Digital Camcorder Guide at OneCall

Buying a camcorder doesn't have to be complicated, as long as you a few basics. One key feature, camera size is usually determined by the recording format, with the newer formats allowing for strikingly small cameras. Meanwhile, features like manual exposure control, optical image stabilization and good low-light sensitivity can separate many lower-end cameras from more expensive ones. Relatively new features like widescreen video and high-definition recording are coming on strong, as well.

Terms to Know

  • Stands for charge-coupled device. It's the image- and color-gathering sensor of a camcorder.
  • Lux
  • Lux measures a camera's light sensitivity. A low lux rating (0 is the lowest) means the camera will record better images in low light.
  • DV
  • DV is a compression standard for recording digital video used in most consumer camcorders.
  • MPEG
  • MPEG is a range of compression standards (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4) that create small file sizes. The is typically a lower quality than that of DV.

Features to Look For

Recording Format

  • Digital tape that records high-quality DV video (high or standard definition) and CD-quality audio. A wide range of sizes and designs are available.
  • Digital 8
  • Records DV-quality footage onto analog 8mm and Hi8 video cassettes, or dedicated Digital8 tapes. The camera design is bulkier due to the larger tape size.
  • Mini DVD-R
  • Mini DVD-R uses miniature recordable discs. It records in MPEG-2, and can be played in home DVD players. It also offers quick access to video segments. Video editing software support is limited. These cameras are competitive in size with mid-size MiniDV units.
  • Flash Memory/Hard Drive
  • Records MPEG-1, MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 video directly onto a flash memory card or miniature hard drive. Format allows cameras to be very compact.
  • MicroMV
  • This small-format, tape-based media allows for compact cameras. Recordings are made in MPEG-2 format. Limited support by video editing software.
  • Hi8
  • Hi8 is an older, analog format, and is still available in limited camera models. It's typically the same size as Digital8 models.

Exposure Control

  • A camcorder with this feature offers "point-and-shoot" functionality.
  • Scene modes
  • This allows you to select from pre-programmed settings tailored for various shooting environments.
  • Low light mode
  • May employ an infrared sensor to capture images at night.
  • Spot metering
  • Spot metering offers feedback on exposure of different elements of a shot.

Other Popular Features

Still Images
Some camcorders can capture decent still images, but the performance is generally not yet as good as a dedicated digital still camera.
A new MPEG-2-based recording standard that allows MiniDV cameras to capture footage that is nearly double the resolution of conventional, standard-definition DV footage.

16:9 Widescreen

A widescreen recording mode that allows you to shoot more cinematic, 16:9 footage.
An advanced feature that allocates three independent CCDs to each of the three basic colors, red, green and blue, for superior clarity and color accuracy.
Image Stabilization
A method of reducing camera shake during handheld shots. More advanced cameras feature optical stabilization that uses mechanical devices in the lens body to compensate for movement. This is superior to the digital optical stabilization found on less expensive models.
Options include Firewire and USB for computer connectivity, as well as composite A/V and S-video for viewing footage on a TV or monitor. An accessory shoe for lighting accessories, as well as microphone and headphone jacks, are commonly provided.