Buying Your First
Digital Camcorder

If you're looking for a digital camcorder, you will be spoilt for choice. There are so many models out there - Canon, Sony, Panasonic, JVC - just to name a few brands.

It is tough to make a decision because of the variety and the cost. Digital camcorders are not cheap. and easily run into the $500 to $2000 price range.

You wouldn't want to fork out so much money for a camera that does not meet your expectations.

Let's take a look at the various factors to consider when purchasing your first camcorder.

Analog or Digital Format?

The first decision you have to make is this: do you want to work with video in an analog format (VHS-C, 8mm and Hi8) or a digital format (MiniDV, Digital8, MicroMV, Digital Tapeless and DVD). The digital format is all the rage now, just look at the digital camcorders flying off the shelves offline and online. Of course, a digital camcorder is slightly more expensive than an analog one.

If you simply cannot decide whether to go digital or analog, just consider the intended usage of your camera. If you intend to capture video into the computer and do some video editing, then my advice is to go for a digital camcorder. If you don't mind lower quality video, then save your money and get an analog camera. You can still import video from your analog camera into your computer using an analog-to-digital conversion device (albeit with some loss in quality).

What's Your Budget?

As with all purchases you make, you need to consider your budget. A low-end digital camera like the Canon ZR200 will set you back about $400. A super duper high-end model like the Sony HDR-FX1 will cost a bomb at $3000. Be sure to compare prices and get the best deals matching the features you want in your camera. Of course, the more you pay, the better features you'll get - that's a known fact.

Other Features

The features and attributes to consider when purchasing a camcorder include:

  • Firewire/IEEE 1394 support
  • Lens Quality
  • LCD Size
  • Optical Stabilization System
  • Digital Still Image Capability
  • Support for HD video

To me, only the first attribute (Firewire support) is absolutely critical. Never buy a digital camcorder that does not have Firewire support (a rarity these days anyway). The other attributes like lens quality, LCD size and optical stabilization are nice to have but should not matter if you are just an average home user.

The last attribute - digital still image capability - gives you the ability to shoot pictures just like a digital still camera. I personally think there's no need for this feature, as it jacks up the price tag way too much. I'd prefer to get a basic videocam and a proper digital still camera separately if I want to both shoot videos and take still pictures.

Camcorder Models

There are so many camcorders out in the market, it can be perplexing for the newbie. I'd suggest that if you're starting out in desktop video, try to go for a budget level camcorder. These models have decent lenses, zoom capabilities and retail for very reasonable prices. And you'd be surprised - some low end models have advanced features like support for HD video too.

As you progress in skill level, you can get increasingly better and more professional level camcorders. Some professionals I know go for models that cost thousands of dollars - I'd suggest you go for those only when you want to shoot broadcast  quality video.

Conclusion

So while it seems you are blinded by the vast array of choices available for digital camcorders, my advice is to focus on your budget and intended usage of the camera.

I know some professional wedding videographers who use their digital camcorders to shoot wedding videos. These guys need the best, high-end models. If you're a average home user, start with a lower-end to mid-range model. You can always upgrade to a better model later as you get more experienced in digital video.

Here are some of the best camcorder models in the market.


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Related Articles

You may also wish to read the following related articles:

A review of the Sony DCR-HC21 MiniDV camcorder
A guide to selecting a computer for digital video editing
Top 10 digital camcorders under $600
Top 5 super compact digital video cameras
Top 10 3-CCD camcorders