Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Put memories on video

Tips for buying digital camcorders

By Kim Komando
Gannett News Service

If a picture is worth a thousand words, there's no telling the value of video. The problem is selecting the camcorder. With so many models, you need to focus on the right features.

When shopping, you'll notice that there are significantly more digital camcorders than analog models. That's good because digital camcorders provide a significantly better picture and more options. Here are some things to keep in mind when making a purchase.

1. What is the recording format?

Most camcorders record onto tape or DVD. A few models can record onto memory cards - forget those. The recording times are too short and the image quality is poor.

There are three digital tape formats: Digital8, MicroMV and MiniDV. All formats are erasable and reusable.

MiniDV is the most common format. There are many camcorder models to choose from and the media is relatively easy and cheap to find - about $5 for a 60-minute tape.

Digital8 and MicroMV are less common formats. Digital8 camcorders are able to record on analog 8mm and Hi8 cassettes, as well as Digital8 tapes. A 60-minute tape costs about $5. MicroMV is hampered by a limited selection of cameras and difficult-to-find tapes. The tapes are pricey, too - about $9 for a 60-minute tape.

The alternative to tape is recording directly to DVD. Mini DVD-Rs can only be used once and cost about $7 for a 30-minute disc. Mini DVD-RAMs are reusable but cost $15 for a 60-minute disc.

Playback is a snap because most DVD players can play DVD-Rs. Also, skipping around to different scenes is easier than with tape. But few DVD players will play DVD-RAMs. Plus, the media is expensive compared with tape.

2. Get the essential features.

If you're just starting out, make sure the camcorder has a full auto switch. This way, the camera automatically adjusts focus, color balance and exposure. All you have to do is click the record button and shoot. Once you gain familiarity with video, you can start using manual settings.

Most camcorders have an adequate built-in microphone. But these microphones often will pick up everything-even mechanical noise from the camcorder. Look for an external microphone jack so you can plug in an external microphone for better sound quality.

3. Don't believe the hype.

Some camcorders promise to take 3- and 4-megapixel still photos as well. But those photos are not as good as those shot with a dedicated digital camera.

Beware of outrageous zoom capabilities - you might see 300X or 400X. Concentrate on optical zoom. Digital zoom, a way of cropping and expanding an area at the expense of image quality, is much less important. Most cameras offer an optical zoom of 10X, which is fine.

Put memories on video

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Tips for buying digital camcorders