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Which Camcorder Format is Right for You?

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Which Camcorder Format is Right for You?


Recording life's special and even not-so-special moments is getting easier and easier, even if you're not a video buff. But deciding what type of camcorder is right for you can be a bit confusing.

First off, you need to decide what you want to use your camcorder for and how often. Are you going to use it on a weekly basis? Or just for holidays and special events, such as weddings and birthdays? Are you an aspiring filmmaker? Or a hobbyist looking for the easiest model to use? If you are a techie wanting the latest and greatest technology, high definition (HD) camcorders are a great choice, since they record at a higher resolution.

A word about high definition
HD camcorders record at a higher resolution than standard definition (SD) camcorders (1920 x 1080 vs. 720 x 480), providing a sharper image with crystal-clear details and richer, more vibrant color. HD camcorders are available in every video storage format, including MiniDV tapes, DVDs, flash and hard-drive-based. HD footage is amazingly sharp video that's easy to edit in most video editing programs, and some models allow you to burn directly from a computer onto standard DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, or HD DVDs. You'll want to have an HD television and Blu-ray Disc player to get the most out of HD video.

To help you learn more, here is a quick guide to the different camcorder formats, and the pros and cons of each.

1. Hard Drive
Say good-bye to needing tapes, DVDs or any media — hard drive camcorders record directly to a built-in hard drive. Their potentially enormous storage capacity is one reason for their popularity. For example, a camcorder with a built-in 30-gigabyte hard drive can generally store about 7 hours of footage on a high-quality setting. Switch it to "standard" to double your hours. And don't worry about taping over anything, since this camcorder automatically saves footage to free space on the hard drive. Perhaps the only con to a hard drive camcorder is that they record video in a format that isn't compatible with most editing programs, so you must use the bundled software to edit. These camcorders have a huge memory capacity for shooting hours of video, and standard-definition models are very affordable.

Who should buy an HD camcorder?
Those who like the convenience of no tapes or media and those who do not need to do extensive video editing.

2. Flash Memory
Flash memory camcorders use internal memory and some have expandable memory using memory cards to record video. The cards are easy to take out and pop into a memory card reader on your PC. There are no moving parts, so they are considered more durable than hard drive memory. These slim, compact camcorders are durable yet compact, and conveniently fit in a pocket to access quickly for fast recording. They have a relatively large storage capacity which means there's no need to lug tapes, discs, or a laptop with you. Perfect for shooting today's short Web video clips, they are really easy to use, right out of the box. Some flash memory camcorders are now high-def and offer high quality video.

Who should buy a flash memory camcorder?
Teens and kids; anyone who desires an ultracompact, lightweight camcorder for travel, or if you just need a camcorder for quick video clips.

3. DVD
Easy-to-use DVD camcorders record standard-definition video to either a full-size DVD or a smaller version (3" disc) of the same DVD on which you watch movies. The great advantage of DVD camcorders is the ability to burn a copy of your masterpiece right away. Record video and watch video instantly on a DVD player. Most discs hold about 30 minutes at the highest quality setting, and it can be difficult to edit. Many editing programs can't even import the video. Recording directly to a disc with a MiniDVD or DVD camcorder is an easy way to get video footage, with no uploading and no complicated editing.

Who should buy a MiniDVD or DVD camcorder?
Those who want instant gratification, those who like to record short films, and those who don't want to edit.

4. MiniDV
This popular format was the first digital format available back in the mid '90s. It records standard-definition videos to mini videotapes that are about the size of a matchbox. Tapes on the average hold 60–85 minutes each. Both the tapes and the camcorder are inexpensive. You can upload video to your computer to watch or edit, then record it to a DVD, or watch it directly on TV. However, it's hard to find particular scenes on the tape during playback — you have to rewind and fast-forward to find them. And uploading video to a computer is time-consuming. This format is a still a very solid performer in the camcorder world.

Who should buy a MiniDV camcorder?
Budget-minded videographers, all-purpose shooters.