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Camcorder Basics

Wondering what you need to know about camcorders? This page will help answer some of the more commonly asked customer questions.

How do I find the perfect camcorder?

By asking yourself some basic questions about what types of videos you want to record, you can easily narrow down your options by these lifestyles:

At Home
Home Movies
The perfect camcorder for home movies is one that is easy to use with simple controls. It's also compact, has plenty of internal memory, and captures good quality video in a variety of shooting conditions. Both a standard-definition or high-definition (HD) camcorder can work for that holiday gathering or soccer game.

Amateur Filmmakers
Amateur Filmmakers
Budding videographers interested in capturing cinematic art will want a high-quality camcorder with a lot of manual controls and imaging options. These camcorders may include extras such as art filters, independent aperture, alternate frame rates and shutter speed, and may cost a bit more. Look for an advanced HD camcorder with all the bells and whistles.

YouTube Facebook Blogging
YouTube, Facebook, Blogging
You're the social networker and want to post fun videos on social networking sites. You want a lightweight, affordable shoot-and-share camcorder you can take along, with quality good enough for posting and e-mailing.

Vacation and Travel
Vacation and Travel
If you're taking a camcorder on a trip, you'll want one with a lot of internal memory and possibly a wide-angle lens and long zoom for shooting high-quality video of the great outdoors. Consider a waterproof or water-resistant standard-def or HD model for the ski slopes or beach.

Budget Consumer
Budget Consumer
If you're looking for a true camcorder deal — one you can throw in your pocket and is ready at the touch of a button — basic features in mini camcorders or shoot-and-share models are ideal.

Pros and Hobbyists
Pros and Hobbyists
You want advanced controls to shoot like a pro. These features are important to you: higher-resolution HD video with excellent image capture, several manual controls, a longer zoom lens, and an output format that's easy for editing. An HD camcorder or advanced standard-definition camcorder may both be good choices for you.

Gadget Lovers
Gadget Lovers
If you are the type who has to have the latest and greatest, an advanced high-def camcorder with the latest technology and features is for you.

Is my camcorder compatible with a Macintosh computer?

iMovie editing software allows you to import home movies onto your Mac and turn them into all-time favorite films. It's designed to work with a wide range of camcorder formats, including most MiniDV tape-based camcorders that use a FireWire cable (also known as IEEE 1394 or i.Link) to transfer data. Not all Macintosh computers include a FireWire port. Be sure to check your system configuration to make sure your Mac includes FireWire support before attempting to connect a standard definition or HD camcorder.

What are the different memory formats for camcorders?

When it comes to non-tape-based camcorder storage, there are three main types of memory formats: hard drive, flash memory and memory card.

Hard DriveHard drive camcorders offer more storage capacity than flash drive or memory card models, ranging from 30–120GB and up. Prices start around $400 and depend on the model's lens, storage capacity and other features. This format is ideal for anyone who needs plenty of internal storage space to capture life's memories.

Flash MemoryFlash memory camcorders use the same type of storage as a USB flash drive, which makes their design smaller and more lightweight than other camcorders, but they tend to have less storage: 8–64GB. They cost a bit less than hard drive models, making them perfect for budget-minded families and frequent travelers who want their camcorder to fit into a purse or bag.

Memory CardMemory card camcorders store videos onto a memory card, allowing you to quickly insert the card into a compatible computer or HDTV for instant video playback. Many hard drive or flash drive camcorders also incorporate a memory card slot, so you can insert a card and have additional space for video storage.

How much video does my memory hold?

This chart estimates the number of 2-hour videos stored on a SanDisk memory card. The actual recording length may be based on the video's compression/quality setting and what type of subject is being captured.

1. MPEG-4 (320x240), 30 frames per seconds (fps), 1024Kbps bit rate.
2. MPEG-4 (320x240), 15 frames per seconds (fps), 384Kbps bit rate.

  1GB 2GB 4GB 8GB 16GB 32GB
Number of MPEG-4 videos, 30 fps 2 3.8 7.6 15 30 60
Number of MPEG-4 videos, 15 fps 5 10 20 40 80 160

How can I expand my camcorder's memory?

If your camcorder's internal memory is full and all of your memory cards are maxed out, your best bet for reliable storage is a portable hard drive with USB and memory card inputs for transferring videos on the go. Portable hard drives are typically sold in capacities from 10GB to 749GB, enough for hours of HD camcorder video with easy transfer from your camcorder.

Shop all portable hard drives ›

What are the differences between DVD and MiniDVD formats?

Both DVD and MiniDVD formats are similar in that they both record video directly onto DVD discs for immediate play through a DVD player. Here are some main features of these types of formats:

  • DVD and MiniDVD camcorders record for shorter periods of time than other camcorder formats before needing a new disc. Both formats allow for up to an hour of recording time, but as little as 20 minutes on the highest-quality settings. Dual-layer discs record on both sides doubling the recording time, but require opening the camcorder to change sides.
  • MiniDVD discs are smaller (about 8cm in diameter) than standard DVDs, allowing their camcorders to be more compact and lighter weight than DVD models.
  • Many slot-loading players will not play MiniDVDs. Check with your device manual before attempting to use a recorded MiniDVD in this type of player.

How do I take a picture with my camcorder?

Most camcorders are capable of taking digital photos, as well as videos. A camcorder's photo megapixel rating indicates the level of detail of its still pictures. Some camcorders have a "photo shutter" you can trip by pressing a dedicated button instead of having to enable a photo mode in a camcorder's settings menu. A lot of camcorders feature a still mode with medium resolution for 4" x 6" prints. For higher resolution, consider buying a separate digital camera.

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