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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 April 2007, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Camcorders go under the spotlight
David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click

You Tube
YouTube is a popular destination for sharing home movies

The phenomenon of UGC (user-generated content) and our instinct for autobiography, to leave our mark - however blurred - on the web has led to camcorder sales reaching hot cake proportions.

But buying a camcorder can be a real nightmare: an obstacle course of soon-to-be-obsolete formats, redundant functions and devices that fall well short of their promise.

And there is so much choice out there, it is almost impossible to choose. So here are some basic pointers.

Format

The first place to start is format - what your camera records onto.

There are some choices here: DVD and Mini DV cassettes are the slob option. You can accumulate footage and never edit it. But watch out for digital decay, when your format becomes obsolete and your store of tapes and DVDs are rendered difficult to play.

Cameras with hard-drives fill up pretty quickly and you have to either download and edit on your computer or find another format to archive on.

The format for the future is SD. At least, that is what the camera producers are backing.

"We definitely consider that SD card is the memory card of the future for digital movies," said Ingebourg Rahm, division manager at Sanyo Fisher. "For digital photos we all know already that it is the most convenient card, and also for digital movie the SD card will be the most used memory card."

Product manager at Panasonic, Philipp Heintzenberg agrees.

"SD is very small and compact and so it is very easy to make small, light-weight camcorders.

"Also SD has the advantage of low power consumption, which is very important for all mobile products because battery life-time is always a problem for still cameras as well as for camcorders."

There are other chips apart from SDs worth chewing over. Light sensitive ones or CCDs. Most camcorders have just one CCD and individual pixels deal with sorting out the primary colours.

Picture

But currently trickling down from the pro market is 3 chip technology. Incoming light is split up by a prism and individual CCDs deal with green, blue or red light. It means that colour separation is much more distinct.

Camera lens
A digital zoom can make images become pixelated

Like High Definition, it sounds and looks impressive, but if you are on a budget then you should ask yourself if you really need this level of picture quality.

And on the subject of electronic wizardry. There are a number of camcorders that offer you a digital zoom. Not to be confused with an optical zoom which involves good old fashioned kit like lenses to magnify the light and get you closer to the subject.

The JVC GR-D760 gets 34 times closer with its optical zoom. This is great, but what is not so clever is digital zoom which does nothing to the light coming into the lens, it just makes the captured image bigger. The only thing you get close to are pixels.

And when it comes to the great mega pixel/lens debate, it is the lens that it is the most important.

It is why camcorder manufacturers team up with lens specialists - Panasonic with Leica, Sony with Carl Zeiss and Canon with, well, Canon.

"Pixel numbers are not important," explained Mr Heintzenberg. "What is much more important for a good picture is that the lens is precise, showing all details precisely, and that it also has a good low light performance, because the main part of the picture is the incoming light through the lens, so without any light you cannot make a good picture, so the lens is much more important than the total number of pixels."

And finally, if you are a first time buyer you might want to give some of the peripheral companies a look in.

Many of the cameras do much the same thing as the major brands, without doing as much damage to your wallet.



SEE ALSO
Bright outlook for digital cameras
28 Mar 04 |  Technology

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