Choosing a Digital Camcorder

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I'm gearing up for a trip to Los Angeles in a few days. I'd like to think that it's going to be mainly about business, but the truth is, I just might actually be spending more time hanging out with my mom and my sister.

Which is all good: I've been to Eagle Rock once before, but I never had the chance to have a good look around, so this time, I'd like to take the time to have fun and check out what Los Angeles has to offer.

So one of the things I'm considering getting myself a new digital camcorder. I suppose now is a good time to get one, as camcorders now are a lot more sophisticated and user-friendly than ever, and that it's also great for new media projects (like if I choose to do more video-blogging or build up my own YouTube channel).

It can be overwhelming at first when searching for a digital camcorder. So many great digital camcorders out there, with so many features, but which one should you get for yourself?

Our goal of course is to be able to sort out through all the useful (and useless stuff) to figure out which digital camcorder best suits your needs. From one person out to find a good personal digital camcorder to another, here are some things you should consider when getting yourself one of these babies:

What Do You Need A Camcorder For?

Lets get some needs assessments out of the way: how do you see yourself using your new digital camcorder for the most part? Apart from taking random footages, do you think you'll be using it for more family projects like weddings and reunions and holidays and stuff? Or maybe you're thinking of going professional some day?

Sorting Through The Spec Sheets

Now that you have a fairly good idea on what you're using your digi-cam for, let's check out what you might expect to see on a regular digital camcorder spec sheet. In fact, Yahoo Tech has a good feature on the topic, which is what we're also featuring here.

When reviewing a digital camera spec sheet, you must pay particular attention to these items:

  • CCDs. Specifically, a 3-CCD camera, or a digi-cam with three charged-coupled devices. No need to get worked up on what it's really all about (but if you want to, you can read more about it here). All you need to know is that a 3-CCD camcorder provides better image quality, but it might be a little pricey. Great to have if you have a little extra cash, but not exactly mandatory.
  • Progressive Scan. A feature that makes a world of difference in picture quality (again, if you want to go technical, you can read more about it here). Digital camcorders with progressive scan are what makes DVD-quality shots possible. Again, great feature to have if it's in your budget.
  • Resolution. Remember, more is better. Some spec sheets list horizontal lines of resolution (say for example, 525 lines), others list the number of pixels (690,000 pixels, for example). When it comes down to comparing two digi-cams with the same features you like, it could come down to picking out which one has more.
  • Optical Zoom. Remember, optical zoom AND digital zoom are two entirely different things, and are usually listed separately on the spec sheet. The optical zoom factor gives you an idea on how well the camera lens actually sees, which should typically be in the 12x-25x range. We'll talk more about digital zoom in a bit.
  • Tape Format. Most digital cameras still make use of MiniDV- which is still a fairly common format. Then again, the newer digicams allow for the use of tape-free solutions: optical disks, hard disk drives and solid-state memory.
  • Batteries. You'll also want to consider battery life, and the cost of getting additional battery packs for your digital camera. Here's a tip- get yourself a digicam that makes use of lithium ion batteries, versus those that use NiMH (or nickel metal hydride) batteries. Lithium ion batts last longer, are easier to maintain, and add to the overall usability of your digital camera.
  • Microphone Connector. Most camcorders have a standard mini-jack connector for an external mic, but the more high-end units have a 3-pin XLR connector (or a balanced audio connector) used by professional-sounding microphones and PA systems. Eventually, you might consider getting yourself specialized microphones to suit your recording needs.
  • Manual Control. Of course, the most modern digital cameras are all automated when it comes to focus and exposure control, but sometimes you'd like to fiddle around with the settings yourself. Control rings around the lens are easier to use than tiny knobs or switches on the side of the camera.
These items on the spec sheet would be great to have, but don't get led on too much by the salesperson pitching these features to you. Not particularly important are:
  • Night vision. There are a number of camcorders that have an infrared mode or a low light mode that allows you to record in total darkness. It's not as useful as you think, unless you're going to be in the habit of exploring haunted houses or shooting nature videos at night.
  • Still photos. Great if you don't want to lug around two cameras. Still, that's what digital still cameras and DLSRs are for.
  • USB port. For digital video capture, you will be relying on FireWire. The USB port is mostly for transferring files into your computer- which you can then edit, store and burn into whatever media you wish. Don't rely on your USB port to capture digital video though.
  • Bluetooth. It's great that Bluetooth allows various gadgets- computers, mobile phones, camcorders- to connect with each other using radio waves instead of cables. But you're practically not going to be using this feature at all for capturing video.
These items are going to be totally useless to you:
  • Special Effects. I don't see any reason for this. If you're really into special effects, then the video editing software on your PC should be more well-equipped to get you what you need.
  • Digital zoom. Remember how we mentioned digital zoom when we talked about optical zoom? Digital zoom numbers (200x, for example) are large, and can be misleadingly appealing. What the digital zoom feature does is crop the picture captured by the CCD and then makes each remaining pixel bigger to fill the screen, resulting in greatly reduced image quality. Test the zoom feature on your digital camcorder, and make sure that you can disable digital zoom.
  • Built-in Light. Again, you're probably going to rely on other external lighting sources when shooting video.
Final Word

A brand new digital camcorder is great to have, and just like any gadget you own, is even better if you know what to look for and what you're going to be using it for.

Don't be carried away by hype and the salesperson's pitch. In fact, take some time to even go online and do some research of your own and check out a few top digital camcorder models, based on how others rate it.

In fact, I'll be doing that myself in a bit. We can even compare notes if you wish.

Pictures from Wikipedia.

Cheers, everyone!

0 chicks and dudes said...:

Essential Cool in Digital Media, Pop Culture and the Internet, with Renzie |

The Life & Times of The Renzie Man

Keyboard Monkeys! | Tips, Tricks and Advice for the Digital Entrepreneur

How to Change the World, by Guy Kawasaki

Barfield Management - Make Money Online, Stocks, Forex, Mutual Funds Philippines

  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by 2008

Back to TOP