With the evolution of the digital camcorder you no longer have to deal with the grainy amateurish home movies you have been used to. Now you can even edit, copy, and email your movies right on your computer.
You can now get much higher quality videos by using digital camcorders which offer good to excellent picture quality, excellent sound, ease of use, and compactness. Some camcorders even double as a still camera for photos.
Sony is still the leader in camcorders with many models available in many different formats. Some other top brands include famous camera maker, Canon as well as JVC, Panasonic, and Samsung.
The most popular format these days is the Mini-DV format, which is the camcorder I personally use. Other formats available include the DVD-RAM and DVD-R.
Let's look a little more in depth at some of the formats available.
MinDV's in my opinion give you a lot of bang for your buck. Some of the newer models can fit in a shirt pocket and they record super-high quality images. The typical recording length of a miniDV tape is 60 minutes and the cost per tape is around $6.00. Prices for these camcorders vary from $300 to $2,000. Expect to pay more for the smaller versions with higher zooms.
The Digital 8 or D8, gives you the quality of digital using Hi8 or 8mm cassettes. These record at a faster speed so a 120 minute cassette lasts 60 minutes on SP. These camcorders run from $300 to $800.
The disc based camcorders use a DVD disc, which offers durability that tape cannot. These camcorders record standard MPEG-2 video, which is the same format in commercial DVD videos.
Recording time varies from 20 minutes to 60 minutes depending upon the quality level you choose. DVD-R is supposed to be compatible with most DVD players but are write once only, the rewritable DVD-RW is better but also more expensive. Expect to pay $700-$1,000 for these camcorders.
So how do you decide which one to go with?
First decide on your price range and how you will be using the camcorder. If you are using it to record sporting events you will probably want one with a long recording time and a good optical zoom. The tape based camcorders will usually bring you better picture quality, so bear that in mind. With digital formats that use MiniDV, Digital 8, or MicroMV tapes, you can get at least 60 minutes of recording on a standard cassette. MiniDV and D8 cassettes are the least expensive and easiest to find.
Most flip out LCD viewers measure 2.5 inches on the diagonal, but some are larger, adding about $100 to the price. If the viewer seems small and difficult to use or suffers from too much glare, consider trading up to a similar model or a different brand to get a better screen.
If you're buying your first camcorder, concentrate on finding the best one for your budget, regardless of format.