Guide to Important Camcorder Features
With the plethora of camcorders on the market, it's difficult to know exactly which features you need. Read on to learn about the most important camcorder features, and how they work.
Formats include DVD, MiniDV, Hard Disk Drive (HDD), High-Definition (HD) and Flash Memory. All have their benefits.Sensors
There are basically 2 types of sensors: a single charge-coupled device (CCD), or a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensor. Both control how an image is captured into your camcorder. And, both produce quality images and lend essentially the same quality of recording.Image Stabilization
Three-CCD sensors (3CCD) have 3 separate CCDs which absorb red, green and blue light respectively, resulting in vibrant, true-to-life color accuracy and super-sharp image details.
CMOS sensors are usually larger than their CCD counterparts, so they absorb more light. They also use less power than CCDs. Many of the new HD camcorders use CMOS sensors.
There are two types of zoom: optical and digital. Optical zoom (typically from 10x to 40x) magnifies like a telescope using physical movement of the lens mechanism with no image quality tradeoffs. Digital zoom simply enlarges pixels already present, resulting in a blurring of your picture called pixellation. Using a digital zoom will greatly reduce the quality of your video, so it's best just to leave digital zoom off. Manufacturers will boast large digital zooms of 500x or 800x, which sounds impressive, but if you were to actually use these zooms, your video would be unwatchable.
There are basically two types of stabilization systems. Optical image stabilization keeps video clear by using sensors to reduce the results of unsteady handshake. Digital image stabilization centers your image as you shoot and is not as smooth as optical stabilization, tending to reduce overall resolution.
Most camcorders have either a front-mounted or top-mounted built-in microphone. But with an internal mic, there are often problems with tape motor noise and noise from your hands operating the camcorder. You might want to consider buying an external microphone for improved sound quality. Make sure your camcorder has a microphone-in jack and also look for a headphone-out jack so you can monitor your audio and correct any problems while recording. Some higher-end and middle-tier camcorders include manual audio control, which allows you to adjust the audio level of the microphone's channels; this is important when recording something like a concert, or anything very loud or soft.
Digital Still Picture Quality
The 2-in-1 benefit about digital camcorders is this: they record both video and digital still photos. Though the photos are typically lower in resolution (2.0 megapixels) than a digital camera, this feature saves you from carrying around two different devices. And, the photos are sufficient for emailing. Look for a camcorder with 3-4 megapixels (or higher) for decent digital stills you can print. Still image storage uses a built-in memory card slot on the camcorder.
Boost light sensitivity for a brighter picture. A low-light shooting feature is a must for great recording indoors, or evening video with clear details and bright colors. Lower shutter speeds allow the optimum amount of light to register on the CCD sensor, helping you shoot quality video in low light. Many camcorders also have an infrared light or built-in illumination. "Lux", the metric unit for measuring the amount of light that falls on an object, is the European equivalent of the British foot-candle (or lumen). You'll want a camcorder with 7 lux or lower (lower is better).
Today's larger (2.5" and up) LCDs let you shoot at different angles, review shots and navigate menus. They also make framing and reviewing shots easier. Many can rotate up to 270 degrees for multiple viewing angles, allowing you to hold the camera in various poses for more creative recording.
Shooting in bright sunlight? Try using the viewfinder instead of the LCD. You'll see better and save on battery life. Viewfinders can display the image in black and white or full color, depending on the model.
Many camcorders allow you to record in widescreen format, also known as a 16:9 aspect ratio. This is in addition to standard television 4:3 recording. Aspect ratio is a way of describing the ratio of how long a picture is to how wide it is. In video, the standard aspect ratio is 4:3; that is, 4 inches long for every 3 inches tall. In film, the standard aspect ratio is 16:9. This is why you will sometimes see black bars on the top and bottom of the screen on a movie which has been converted to television. Your TV is likely designed for a 4:3 aspect ratio, but you may like that widescreen film look. (Some even have a 16:9 aspect ratio TV.) That's why camcorders come with widescreen mode, for that motion picture-type feel.