Camcorder Buying Guide

What To Look For When Buying a Camcorder

It can be complicated trying to buy a camcorder. Models vary widely in price, capabilities, and size. You can spend just $150 or over $1,600 for a camcorder. In our camcorder guide, we have organized the purchasing process into a series of clear steps to help you make an informed decision and find the best camcorder for you.  

Types of Camcorders

Your first step is to determine the kind of high-definition camcorder that you want to purchase. If you would like more options and better quality, consider getting a full-sized model. However, if you need a more portable, smaller model, buy an action cam. They are around half the size of a regular pocket camcorder. However, keep in mind, that current full-sized camcorders are more lightweight and smaller than earlier models. They fit in your hand easily and only weigh about half a pound but still offer a 10x optical zoom lens and least along with other powerful features: 4K or Ultra High Definition Resolution; GPS for geotagging; 3D capability; and pico or built-in projectors.

Full-Sized Camcorders

Digital camcorder models, unlike the old analog ones, allow you to do many more things with video than simply play it on your TV. You can use your computer to embellish it with music or edit it, and then your productions can be played on a computer, or a Blue-ray or DVD player. You also can email your recordings and you can also upload video clips to various sites like YouTube. There are many video editing software programs that also allow you to combine video with text, graphics, and digital stills.  

A majority of full-sized camcorders come with 10x optical zoom at least, although some come with as much as 50x. Most full-sized camcorders at maximum zoom product jittery video due to handshaking or other factors. Most come with an image stabilizer in order to compensate for this.

Many full-sized HD camcorders come with an HDMI output. It is the best way to get your camcorder connected to your HDTV.

Action Cams

If you would like a more compact camcorder compared to a full-sized one, you might want to think about getting an action cam, such as one of the Hero camcorders from GoPro. These models are very lightweight and small and often feature rugged bodies as well.

Action Camcorders

Action cams have been designed for individuals who participate in activities and outdoor sports like snowboarding, surfing, and biking, and who would like to be able to capture hands-free video. Due to their compact size, they might lack certain features like an LCD or a viewfinder. Although some of them feature a waterproof exterior, most of them come with a waterproof and rugged housing or a removable case with mounting brackets to attach the camcorder to an object such as a helmet.

Camcorder Features

Having the right camcorder features is very important, whether you are considering a 4K or HD camcorder model. Make sure to check out all of the features we list below. Then use this information to make an informed  purchase to insure that you are getting the best camcorder for what you need!

Flip-Out LCD Viewer

This kind of viewer is commonly used on full-sized camcorders but not on action cams. Some are available in a wider aspect ratio (16:9) are frequently referred to as a wide-screen LCD, which is a ratio similar to the one found on numerous HDTVs (There are some higher-priced camcorders that come with touch-screen LCDs.) It is very useful to have an LCD for reviewing video and may be easier to use compared to eyepiece viewfinders. However, it is hard to use LCDs in sunlight - which is a drawback of models that do not have an eyepiece and only a display.   

Measured diagonally, screens vary in size from 2 1/2 up to 4 inches, with a bigger screen provided on higher-priced models as a step-up feature. Since batteries are used faster by an LCD viewer compared to an eyepiece viewfinder, then when using an LCD you have less recording time.

Image Stabilizer

This feature reduces a majority of the shaking automatically that happens when you are holding a camcorder. A majority of stabilizers are either optical or electronic, although some models offer both. Either type can be effective; although the most certain way to achieve steady images to mount the camcorder onto a tripod. Tip: If you are not currently using a tripod, try to hold your camcorder in both hands while bracing your elbows against your body.   

Full-Auto Switch and Autofocus

Full-auto switch: With this control, which has different names that vary by manufacturer, offers you with the simplicity of point-and-shoot. With this feature, your camcorder automatically adjusts focus, shutter speed, color balance, and aperture (also called "f-stop" or "iris).

Autofocus: Adjusts to offer maximum sharpness. A manual focus override is included with some models that may be useful in problem situations, like low light, for example.

Digital Zoom, Optical Zoom, and Zoom

Zoom: Typically, this is a finger control-press with one to widen the view and the other to zoom in. The rate the zoom changes at will depend on how hard you are pressing on the switch.

Optical zoom: optical zoom ratios typically range from 10:1 up to around 50:1 or they are described as 50x optical zoom or having a 10x optical zoom. Like film cameras, the zoom depends on optical lenses.  

Digital zoom: Numerous cameras come with a digital zoom as well that extends the range up to 400:1 or more. However, at a lower picture quality compared to what optical zoom provides. 

3D Capability

There are some camcorders that capture video or 3D photos, or both. In order to do that, the camcorder can capture two images (or software can be used to create them), which represents the different perspectives of the right and the left eye. The differences between these two images work to create a sense of depth. The two images are combined by your brain into a single seamless 3D images while you are wearing special glasses, that are capable of providing each eye that has its own separate view, or whenever you view them using a special 3D LCD that has applied parallax barrier technology that it utilizes.

Built-In Projectors

There are some models have built-in projectors included (also called pico projectors). This feature is incorporated now into certain Sony HD camcorder models. Each of them includes a small projected that is embedded to the back of a flip-out LCD, that Sony claims can project a diagonal 60-inch image.

Camcorder Projector

Viewfinder

Although this feature is not found on most newer camcorders, some high pricer models come with an electronic viewfinder that allows you to compose shots without having to use the display. That conserves battery life and is useful in bright light situations where the LCD is washed out. 

WiFi

The number of camcorders that come with WiFi is continuing to grow. WiFi allows you to transfer wirelessly video and photos quickly to your computer, and then directly upload them to social networking sites or back them up on your hard drive. There are some models that allow you to connect wirelessly and transfer photos and videos to mobile devices or to remotely control the camcorder from an app onto a tablet or smartphone. Near field communication (NFC) is also included in some camcorders, which makes it quick and easy to connect to mobile devices.

Waterproof and/or Rugged Body

Waterproof and rugged models have bodies that can withstand falls and resist moisture. These models are great for anyone looking to buy a reliable camcorder that will keep on recording regardless of the conditions.

4K Resolution

Camcorders with 4K resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels) provide four times the resolution that a full HD camcorder does (1920 x 1080 pixels). Due to the higher resolution, the new kinds of camcorders are able to provide finer detail. However, in order to see these details, you need to have an Ultra High Definition (4K) TV.

Shopping Tips

Consider the features, controls, weight, size, and type. Try out different camcorders in the store to ensure they are comfortable for you to use and fit well in your hand. Most of the are designed with the most frequently used controls readily at hand - the still photo button, the record button, the switch for zooming in and out. Make sure the camcorder's controls are convenient for you and that you are able to change recording media and take out the batteries without any problems. More models include WiFi features now. So if that is important to you, check to see which camcorders include it.

LCD Screens

A majority of camcorders measure on the diagonal at about 3 inches. However, there are some that are larger. On the other hand, not many action cams have any kind of display. On full-sized models, some displays suffer when there is too much glare, which makes them hard to use outside in the bright sun. Make sure to check the display when you are in the store to ensure you are satisfied with any model's usability that you are considering buying. However, keep in mind that a majority of LCDS look good indoors. Viewing performance can vary greatly from one model to the next in full, midday sunlight. 

Lighting

You will not be shooting at all times in bright light. We used the default mode and found that models vary in quality when trying to shoot in dim light. A majority of full-sized HD camcorders capture good-quality video at least in low light conditions, but some provided excellent quality. Many camcorders come with settings that can help to improve performance, but they might be hard to use.

Camcorder Lighting

Audio Quality

Check to see how accurately sound is recorded by the built-in microphone and whether or not the sound file is free of hiss and noise. Action cams frequently are lacking in good audio quality. Some advanced models come with a jack to use with an external microphone, which can help to improve the sound quality.

Which Recording Format is For You?

The recording format you use will determine the amount of money you spend on memory media (usually a memory card) along with the amount of recording time you will have. A majority of models offer several resolution options and a couple of recording formats. However, there is usually a trade-off: Higher resolution settings and better quality formats provide you with shorter recording times.

How Video Is Stored By Camcorders

The standard storage mode is flash memory. Video is stored by most camcorders on memory cards, like a Memory Stick Micro memory card, Memory Stick, micro Secure digital card (microSDXC, microSDHC, microSD), and Secure Digital (SDC, SDHC, SD). The amount of highest quality video that you can record using a camcorder will depend on the capacity of the card, which ranges from4GB up to 128GB or higher.

There are some camcorders that come with a nonremovable, internal flash memory chip. Internal flash storage capacity ranges from 8GB up to 96GB. There are some models that come with both internal flash memory and a memory card. We have a great article on how camcorders work if you are interested in learning more!

Resolution and What Is Available Currently

High definition video is captured by most newer camcorders, including low-end budget models (at various frame rates and at either 1920 x 1080 pixels or 1280 x 720 pixels). This footage looks its best when seen on an HDTV. Fewer full-sized HD models have been introduced due to an increasing number of different devices (tablets, smartphones, SLRs) also being able to capture HD video.

However, there are 4K video camcorders being introduced into the market. The main distinction between an HD camcorder and a 4K camcorder is the resolution that is captured:

Resolution on a standard definition camcorder: 720 x 480 pixels

Resolution on an HD camcorder: 1280 x 720 pixels or 1920 x 1080 pixels

Resolution on a 4K camcorder: 3840 x 2160 pixels

Almost all of the HD models are able to record video in 1080i. This is the same resolution that a lot of HDTV programming has. Some are even able to shoot in 1080p - which is the same format that Blu-ray discs use. Just a couple of models record in 720p, which is an alternative HD broadcast format.

A lot more space is taken up by HD recordings compared to standard definition video. So you will be able to fit less video into your storage. There are some formats like AVCHD that record in HD that need to have HD-capable hardware, like a Blu-ray disc player, in order to play recordings back. There are also action cams that are able to capture HD-resolution video, including in 1080i. However, the video quality will be compromised in other ways, like having lower frame rates.

Conclusion

Hopefully this short guide on what to look for when buying a camcorder has been helpful. I remember a few years ago when I was looking for my very first camera I found it extremely overwhelming to make the right purchase. I would recommend that everyone takes there time when deciding on which camcorder they wish to get. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment down below or contact us here! If you want to learn more about camcorders head over to our homepage!

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