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Page last updated at 09:43 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 10:43 UK

How to choose the right camcorder

Camcorders


Video technology has advanced massively in the last few years and now even TV programmes like Click are able to use relatively small and cheap cameras in the right conditions.

Realistically, if you do want to make TV you will still need a lot of money. But improvements in battery life, video compression and sensor technology mean that consumer camcorders weighing considerably less than a tonne are now taking very decent pictures.

The first thing you should think about is whether you want to capture your memories in ultra-clear super-detailed high-definition or in standard definition.

Basically, if you never plan to watch your videos on an HDTV, you do not need an HD camcorder.

That said, most HD camcorders will connect to either an HD or a standard TV - you just will not see the extra detail in your HD video.

FORMATS

A big decision you should make quite early on is which recording format to use. You have got four choices and each has their pros and cons.

DV tape is very robust, and records the highest quality pictures. In fact we still use a lot of it on Click. DV camcorders are cheaper than other types, although carrying round a pile of tapes can be a hassle.

DV tape
A DV tape is often used when recording Click

DVD camcorders use discs that can be popped straight into your home DVD player. The cameras are a bit slow to start up however, and the discs can scratch easily.

Hard drive camcorders are now reasonably common - more expensive feature for feature, but the lack of a tape or disc loading bay means they can be shaped better to fit the grip.

And finally, the latest camcorders will record directly to flash memory like an SD card. We were sceptical about these - after all, you are trying to squeeze video onto something very small.

Mobile phones and compact digital stills cameras have offered this facility for a while, but the video is usually highly compressed to fit onto the small storage cards.

Imagine our surprise then, when consumer magazines started to give flash-based camcorders high marks in their tests.

It is thanks to new video compression techniques like AVCHD and MPEG 2 TR, which do a good job of squashing HD video onto all types of media, including normal DVDs, without losing too much picture quality.

ZOOM

Once you have sorted out your recording format, the next thing that will probably catch your eye is the size of the zoom.

So how much zoom do you really need?

A 10x optical zoom is common, although some camcorders are pushing that number as high as 50.

Digitally zoomed
Using the digital zoom can make subjects unrecognisable

As well as the optical zoom figure, many manufacturers will quote incredible figures for their digital zoom.

But just as with stills cameras, a digital zoom only makes the pixels of the picture bigger. So although you can go in hundreds or thousands of times, you probably will have no idea what it is you are looking at.

And the further in you zoom, optically or digitally, the more your wobbly shot is likely to induce motion sickness. To remedy this most camcorders feature some kind of image stabilisation.

The best is optical image stabilisation, which allows the lens or the sensor to move to counteract your shaky hands. This can be very good.

Electronic image stabilisation is not so good. It only works with the image once it has been captured, leading to jerking, smearing and loss of clarity.

To help get the right part of the shot in focus, some camcorders even come with face-detection technology, which can spot a face and then focus and expose for it, regardless of what else is in the frame.

It is still not 100% reliable, but it is welcome help.

OTHER FACTORS

There are loads of factors to consider when choosing the right camcorder and generally if you are prepared to pay a bit more, you do get better functionality.

For better colours in your shots, go for three charge-coupled devices (CCDs) instead of one. If you want a quick shooter to catch those spontaneous moments in the snow, go for a hard drive or flash camcorder, so you do not have to fumble around for a tape or disc.

For ease of viewing, look out for the button that lets you burn your video straight to DVD - if you buy the special DVD recorder.

The more buttons you have, the easier access you have to important controls, instead of wading through layers of sub-menus on your touch screen to get to them. And that really can make filming a much more pleasant experience.



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SEE ALSO
Video projectors embrace HD
13 Apr 07 |  Click
Camcorders go under the spotlight
05 Apr 07 |  Click
The low-down on high-definition
09 Jun 06 |  Click
How to choose a digital camera
28 Apr 06 |  Click


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