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Newbie looking for a camcorder (low cost, good quality)

by just_bri / September 14, 2008 10:18 AM PDT

Hello! =)

For the past 2 weeks, I've been searching online for a camcorder. But every time I find a camcorder I like, I end up finding a lot of good AND bad reviews. I know I shouldn't take every word to heart, but I hardly know anything about camcorders. Which is why I came here for help. =\

That said, please forgive me if my post is vague. I'm not sure what specs are good (12MP?, 720i?, etc.), so unfortunately I can't say exactly what "good" and "decent" means in numerical terms. So instead I'll use pictures, and videos like this.

What My Camcorder Will Be Used For
Family gatherings, short skits (to be added on YouTube). Nothing really professional, but I'd like decent quality. Happy

What I Want
I want a reasonably priced camcorder (under $250) that:

1. Can record decent video (maybe something that looks this clear?)
2. Has a hand strap (I'm a bit of a klutz, so if it stays on my hand that'd be great)
3. Can work with WinXP (and Vista)
4. Can take good quality, digital pictures [optional]
5. Has battery life longer than 1 hour (maybe 2-3 hours)
6. Either has a hard drive, or uses Flash cards (hybrids are fine as well)

7. Can zoom in 10x, or higher (also: is digital zoom better than optical zoom? And is optical zoom where you manually twist the lens cap to make things bigger?)

Thanks in advance!!

1) What are the pros and cons of having a camcorder shaped like this, and one that's shaped this way? The latter looks harder to hold...

2) What is "MiniDV"? Most of the cameras I find use this format. But from what I've read, I can't easily transfer these files to my computer.

3) If my camcorder doesn't come with a tripod, is there a way I can force it to work on a tripod? I'd really like to have a tripod (preferably one with adjustable height), in case I need to take some high-up shots (or get people over 6 feet tall in my videos)...and I'd hate to stand on a table or chair.

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I guess I'll start...
by boya84 / September 15, 2008 3:33 AM PDT

The video you linked to has a "view in high quality" link at the lower right of the video window. I get the same thing after I post. I capture video in high definition (HDV) and when the edit process is complete I export the hidef video to a h.264, 720p, .mov format. The easiest way to explain this is to have you go to and read through the FAQ and "How to save HD". I post the same video file at both and YouTube.

In my opinion, there aren't many quality camcorders for less than $250. I'll qualify that a bit. With decent light, a tripod, an a few other items and skills, You can replicate the quality on the link you provided. If the audio is too loud or too soft or if there is not a lot of light, the video quality will take a turn for the worse - quickly. The Sanyo Xacti family of camcorders might meet your needs. Keep in mind that with small lenses and small imaging chips, these little "toy" flip-cams will degrade video quality very quickly when capturing video and audio in less than optimal surroundings.

There are a couple of reasons good camcorders are expensive - workmanship, materials used, big lens, big imaging chips. There are other reasons, but these probably are the bulk of the expense of the camcorder production.

Computer Operating System is only part way there - what do you plan to edit with? If you get an AVCHD based camcorder (high definition flash and hard drive based camcorders typically use this format to save very highly compressed high definition video).

Most good camcorders take good video and not so good stills. Most still cameras take good still and not so good video.

In my experience, all camcorders have a strap - whether you can (or want to) tie it to your wrist is up to you.

Most real camcorders don't come with batteries that last 2-3 hours unless you buy an optional high capacity battery. (Pardon my being a snob, but I just can't consider the little flip camcorders as "real" camcorders.)

The advantage to the different shapes of camcorder... one has more room for large lenses and imaging chips and other electronics. The video quality on the larger one will likely be better under certain conditions. The smaller flip-type will more easily fit in a pocket.

Optical zoom is when actual lenses are used for getting closer to the subject - zooming in... in some cases the camcorder can allow manual zooming (when you "twist the lens"), but that is not necessary. Digital zoom means the glass remains in a set place, but the image is made bigger electronically. If you have ever seen a small picture on your computer and then tried to fill the screen only to have the image get blurry or pixelated - this is an example of digital zoom. In my opinion, digital zoom should be disabled on a camera or comcorder as soon as you get the camcorder. Digital zoom is useless and should never be used. Optical zoom has value.

"MiniDV" is a digital video tape format that continues to be the media storage choice of certain camcorders. The DV and HDV video formats are typically found in higher-end camcorders because the image qulaity is better. DV and HDV compress the digital video information much less than some of the formats stored by hard disc drive (HDD) and flash memory based consumer camcorders, the media and process flow is mature and there is no extra step for creating an archive of the captured video (as with the extra step when using flash or HDD camcorders. BUT, miniDV based camcorders require your computer to have a firewire port for transferring video (flash and HDD cams use USB) - if your computer does not have a firewire 400 port, they are typically easy to add if your computer has an available (and appropriate) expansion slot.

All camcorders and still cameras have a tripod mount - and at the consumer level, the mounting screw is standard and will work with all.

Hard drive camcorders can have issues with lots of vibration (loud crowds, loud motors/engines, loud music whether amplified or not) and high altitude. I would suggest you focus (no pun intended) your investigation on miniDV tape and flash memory camcorders. DVD based camcorders make for OK door stops.

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by just_bri / September 16, 2008 6:54 AM PDT
In reply to: I guess I'll start...

Thank you VERY much for the helpful post! =)

The advantage to the different shapes of camcorder... one has more room for large lenses and imaging chips and other electronics. The video quality on the larger one will likely be better under certain conditions. The smaller flip-type will more easily fit in a pocket.

So the skinnier camcorder has room for modifications (adding extra lenses, etc.)? Or is it the bulkier, more traditional-looking one? 'Cuz more features would be a good thing....but it's still kinda hard trying to narrow it down. =\

Maybe I should just save for a more expensive camcorder? In which case:

1) Which ones do you recommend? (I want something under $1,000 -- and I don't really want one that looks "professional", like the big ones you see on movie sets.)

2) Do you happen to know a website where I can buy a camcorder with monthly installments (as opposed to paying one lump sum)? 'Cuz that might be the best option.

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Generally speaking,
by boya84 / September 16, 2008 7:35 AM PDT
In reply to: Thanks!

smaller, less expensive consumer camcorders do not typically have the feature sets the larger camcorders have - so mostly you are stuck with no additional lenses (or a way to connect them to the camcorder). And many times, the less expensive camcorders are targeted at those who don't want to spend much money (or they are expecting to break the camera) - so accessories are not typically something they look to spend even more money on.

Some - not all - of the larger camcorders have mounting threads to add wide angle, tele and tele-macro lenses. And for the most part, as the camcorder gets bigger, the closer it approaches "prosumer" or pro-grade, hence more features.

I can't help you with the various websites or stores and their payment options - but at under $1,000, you have some very good choices in the consumer camcorder area... Perhaps you can investigate:
Standard definition only
Canon ZR900, ZR930 (miniDV tape)
Canon FS10, FS11, FS100 (flash memory)

High Definition and standard definition
Canon HV30 (miniDV tape)
Sony HDR-HC9 (miniDV tape)

MiniDV tape needs firewire port on your computer for video transferring DV or HDV. I am not an AVCHD fan, so no AVCHD high def camcorders on this list - maybe others might recommend them. All of these camcorders have an audio in jack so you can use a compatible external mic. The high def cams also have manual audio control and can add lenses.

At $1000 you hit the high end of the consumer range. Beyond this, generally, are the a couple of standard def "prosumer" or low-end pro camcorders (Sony DCR-VX2100 and Canon GL2)... then there is a big jump to the high def prosumer/pro equipment starting at a little over $3,000.

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Camcorder Ratings
by matefork / September 15, 2008 3:50 PM PDT

I think the first thing that you have to do is list the camcorders that fit your budget. After that you can read on their corresponding reviews in order to see which one fits more to your criteria. And lastly, you can compare the camcorder ratings between these items. It will give you an idea which one is best for you.

Good luck.

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by just_bri / September 16, 2008 7:02 AM PDT
In reply to: Camcorder Ratings

...But before I posted here, that's exactly what I did. I searched online, read multiple reviews (I even went to, and I still got overwhelmed and confused by it all. So that's why I came here to ask for help.

But thanks anyway for the suggestion! Happy

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