- Camcorders Buying Guide
Camcorders Buying Guide
Camcorders Buying Guide
When a camcorder records images they do it through charge-couple-device (CCD), this converts light into an electronic signal that the camcorder can then read and store onto storage media. The bigger the CCD the better the picture quality in your films, this is also dependant on the number of pixels the CCD has on it. As standard a video frame will have 340,000 pixels and this will give you a reasonable image quality. The number of pixels camcorders record at is ever increasing and 1 or 2 mega pixels are not uncommon and even up to 6 mega pixels for top range models (1 mega pixel being equal to 1 million pixels). It should be noted that the quality does not rise at the rate of pixels, once you go over 2 mega pixels the increase in image quality will start to become more marginal. Also remember that some camcorders will give you the gross and effective number of pixels, the effective number is the important one as this tells you how many pixels the CCD actually uses.
One of the key advantages of digital technology in regards to photography, in both cameras and camcorders, is the increased efficiency of the zoom function. The two types of zoom available with camcorders are optical or digital. Most new models will come with both options but not all, so check before you buy, as there are differences between the two. The main difference being optical zoom ranges from around 2x to 20x magnification whereas digital zoom ranges from 20x to 800x magnification. The difference here is that optical zoom requires the physical movement of the lens but digital zoom will enlarge the size of the pixels to increase the size of one section of a picture. The important point here is that digital zoom will result in a significant reduction in picture quality, so don’t get carried away thinking that a camcorder with 600x magnification will solve the problem of those long distance shorts, as at that magnification the picture will be almost unwatchable.
One of the main problems with handheld camcorders is that it is hard to keep them still and so the image quality can suffer. This is where image stabilization on a camcorder becomes important, this helps to reduce the unstableness than handheld recording sometimes causes. The main types of stabilizer are electronic and optical. Electronic stabilization works via the internal system shifting the image to counteract any unbalance, this is done by slightly zooming in on the image. With an optical stabilizer the lens, or parts of it, will physical move in order to neutralize any movement. Just like optical and digital zoom you get a better image quality with optical stabilization, however electronic stabilizer a generally more common on most camcorders.
Most digital camcorders will have an LCD screen for playback and almost all will have the capability to plug into a TV for instant playback. The advantage of the LCD screen is that you can see what you have recorded as soon as you recorded it. The quality of the image you receive back again depends on the number of pixels the screen supports, this is not the same as the recording pixel quality and will almost certainly be lower. The Size of the screen on average is around 2.5 inches, note this will probably refer to the diagonal size of the screen rather the sides.
LCD Screen Size:
The tree main areas of camcorder recording media are currently tape, DVD and flash. One of the earliest formats is Digital 8, this is exclusive to Sony and records onto Hi-8 tapes, this is the same technology as old analogue recorders used.
MiniDV is similar but it records digitally onto tape, connecting to a TV or loading it to a computer and then burning it to DVD are the only ways to play film back. MicroMV is the Sony equivalent of MiniDV, it is slightly smaller allowing camcorders to be more compact but there can be a need to reformat recordings if they are loaded onto a PC.
There are then DVD camcorders, as you might of guessed they record directly onto DVD’s. The important thing to remember is that DVD’s come in two main types, DVD-R, this is a DVD that can only be recorded onto once. Then there is DVD-RW or DVD-RAM, they allow you to re-recorded over a DVD. Be carefully to check the capability of the DVD player you want to watch your films on due to the fact not all players will accept DVD-RW and DVD-RAM.
A few camcorders will record directly onto memory cards such as, SD (Secure Digital) cards, memory sticks, compact flash or other types of memory card. The amount of information stored using memory cards is greatly increased compared to older analogue technologies with some camcorders only recording memory cards but this is an expanding media and not yet standard on all camcorders.
It is likely you will want to transfer your recordings onto other devices such as your PC or TV. So it is important to see what connections a camcorder comes with and also the ports your PC in particular has. If you want to transfer you films onto a PC you will probably want to have a Firewire connection. This will allow a fast and high quality transfer of data, some models may come with USB connectors, which are more basic, and can result in some data lose when transferring moving images.
There are also a number of other features you may also want to consider when choosing a camcorder. One of which is the kind of audio system the device uses. Camcorders come with internal microphones as standard but these can sometimes pick up unwanted sounds such as any noise the person filming might be making. You can purchase external microphones that will reduce this but make sure the camcorder has a connection port that allows the use of external microphones, as some older models may not.
When it comes how much recording time is available, this will depend on the setting s you choose to record on. Most camcorders will come with three speeds, standard, long and extended. On analogue systems the choice of speed can reduce the picture quality but increase the recording time, with most digital systems this will not be a problem. The modes selected and the recording time will have to be weighted up against each other when using disc or card based media types, as there will be some trade-off.
The time you can record for will also depend on the battery the camcorder uses. The main types are NiCad, NiMH and Lithium lon (LI-lon). The most popular is Lithium as it is lighter but it is common that a camcorder will only accept one type of battery. They are normally rechargeable and on average provide around one hour of recording. The key thing to look for is the mAh rating, the higher this is the longer the battery life.
Camcorders can also come with Auto Exposure (AE) settings, these will regulate factors such as focus, shutter speed and light exposure or changes between landscape and portrait views. This can be a useful feature for those of us who are not experts but it may also be worth looking out for models that have a manual override option. This means you can override the default settings once you become more adapt and certain about how you want to record. In addition camcorders also often have the ability to take still pictures that can be stored and loaded onto a computer. This should be treated as a useful extra in a camcorder and not an alternative to a digital camera as most digital cameras will provide far better image quality in still shots.