Digital Camcorders Tips

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JVC's Next Generation: Hard Drive Camcorders

Here's a JVC digital camcorder with a twist. In fact, there's an entire line of them. JVC's Everio digital camcorders use on-board hard drives for storage. These full-featured camcorders are small and light (model weights start at under one pound), but they come with some pretty nice features.

Take the Everio GZ-MG21, for example. At $600, it's JVC's entry-level model, but the 20 GB hard drive can hold up to 25 hours of video. And there's an SD card slot if you want to expand on that. It comes with a 32x optical zoom, so you can really get close to the action.

Three Everio models (the GZ-MG27, 37 and 77) are compatible with JVC's Everio Share Station. This is a stand-alone DVD burner that also converts the camera's files into standard MPEG 2 format. It connects to the camera via USB, and can be sued as a DVD burner with a PC, as well.


Seek Expert Opinions Before You Buy

Before you invest in a digital camcorder, it's a good idea to find out what the experts have to say. You can do this with online publications like PC Magazine and review sites such as

It can also be helpful to learn what owners have to say about a product. You can read digital camcorder reviews by actual product users at But keep in mind that some of these reviewers may have an axe to grind. If you find one review that's radically more negative than the rest, it probably isn't unbiased.

Because you know that the manufacturers will only present the most favorable picture of their products, checking a few digital camcorder reviews before you buy can save you a lot of headaches later on.


What to Do After You've Shot Your Video

Capturing the action with your digital video camcorder is only the first step. Editing your “footage” and creating a DVD to share with friends and family is the fun and creative part. For that, you'll need video editing software.

There are several options – including high-end products like Adobe Premier and Apple's Final Cut Pro – but there are also some great products for serious home video shooters who don't want to break the bank.

For Windows users, both Adobe Premier Elements and Pinnacle Studio offer a large set of digital video editing tools for under $100. You can edit clips and add titles, transitions and effects. And both allow you to create DVD's of your movies pretty easily.

Though it costs a bit more than Studio, Adobe Premier Elements offers more functionality, including the ability to export your movies for use in a wide variety of formats – including cell phones!

Apple's iMovie remains the affordable option of choice for Macintosh users. As an integral part of the iLife suite of applications, iMovie offers not only a strong set of video editing tools, but also access to DVD authoring, music composition and more. If you need a more robust program, Final Cut Express HD expands your video editing options.


Burn Your Videos to DVD – While You're Shooting

For about $3.00 each, 60-minute MiniDV tapes aren't particularly expensive. But for almost the same price, you can get a 5-pack of rewritable 8 cm DVD's. That's 2-1/2 hours of recording time. And DVD's are sturdier than tape, which can jam and “crinkle.”

Those are two good reasons to consider one line of Sony digital camcorder. Because Sony DCR-DVD “Handycam” camcorders burn directly to DVD. And even the entry-level DCR-DVD105 has a pretty good list of features.

Features like image stabilization, “NightShot Plus” low-light capability, a 20x Carl Zeiss optical zoom lens and picture and fader effects. And the DCR-DVD105 is compatible with DVD-RW disks, so you can reuse them after you've downloaded your video.

Suggested prices for Sony DVD camcorders start at under $500.


Digital vs. Analog Video – No Contest

Sometimes, the advantages of one technology over a competitor aren't clear-cut – such as with VHS vs. Beta. But in other situations, one technology is the clear winner. When it comes to digital vs. analog video, there is simply no contest.

Digital camcorders use the binary language of computers. The signal is made up of 0's and 1's… yes or no… on or off. This type of signal is clearer and less corruptible than analog. Digital video signals can carry more information than analog, too. This means the resulting images are richer, clearer and sharper than analog video could ever hope to be. Finally, digital camcorders are “plug and play” – all you need is the software.


Find the Best Digital Camcorder for Your Needs

There's really no such thing as a “best digital camcorder.” But there is a digital camcorder that best fits your needs and shooting style. The trick is finding it.

Start by asking yourself how you plan to use your camcorder. If you'll be shooting sports action from the stands, a long zoom is important. If you'll be carrying it for long periods while traveling, a light, compact model will be less tiresome. If you just plan to record occasional memories like family birthday parties and trips to the zoo, price might be a main consideration.

Also ask yourself what features are important to you. Do you savor creative control? Then a model with manual focus and fade-out effects may be attractive. Are your eyes a little weaker than they used to be? Then a large LCD screen might be important. Also consider microphones, auxiliary lights and even the ability to record high quality still images.

If you're not sure of what features are even available, visit different manufacturers' websites and browse the “features” and “specifications” sections of several models. This will give you an idea of the many features you could have.

This process will develop a profile of the best digital camcorder for your lifestyle. If you've answered your questions in depth, you should have only a handful of models to consider.


Panasonic's Image Champ

Several manufacturers have introduced super-compact camcorders that record to flash memory cards. But there's a Panasonic digital camcorder that's taken things one step further: the SDR-S100. This tiny (3.81'' x 1.1'' x 0.62'') camcorder uses the same type of 3 CCD system used in Panasonic's professional cameras to produce outstanding images.

The 3 CCD system uses one CCD per color – red, green and blue. Most cameras have only one CCD, with 50% dedicated to recording green, 25% dedicated to red and 25% to blue. Using 3 CCD's means more color and other detail information is recorded… and that results in higher image quality.

The SDR-S100 also comes with a 10x Leica zoom lens (with a maximum aperture of f/1.8), image stabilization technology and the ability to record 3.1 MP still images.


The Ultra-compact Camcorder for an Active Lifestyle

If you're active and into fun, the SC-X210L Sports Camcorder is the Samsung digital camcorder designed just for you. It's fairly low-resolution (680k Pixel CCD), but has features that make it a serious option for people who like to shoot on the go… literally.

The SC-X210L is a true sports camcorder. It comes with an external (secondary) lens in a weather-resistant case. Strap the lens on your arm with the included band – camera safely tucked inside your parka - and you're set to show family and friends just how exciting your snowboarding vacation really was. Or give them a front row seat with you on a roller coaster – while you still hold on with both hands. Your imagination is the limit.

This little Samsung digital camcorder comes with 1 GB of internal memory (expandable via its SD/MMC card slot), a 10x optical zoom and electronic image stabilization (You're going to need it!). You can even use it as an MP3 player, so you can take your music with you on your adventures.

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Ray Lokar