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Need help with camcorder buying decisions

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / March 1, 2007 7:12 PM PST
Question

My digital tape camcorder broke months ago and I?m so confused about replacing it. Is it a mistake to buy HD tape when they are so expensive now. Will mini tapes disappear in the next few years? I understand the quality and ability to edit is best using tapes or am I wrong. I?m not interested in a hard drive camcorder. Would you recommend DVD or tape camcorder? What are the pros and cons of both? Please help me. Thank you!

--Submitted by Carol L.


Answer voted most helpful by our members:

Carole, I ran into the same question you have about 7 months ago. I am no professional but I take a lot of video that I take home and edit with some fun editing programs, which I then save or burn into dvds to share with friends and family. My camcorder broke down as well so I did a lot of research but could not get the definite answer I was looking for until I ran into a professional who was hired to film my daughters game. I quickly went over to him while he was setting up to pick his brain. I checked out his mini DV $3800 professional camcorder and asked him his opinion of DVD, HD, HiDEF HD and mini DV. He told me if you like editing and creating your own style then he would go Mini DV which was the best camcorder for doing this. He told me the Hard drive cam compresses the video which takes away some when editing. The High def hard drive camcorder, he said he was going to stay away from because you have to make sure you have Hi def editing program along with Hi def burner, high def player, and high def TV to get the high definition. If your not into editing at all and want to keep it simple then go DVD Cam which will burn it right to a disk for you. The negatives in this is what you record you burn so even if there's long boring parts thats what your stuck with.

As for your question, will Mini DV tape cam's disappear? I doubt it since all the nice professional camcorders are using them. Could I afford his $3800 cam, I think not. The things that make these cam's so great is the video quality they produce. One of the features that give this camcorder good quality is its 3ccd chip, most camcorders have 1 chip. So I researched to find the best 3ccd cam for the consumer that was reasonably priced and came up with the Panasonic PV-GS500. I was amazed by the difference in video quality from what I had before. So much clearer and brighter. It was in the $800-$900 range. I would have to say keep researching as I bought my cam 5 months ago and who knows theres always something better around the corner. I hoped this info has helped you.

Submitted by RM aka ACM10


If you have any additional advice or recommendations for Carol, let's hear them. Click on the "Reply" link to post. Thanks!
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camcorders
by gcshaw / March 2, 2007 8:41 AM PST

Carol, if you are completely set against a hard drive comcorder, then I would recommend tape for sure. With a DVD camcorder you would have only 2 choices with the end product:
1. Shoot and keep with no editing. It would e sort of like the 8mm home movie cameras.
2. Shoot, edit, and throw away the DVD.
With a tape you can edit, erase and re-use the tape.

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Answer submissions for Carol L.
by bealls-2001 / March 2, 2007 8:51 AM PST

IMHO, I would recommend the DVD camera. I was facing that problem, especially since I did not want to carry lots of cameras when I went to Egypt for 2 weeks. I bought the Sony DVD 405. It was great. All of the video is on DVD which I can edit with my DVD/CD Drive. The nice thing is that it takes a memory stick (I took 4 - 1GIG) for the still pictures. Batteries were ok, but when I go to Paris, I am going to take 2 extra long life batteries.

I especially like the small size, light weight, and only having to have one camera.

Sandra Beall
Huntsville, AL

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Which type movie camera?
by puckster615542000 / March 2, 2007 8:52 AM PST

We opted a year ago for the mini-DVD. The mini discs are inexpensive, the camera lets you record and view ( after finalization of disc) and view on any DVD player that can hold the mini DVD. The sound, clarity for us we found to be excellent. You only have to buy probably one extra battery when purchasing the charger and by now there may be deals where the charger, one battery is all inclusive. We used ours on a trip to the Philippines last easter and we were able to view them with family and friends there the same day we shot several Good Friday / Easter Mass , etc. Just our view on what we preferred and purchased and we are indeed very pleased!!

Greg & Maria Psinas

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Tape for a new camcorder
by jmcgauhey / March 2, 2007 9:12 AM PST

1) Short answer, stay with tape if you interested at all in quality. All DVD camcorders compress with significant loss (even tape has loss, but MUCH less). If you are just capturing and burning regular DVD's it's not an issue, quality is about the same. If you are editing at all and requiring a render, then quality will degrade.

2) miniDV tape will be around for many years. They still sell VHS and 8mm. miniDV camcorders, including for HDV, are the best for all except professionals who are capturing uncompressed Hi Def, for which they need huge hard drives to store the same as a single miniDV tape.

3) I've shot a Sony HVR-A1U for over a year and tested all types of tapes, and read tests and ads. I've used $20 to $3 tapes and have decided to stay with Sony Premium for about $3. Despite some arguments and propaganda to the contrary, I personally believe this is the best trade-off for price and quality. The high price HD tapes are miniDV with a thicker coating and SOMETIMES better quality cassette. I have seen a test where the lower price tapes had fewer dropouts and lost pixels than higher priced tapes. That said, if I was a pro and getting paid, I'd invest in the high priced tapes. As a serious amateur, I buy the Sony Premium tapes for $3 by the 20 lot. They last a long time for archive storage and work great. I would buy the tape brand that matches my camcorder. Different tapes have different lubrications. While they should now all be compatible, staying with the same brand is probably the best idea. And personally, I never re-record a tape. One shot, then label, lock, and store it. At $3 each I can afford it; at $15 I can't.

Jim McG
Washington State

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Try comparing prices
by mrobinsonjr / March 2, 2007 9:18 AM PST

I DO NOT recommend VHSC or 8mm camcorders.Look at the prices for a DVD Camcorder.

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Buying Camcorders is like white-water rafting
by peterbkk / March 2, 2007 9:46 AM PST

Carol,

Buying camcorders is like white-water rafting. The river is completely outside your control, it changes regularly, you can not see what is coming around the next bend, there are sharps rocks and you will get wet.

Having said that, let me address the specific question (with as few acronyms as possible).

Right now (remember, we can not see around the next bend), DV tapes in an HDV camcorder seem to be the best choice. The issue with the disk-based camcorders is that they use a new, proprietary compression format that may or may not be widely popular in the future. To get the content onto hard disk or DVD, they have to compress the images more than the DV tape format. And because that new format has not been out long, many of the video editing software applications do not yet support it (but they will soon).

In summary, right now, DV tape-based camcorders are a better choice for the person concerned with the best quality output.

Of course, all this will change. But, in what way will it change is anyone's guess.

The main downside to DV tape is it may be phased out over the next few years (but, then so will everything else that we currently considered state-of-the-art). The other downside is that it has a relatively shorter archival life (so you need to edit your tapes onto DVDs).

So, to come back to my starting theme, in a situation like white-water rafting or buying new Camcorders, all you can do is make your decisions based on what is immediately in front of you and hang on for a bumpy ride.

Regards
Peter

Bangkok, Thailand

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Awesome!
by BrianMDPHD / March 9, 2007 10:40 AM PST

Hey, excellent analogy! That took some creative thought...if you don't mind I will use that to explain to clients what video formats I offer. Happy

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Video Format
by MarkinTO / March 2, 2007 9:49 AM PST

I've been using Mini-DV for the past several years and I've always been extremely pleased with the quality.

I've also noticed the TV producers I work with are also very happy with the results and, it's an easy medium to work with.

Perhaps, the only drawback, is the limited tape length.

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Mini DV vs. the rest
by ACM10 / March 2, 2007 10:16 AM PST

Carole, I ran into the same question you have about 7 months ago. I am no professional but I take a lot of video that I take home and edit with some fun editing programs, which I then save or burn into dvds to share with friends and family. My camcorder broke down as well so I did a lot of research but could not get the definite answer I was looking for until I ran into a professional who was hired to film my daughters game. I quickly went over to him while he was setting up to pick his brain. I checked out his mini DV $3800 professional camcorder and asked him his opinion of DVD, HD, HiDEF HD and mini DV. He told me if you like editing and creating your own style then he would go Mini DV which was the best camcorder for doing this. He told me the Hard drive cam compresses the video which takes away some when editing. The High def hard drive camcorder, he said he was going to stay away from because you have to make sure you have Hi def editing program along with Hi def burner, high def player, and high def TV to get the high definition. If your not into editing at all and want to keep it simple then go DVD Cam which will burn it right to a disk for you. The negatives in this is what you record you burn so even if there's long boring parts thats what your stuck with.

As for your question, will Mini DV tape cam's disappear? I doubt it since all the nice professional camcorders are using them. Could I afford his $3800 cam, I think not. The things that make these cam's so great is the video quality they produce. One of the features that give this camcorder good quality is its 3ccd chip, most camcorders have 1 chip. So I researched to find the best 3ccd cam for the consumer that was reasonably priced and came up with the Panasonic PV-GS500. I was amazed by the difference in video quality from what I had before. So much clearer and brighter. It was in the $800-$900 range. I would have to say keep researching as I bought my cam 5 months ago and who knows theres always something better around the corner. I hoped this info has helped you.
RM

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I agree
by dknapp / March 9, 2007 12:12 PM PST
In reply to: Mini DV vs. the rest

I bought the slightly less expensive Panasonic for around $700 at Best Buy and am totally pleased with it. I think that visual quality is very important. If you have a good idea for a shot, it can easily be trashed by a poor quality video. After that, it is in the editing process that your creativity can come out. The cameas that are intended for direct to DVD are also meant for "in camera" editing. Good luck. Frankly, to me, that is the digital equivalent of the millions of snapshots that lie mouldering in boxes and closets, rarely to be seen and eventually to be thrown out. With good video, you at least have a chance for a little longer life in your videos.

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Tape is still better!
by VidPro / March 2, 2007 10:57 AM PST

DVD camcorders sound ideal, in that there is no video transfer between the camera and computer for editing. You just insert the DVD into the computer and either play, or immediately start editing the "footage" you shot.

There are two problems with this Utopian vision.

One is that there are many PCs that can't read the camcorder's DVDs, and usually there is no other way to import the video for editing.

The other is that the DVD video is not up to same quality as DV tape would be (even without getting into HD tape), and the image on DVD recordings can break up (pixellate) whenever the camera or subject moves rapidly. This is an unavoidable "feature" of the DVD compression/encoding process.

I would never buy a DVD camcorder until that drawback is removed.

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It all depends...
by lhsonic / March 2, 2007 11:55 AM PST

It really all depends on your needs and what you want your camera to be able to do and what you want to do with your camera. If you're a casual family camera mom then I recommend getting a DVD camera becasue they are so simplistic and easy to use. You can also just format the DVD from the camera and use it in your home DVD player. If you are beyond the "casual" shooter, I highly recommend getting a tape camcorder, you really can't go wrong. Also, if you do or want to learn how to do any editing, DVD cameras are horrible. For one thing, most of the them cannot stream data via firewire so it's useless for computer capturing using applications like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier. The only downside to tape is that you can't do chapter skips and whatnot. MiniDV will not be disappearing anytime soon because it's the main media that most lower-end editors will use, DVDs and HDDs are not good at all. The other option is Hi8, but those are quickly being replaced by MiniDVs.

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Digital tape or DVD Camcorder, which one?
by merchContractor / March 2, 2007 12:00 PM PST

A good question, Carol, and a decision the buyer really needs to weigh in the pros and cons. As with computer upgrades and new systems, same goes with upgrading camcorders, and I bet the newest ones coming out will most likely not be the digital tapes as they are high priced. So are the DVD camcorders, but more in a price range the consumer can identify with their wallets, plus the DVD recorders out now will be usable with more DVD camcorders than the digital tapes. Sorry to hear about your equipment breaking, and once you know your own equipment, it's hard to get acquainted with the new, but you'll adjust, overcome and adapt (hoorah, the marine way!). I'm not all up on all the DVD camcorder types, but have seen the ads and at stores and if you go to a reputable electronic store in your area and ask to see a human person who knows their products well enough for a good sales pitch, I'd seek out and listen to them, not from anyone in this forum who doesn't work in an electronics store or a manufacturing plant for that type of product. You can check out your favorite types on the Internet, but be sure your store will have them displayed for you in your location, then seek out a knowledgeable sales person who knows the product well and can assist you in the product's specifics, its warranty and quality for your use. The best consumers are those who "shop" around and ask the right questions and seek out the right people to help in their decision buying process. Good luck to you in your new product buying experience.

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To HD or not to HD, that is the question.
by pdxjd / March 2, 2007 12:20 PM PST

It seems you're confusing a few terms here but let me try to simplify things. For $700-$1200 you can buy a decent HD or HDV camcorder that will take great images for personal and even prosumer events. These are not the cameras you see on the sidelines of the Super Bowl but they're just fine for your everyday use. If you intend to edit footage, then a DVD camcorder probably isn't your best option because it's harder to record to a DVD and then get that footage off the DVD to edit. It's much easier to get the footage off a tape. With an HD or HDV camcorder you can easily record high-def to a $3-$4 mini DV tape and it will keep theoretically forever. We shoot with the Canon GL1, GL2, Panasonic DVX-100, and Sony Handycam HDR-HC3 for smaller projects. Hope this helps.

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hd camcorder
by sajidada / March 9, 2007 5:11 AM PST

hi...what is HD and what is HDV? High Defination or hard drive? I think it makes sense to buy a hi def camcorder that uses tapes. Do you agree?

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camcorders
by xenios1 / March 2, 2007 12:26 PM PST

I recently purchaced a panasonic nv gs180 miniDV and have to say it was a good buy. I had thought for a moment on getting a camcorder with built in h/d but at the last moment, after checking out the features of this device clearly changed my mind. When it comes to editing probably the only drawback I can see it when transferring from tape to h/d, yes it can take a while. However other than that miniDV take excellent quality video's which look great even on a bigger screen.

Hope this helps

xenios

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Answer to Camcorder Question of Carol L.
by mercerik / March 2, 2007 12:57 PM PST

My camcorder is almost 6 years old. I have a Sony Digital 8 Handycam DCR-TRV 330. It uses Hi8 Digital 8 tapes. I almost bought a new one because I thought there was something wrong with it. It turned out that the problem was the battery.

When buying a camcorder, it is best to get a good brand. Personally, based on my experience, I prefer a Sony Camcorder because of the ease of use and durability. My suggestion to you is read reviews about the brand that you are interested in before you buy it. Right now, it is not advisable to get one that just came out in the market like the High Definition and the ones with the Hard Drive because they are so expensive. Eventually, their price will go down and that has been a trend. Hope this helps.

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What camcorder to buy?
by jord9 / March 2, 2007 1:50 PM PST

Absolutely no one on this planet should be purchasing ANYTHING that uses a tape. We are in the digital age now. The ONLY camcorder anyone should be buying is a HI-DEF HARD DRIVE camcorder. Sony and JVC both make consumer models for under $2,000 but I would really recommend you spend about $3,000-$10,000 for a semi-professional HD hard drive camera. I am a professional multi-media editor and I will not touch anything that is not capturing in a pure digital realm. When you record into a direct hard drive camera you can then download that directly into your computer and then start making whatever magic you want depending on your skill level and the editing software you have.

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Mac users get the short end of the stick .....
by twyrick / March 8, 2007 9:31 PM PST
In reply to: What camcorder to buy?

I'm extremely pleased with all the video-related things I can do on my OS X based Mac, *but* I'm also constantly frustrated by the limitations I run into if I use one of the new hard disk based camcorders with it!

Apple's iMovie and even Final Cut Express or Pro assume your camera has a *firewire* connection to the computer, and most hard-disk based camcorders use USB instead. To a Mac, this USB connection means the device must be a *still camera*, not a camcorder - so it launches iPhoto.

Sure, several of the drive-based camcorders claim to have OS X compatibility, but they do so by telling you to go download a copy of "CaptyDVD" off a Japanese web site. When you do this, you end up with a 2nd. rate piece of software that can work with your camcorder directly, but requires a 2-step import and export process to save your video clips in a format you can then load back into iMovie or Final Cut for editing. (Or of course, you can work entirely within this relatively cheezy product - and lose almost all the benefits you bought your Mac for in the first place!)

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Hmmm.
by dsasser / March 8, 2007 10:45 PM PST

I'm 99.9999% sure you're going about it the wrong way. If the wrong software is loading up it doesn't mean that the right software won't work.

The thing you want to consider is this: Can your Mac see the camcorder as a harddrive? It can, because you said it's treating it as a *still camera*. All you need to do, is treat as any other portable harddrive and copy your video files from the camcorders harddrive, then use iMovie etc.

If this doesn't make sense to you. Go to an Apple store with your camera and someone will show you how to do it correctly.

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$3000++ ??? What!
by dsasser / March 8, 2007 10:37 PM PST
In reply to: What camcorder to buy?

It's hard to imagine why anyone would suggest spending a ton of money on a camcorder for no specific reason. It's great that you "won't touch" anything less, I'm happy for you. But basically, your advice is unrealistic.

Tapes can be digital, most of them are. Why do you think tape is still a popular option for data backup? Let's get real about the downsides of tape, and at least try to leave the hype at home. Tape is less desirable because you can only access the information on the strip of tape in front of the reading heads. Remember VHS, fast forward, rewind, etc.

New tape technology is digital, so the image quality is as good as anything else.

When using a hard-drive based camcorder you gain quick access to any portion of your video, you also gain faster transfer rates to your computer. Hard-drives are also very rewritable, whereas tapes should be used once, no more than twice.

Your life using digital tapes should look like this:
A) Take sequential video (we all do this by default, press the record button, then press the record button).
B) Connect your camcorder to a computer (typically via firewire).
C) Upload the tape's entire video into your hard drive. (this takes hours)
D) Edit using your computer, preferably a newer Mac.

If you're interested in image quality, HD (as in hi-def not harddrive) is the feature to look for. I honestly can't see why you wouldn't want a tape, they are inexpensive enough that recording only once is not a big deal for most of us, and the time it takes to load a video into your computer for editing is as simple as: go to sleep, when you wake up, your video is ready for professional grade video editing. You can keep those tapes as a backup plan for your videos in the event that your harddrive fails or something like that.

My advice is this: DVD camcorders are for people that don't "do" computers. If you have a computer that can handle video editing, I would stear clear of DVD camcorders. They do give a quick and ready to duplicate product, but if you're going to edit (and who wouldn't want to) you loose everything you gain. DVD writing also uses up more battery than writing to tape. Hard drive based camcorders are nice, but if you have to choose between going Hi-def or harddrive I would suggest going Hi-Def, I think Hi-Def is the single most important feature to spring for these days. Hi-Def will give you something really nice to work with and will be worth all of the trouble, whether it's your family videos, your professional work, 2, 3, 10 years down the road you'll be happy you went Hi-Def. 10 years (or even one week)down the road you won't remember that you had to wait overnight to process the video into the computer. And it's not like transferring the data from a harddrive based camcorder would be instantaneous either.

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mini dv versus dvd
by Steve in PA / March 2, 2007 1:51 PM PST

mini dv is vastly superior to dvd. also, if u'r looking to replace your camcorder, try the High Defintion canon HV10, it's totally spectacular, and uses mini-dv tapes.

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Tape for Digital Camcorders
by Bert37 / March 2, 2007 3:02 PM PST

I changed to digital 4 years ago using an upper class Canon MVX3i camera with great facilities and superb quality. Just recently I purchased a SONY HDR-HC3E as to move up to HDV with 1080i resolution. Both cameras work with the same Mini DV tapes that are cheap and reliable. The fact that the most modern cameras still are offered using DV tape prove that this recording media will not die soon. It needs less compression than HD recording and is less sensitive to shocks. The only drawback of tape is that it starts to be worn when it is played back and rewound frequently. However, a serious user will transfer the tape as soon as possible to the computer and not use it for shoe shining in the camera.
So for I never encountered trouble with my min DV cassettes.

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Tape or Hard Drive
by lungjian / March 2, 2007 3:21 PM PST

If you're capturing and editing your recorded video on a computer, tape is much better than DVD. And with a DVD camcorder, a bump during filming can make the entire disc unreadable. Rarely happens, but still a factor to consider.

I'm curious as to why you're ruling out hard drive camcorders. The AVCHD format (MPEG4) as implemented in HDD and DVD camcorders is currently inferior to the HDV (MPEG2) format, but it's still very good and has the ability to improve, unlike MPEG2.

Capturing from tape is real-time only. One hour of video will require one hour to transfer to your computer's hard drive. A hard drive camcorder will transfer the video in a fraction of the time. The new large drive (60GB) camcorders can hold 5+ hours of hi-def video at the best quality setting.

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Tapeless Future?
by FIBBLEFESTER / March 2, 2007 3:59 PM PST

Hi Carol-

The future does appear to be in the favor of solid state or disc based HD camcorders. Sony has a couple of HD DVD camcorders but the length of recording time is limited. Panasonic has relased the HVX200 series HD camcorder that can use tape, an external HD or internal solid state memory cards. The cards are the least cost effective way of recording HP but they are also the most versatile. While mini-DV tapes for HD recording are cost effective modes of staorage, they have to be captured in a linear fashion, meaning they cannot just download a file such as in the Panasonic HD camcorder which uses memory cards, or the external portable hard drive. The majority of camcorders record at 1080i and are capable of creating some incredible imagery.

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Stand alone HD firewire recorder
by deltajjj / March 8, 2007 9:00 PM PST
In reply to: Tapeless Future?

I capture my video with a Canon XL2 MiniDV camera. I purchased a firewire connected HD CitiDISK 40GB hard drive. If this system ever becomes the norm, it will be the best. I have had trouble with the CitiDISK drive acting like it was capturing video...all the lights indicating so and gone back to my computer and there would be no DV files to drag over into my iMovie program...that ain't good. I have always used the MiniDV tape...even when the HD is attached. I am sure when the new built in HD cameras are in the hands of computer savey
videographers, it will be the best way to go. The transfer time to move to the editing program is a dream come true...just like a time machine...zap and it blast over to my edit program and with my extra time(which is money) I am on my way. More internal HD cameras please...that goes for a Canon XL2HD...I like the sound of that.

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DV vs DVD
by davidbachman2028 / March 2, 2007 5:18 PM PST

I encounter this question on a daily basis selling the equipment, and I tell most people to avoid the DVD camcorders. To put it bluntly, 30 minutes recording time, problems with editing and the added cost of the media are major reasons for avoiding DVD camcorders.

As for tape availability, you can still get old 8mm and VHS-C tapes now, and I don't see there being any availability issues with miniDV tapes for many years.

HDV camcorders are great, but I don't see the point in getting one just yet. There are so few devices that are High Definition compatible, especially when it comes to storing your edited footage. It will be a different story when Blu Ray/HD-DVD burners are commonplace and cheap, but at the moment they are quite simply too expensive.

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MiniDv or DVD
by padillab / March 2, 2007 7:18 PM PST

While it is clear that miniDv produce better images and editing, the good thing about DVD is the great ease of use. No one can beat the taking out of a DVD from your camcorder and trowing it in your DVD player
Basil

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That is the exact reason why some people go for DVD.
by davidbachman2028 / March 2, 2007 8:10 PM PST
In reply to: MiniDv or DVD

That is the best thing about DVD camcorders. However, I have seen on almost a daily basis people struggle with the +/- compatibility issues and ask why DVDRAM disks wont work on their player. Thats probably not an issue with users here, but in the less tech savvy world its a big problem. When you have had to explain the principles of finalising and formatting disks for the tenth time in a week, you tend to develop a dislike of the products.

I totally agree with your point, and for some people DVD is the answer.

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Camcorders
by seaturtleman / March 2, 2007 11:23 PM PST

Hi Carol,

Although I'm sorry that your tape camcorder broke, the models available today are so much more portable.

I bought myself a mini-DV tape model for Christmas. As you may have heard, these are being phased out. But, you can still buy ten-packs of the tapes online for under $3.00 per tape. I've bought myself enough to last as long as I'll own the camera. The quality of the movies is great, and these models are more compact than either the hard drive or mini-DVD models.

Whatever you end up buying, have fun.

Regards,
Joe

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