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What camcorder for filming kids in low light?

I need a camcorder to take video of my frenetic 1-year-old in low light, what can you recommend?

I need a camcorder to take video of my 1-year-old to send to my parents in Australia. I've never really had a camcorder before and don't know where to start. Considering that my child is very active and doesn't stay still for a second, and that it's coming into autumn now so most shooting will happen indoors or in lowish light, what can you recommend?

Joanne Mercer

Thanks for your question, Joanna. Toddlers can run like the wind, particularly when you ask them to stay still! Your situation poses a problem -- as available light decreases, the frame rate a camcorder uses will automatically decrease, resulting in blurred footage. The faster your child moves in low light, the more blurred the image will become, until you end up with something barely recognisable, rather than a heartwarming Kodak moment.

Luckily, most modern camcorders are fairly good in low light. You'll get better results the more you spend on your camcorder. A 3CCD (charge coupled device) camcorder will capture red, green and blue light independently. This type of camcorder is generally better in low light, but some single-CCD camcorders also do a decent job.

MiniDV tape camcorders are the best option, as the consumer models of DVD or hard disk based camcorders will give you poor low-light footage. Sony has a strong reputation for low-light performance and camcorders from its Handycam range, such as the DCR-HC96, are excellent low-light performers. Alternatively, our video editor recommends the more expensive Canon MVX 3i as a low-light performer.

If you're filming in really low light conditions, you could try using the infrared Night Shot and Super Night Shot modes on the Sony Handycam models. These are highly sensitive night-vision settings, but do result in a bright green appearance to your footage. This can give the impression that you're viewing things from the perspective of a psychopath, so it isn't ideal for family footage.

At the top end of the scale, the prosumer Sony HDR-FX1 is very good in low light, with the added benefit of being high definition, so you'll get a seriously detailed picture. However, this is a very expensive camcorder and since your camcorder will be in the proximity of a child, you'll probably want to opt for something more modest.

Basically, good low-light performance costs more, and you won't find many camcorders under £400 that offer it. A more cost-effective option may be to consider changes you can make to ambient lighting in your home. Typical domestic room lighting is enough for many camcorders, but you could increase the wattage of the bulbs in your house. It's best to use compact fluorescent energy-saver bulbs, as these will last longer and do less harm to the environment.

Good luck with your exciting journey through the land of camcorder purchasing!