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Christmas Gift Guide
Camcorders

Which camcorder format?

I'm confused by all the camcorder formats available at the moment. Should I choose a hard disk-based camcorder, a DVD camcorder or a MiniDV model? I'm going nuts here!

Dear CNET, I'm confused by all the camcorder formats available at the moment. Should I choose a hard disk-based camcorder, a DVD camcorder or a MiniDV model? I'm going nuts here!

Sarah Thompson

Hello Sarah. Here's my advice. First off, you probably don't want a DVD camcorder -- the format's new, there's only around 30 minutes of record time per disc, the quality is mediocre and it's an absolute nightmare to edit the footage. Of course, there are some advantages to DVD camcorders, namely the convenience of having your footage on discs that will play on your home DVD player. But, for the moment at least, we'd hesitate to recommend one.

Hard disk camcorders have similar shortcomings. The video quality of the ones we've tested so far has been reasonable -- certainly better than the DVD models -- but, again there is a problem with editing footage. Every hard disk camcorder we've tested has caused problems as we've tried to convert the proprietary codecs into something a mainstream editing package can deal with.

As you've probably guessed, MiniDV tape camcorders are still the best option. Because the format's well established, good models are much more affordable than DVD camcorders. You also have the advantage of all the popular editing software (iMovie, Final Cut Pro and Premiere) being designed to work with MiniDV. Recording quality is generally excellent, especially with 3CCD models and battery life and record times are long. Good luck!