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If you're in the market for a new camcorder, then it's probably about time to go digital, as the old VHS-based machines just can't compete any more in terms of quality, size and weight. There are four main types of digital camcorders, all of which will record high quality digital videos, and each of which has different advantages.

Hard drive-based camcorders can record up to 75 hours of video, so you don't need extra removable media for your films, you just shoot what you want and then decide what to transfer to your computer. You can also connect them to your TV to play back recordings from the camera.

DVD camcorders record straight to blank DVDs, so you just put the recorded disc into your DVD player to watch the results, without having to transfer files to your computer. Most models now allow you to use the same disc over and over again, so you don't need to buy stacks of blank media.

Memory card camcorders record to memory cards, which can then tranfer your footage to your PC or any other device that accepts them. Card prices are now much lower than before, and as there are no moving parts involved, the units are more compact, lightweight and less prone to damage. Battery life is often better, as well.

Recording to Mini DV tapes is the oldest format still around, but it's a
cheap way to get started and produces high quality recordings which are easy to transfer and edit on any home computer. Blank tapes don't cost much and are widely available.

If you're just looking for a record of your holidays or your sister's wedding and not too worried about wining an Oscar, then a basic digital camcorder, most likely one using Mini DV tapes, with simple automatic controls will give good results with the minimum of fuss. Most in this category are relatively inexpensive, have an optical zoom of about x10 to x20 and a limited number of manual overrides. The cheaper models can suffer from image stabilization problems, however, so if you've not got the steadiest hand in the word, notch your budget up a bit.
If you want to edit your recordings using software on a PC, you should buy a camcorder with a Firewire or equivalent connection. On these kinds of more sophisticated models, you'll also get a better zoom, more features for different lighting conditions and a bigger LCD screen to see what you're filming. Many will also double as a still camera that can take good resolution still images.

When you get to the top of the price tree, then you're looking at machines that could almost be used for professional film-making, including HD, or High Definition, models. HD camcorders come in all the same formats as the normal machines, but if you do go HD, make sure that the recordings they take are compatible with your player, as different manufactures use different standards which are not all compatible with each other.

Author R. Germain
date added Wed 29 07 2009

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