in professional work, you need a camera with superior features and thus have to spend more. If you are interested in video blogging, you should get a camcorder that lets you easily upload footage to websites, for example, Sony Bloggie MHSCM5 HD a 3 megapixel camcorder
  • Different camcorders incorporate many different features, so in order to narrow down your options, you should know what you will be doing with the camcorder. When you know what kind of functions you need in your camcorder, you will know what features to look for.
  • Zoom: Zoom is one of the features that you want to consider before buying a camcorder. You will have to choose between optical and digital zoom. Optical zoom is better than digital zoom in terms of quality; however, there are many situations when a digital zoom comes in handy. You should choose your camera zoom depending on what you want to shoot with your camera.

    o If you are planning to buy a camcorder for personal use such as in parties and vacations, where you will be shooting inside a room or when you are quite close to your subjects, you should buy something between a 3 x zoom and a 10x zoom. For indoor shooting, the zoom cannot be higher than 10x zoom.
    Examples: Creative Vado a 2x camcorder, 4x zoom camcorder: Kodak ZI8 Digital a 5 megapixel, 5x zoom camcorderHitachi DZHV1074E/U and  Medion MD85544 a 8x zoom camcorder

    o If you will be shooting primarily outdoors you need a camcorder somewhere between a12x zoom and a 20x zoom. You might have to cover long distance shots, if this is the case, you will want to capture as much detail as possible. This is not possible with zooms less than 12x.

    o To capture quickly moving subjects such as in sports events you need at least a 25x zoom camcorder. You will be a long distance from the field of players, thus, you need enough zoom to shoot the game clearly. In addition, since the subjects are in constant motion and you want to capture maximum detail, you cannot go for digital zoom. Optical zoom over 25x zoom is ideal for such shots.
    Example: Xacti VPCTH1RD Sanyo a 30x zoom, GZHD300 JVC a 37x zoom, GZMS130 JVC a 35x zoom camcorder

    o If you are planning to shoot scenes such as a rainbow, which is not extremely detailed or fast moving, digital zoom is more than enough. Digital zooms are available up to 800x zoom. Camcorders between 52x zoom and 60x zoom will be good enough.

    o If you will be shooting inside auditoriums, you can choose from a wide range of camcorders from a 28x zoom to 42x zoom.

  • Resolution: The resolution of the camcorder is yet another important consideration if you are buying a camcorder. You have a wide array of camcorder resolutions starting from a 2 megapixel and going up to a 12 megapixel. Examples of camcorders with different resolutions:  Agfaphoto APDV1032 -  7 mgapixel, - Sanyo Xacti VOCCG10 SDHC -  10 megapixel camcorder
  • Depending on how you are planning to use the camcorder, you have to choose between a standard definition and High Definition. What sets a full hd camcorder apart from a standard camera is that is has more than 1 million pixels, and has a progressive scan. The resulting output is much sharper and clearer when compared to the results of standard cameras. Example: U10 Samsung a full hd 1080p, HDCTM20EBK Panasonic a 16 x zoom and DCRHC51 mini DV Sony a 40x zoom camcorder.
  • Budget is also a major consideration when buying a camcorder since you can find camcorders that are incredibly inexpensive while others might cost you a fortune. On average, camcorders are priced between £200 to over £3000. The functionality of the camcorders and the quality of the resulting output increase with budget in most cases.
  • Check the features of the camcorder thoroughly before buying; you do not want to waste your money on camcorders with features that you will not use. Features should be chosen depending on how you will be using the camcorder.

    • For personal indoor uses, your camcorder must be ergonomic with external light mount and good low-light performance.

    • For predominantly outdoor uses, your camcorder must have an excellent battery life teamed with a sleek yet durable design. It has to have excellent zooming options and resolution. Example: Outdoor ATC 5K Oregon Scientific Camcorder.

    • For recording performances in auditoriums, the camcorder has to have superior low light performance and audio options. The camcorder must incorporate good stability and zoom.

    • For Professional use, the camera must have manual controls for both video and audio, wide screen, excellent zoom and inbuilt editing options.

    When you know exactly what you are looking for in a camcorder and when you know how to balance between features and needs, you are sure to get the perfect camcorder that meets your needs.

Camcorder Formats

Digital camcorders are the prevalent camcorders today, used extensively by consumers and professionals alike. This is because, Digital camcorders overcome the many limitations of conventional cameras and are more flexible and advantageous. Digital Camcorders can be classified into four common formats as explained below.

Mini-Digital Video (DV):

This type of camcorder uses a tape cassette called Mini DV tapes that store the previously shot videos. Video editing software can be used to edit the footage after it is uploaded to a computer. This is the major advantage of Mini Dv format camcorders. The only disadvantage is that if you need to get to a particular shot you have to rewind or fast forward accordingly, you cannot quickly sift through scenes as in DVD camcorders.
Examples: Veho Muvi Micro , Mustek DV316L

Mini DVD:

Mini DVD camcorders record the footage directly onto a DVD, this DVD can be uploaded to a computer for editing or directly viewed using a DVD player, and these are the main reasons why mini DVD camcorders are preferred. Problems arise when you want to upload footage to a computer for editing. DVD camcorders record footage in an MPEG-2 format, this format is not compatible with most video editing software. There are also issues with DVD image quality and recording speed, which is slower than DV format.

Examples: Aiptek Pocket DV AHD C100  a 4 megapixel camcorderSamsung DX200 a 34x zoom camcorder.

Hard Disk Drive:

The device is built with a hard drive that can record up to 30 GB of footage. Some camcorders let you burn DVDs right from the camcorder. The technology incorporated is cutting edge and can be quite pricey since typically only HD camcorders use this technology.

Examples: Ultra II flip camcorder, Sony DCRSR57 a flip video camcorder

MPEG 4

The MPEG 4 camcorders record in MPEG 1 or MPEG 4 format, which is stored in removable SD memory cards. The footage stored in the memory card can be uploaded to a computer using a card reader. The MPEG 4 format camcorders are sleek, light in design, versatile and handy in terms of functionality. The only disadvantage is that the SD memory cards have only limited space and thus you have to keep uploading footage onto a hard drive.

Example: Canon Legri HF200 a 15x zoomVivitar DVR810 a 8x megapixel, Toshiba Camileo P30 and Rollei Movieline P3 .

Camcorder Best Buy

If you want to buy a perfect camcorder, you have take time understanding what you are looking for and doing research on the available options. Without the proper research there so many chances that you will become lost in the many varieties and brands of Camcorders available.

Do not be fooled by a camcorder promising over 800x digital zoom and spend your money on it, if you want to shoot moving subjects with detail. A digital zoom simply enlarges the many dots that make up the image and there are chances for the image to pixelate or at least loose details. Optical zoom is the ideal camcorder for detailed and high quality output, unlike the digital zoom that simply enlarges the pixels, an optical zoom actually takes your focus closer to the subject by adjusting the lenses. An optical 18x zoom will produce a result far superior than a digital 32x zoom camcorder.

Even though resolution is an important consideration, it will not have much affect on the quality of the image. A 6megapixel can produce footage which is just as good as the footage produced by 11 megapixel. In fact many of the good High Definition Camcorders have a resolution of just around 3 or 4 mega pixels.

To get the most out of your camcorder you have to team it with the best accessories possible. There is a wide range of accessories available for many different purposes such as protecting your camcorder and enhancing its functionality. For instance, when you use the Neutral density Ndx2 Filter from Hoya you can reduce the depth of field, separating the subject under focus from the background. From Archos you can find a lot of functional add-ons such as Freeloader pro solar charges, and jukebox multimedia camera modules.

To protect your camcorder from damage, you can get camcorder gloves from Kata. Camcorder cases from Samsonite not only protect your camcorder, but also make it easy to carry around.

Jargon Explained

Digital CamcordersA camcorder that captures shots digitally with image sensors.
Analog CamcordersA camcorder that captures shots using photographic films.
Camcorder LensAn optical lens or assembly of lenses used to focus subjects onto the sensors.
DVDDVD also known as Digital Versatile Disk is an optical disk on which images captured by the camcorder are directly etched using lasers in DVD camcorders.
DV tapesDV tapes or a mini DV is a video cassette used in mini DV camcorders.
AperturesAn aperture is a device that controls the amount of light entering the camcorder.
Shutter speedShutter speed is the effective length of time a shutter is open.
MPEGMPEG format refers to the set of standards adopted by Moving Pictures Experts Group for compression of digital video and audio data.
Depth of fieldDepth of field is the distance between nearest and farthest objects that appear in sharp focus. 
Imager or sensorA sensor in a camcorder is a device that converts optical image into an electrical signal.
FilterAn optical medium or coating that allows only light of particular colours to pass through and reach the sensors.
Optical zoomOptical zoom magnifies the size of an image by adjusting the mechanical assembly of lenses.
Digital zoomDigital zoom refers to electronically enlarging the image by increasing the size of pixels that make up the image.
ResolutionResolution refers to the number of pixels per square inch, it is measured in terms of Megapixel in camcorders.
PixelPixel is one of the tiny dots that make up the digital image.
Progressive scanProgressive scan is a method of capturing and storing moving images in which all the lines or rows of pixels are scanned in sequential order.

Buying Guide to Camcorders
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