What to Consider When Looking For a Camcorder
When considering a new camcorder, one of the first choices to make is the recording medium that you will use to record your movies. Selecting a recording media first will significantly reduce the number of camcorders you need to consider, so decisions made afterwards will be quite a bit easier. Let's review the types of storage media available as well the types of user/usage each media is best suited for.
== Tape Camcorders ==
Even though it's been around for a long time, tape provides the highest grade recordings for camcorders. When recording to tape, the image is subjected to the least amount of compression so your recordings maintain the best possible image quality. In addition to providing sharpest images, tape-based camcorders also tend to be cheaper than camcorders that make use of other storage media.
One downside to tape-based camcorders is that the tapes are limited as to how much can be recorded to between 60 - 90 minutes. But the recording tapes are fairly cheap to buy, so carrying backup tapes is usually not an issue. An additional issue with camcorders that record to tape is that to get your recordings onto a format you can send to Grandma (a DVD for example) requires that you download your movie to a computer first. The downloading transfer takes place in real time. So if you need to download a 90-minute recording to your computer, it will really take 90 minutes. With tape-based camcorders, you cannot perform any sort of editing (other than backing over the tape and recording over it again); all of the editing needs to take place on your computer.
Tape-based camcorders are ideal for two types of users: people who want high quality recordings, and people on a budget.
== Hard-Drive Camcorders ==
Hard-disk drive (HDD) camcorders tend to give the longest possible recording lengths. With typical amounts of compression, you can typically get as much as 10 hours of recording time on an HDD camcorder. With an HDD camcorder, you never need to buy additional tapes. Depending on the specific model, you can edit your recordings right on your camcorder. And when it is time to transfer your movies to your computer, the transfer rate is substantially higher than when transferring recordings from a tape-based camcorder.
The main downside with HDD camcorders is that the movies are most often very compressed and this can lead to poorer image quality. HDDs themselves are also comparatively power hungry and can be more easily ruined from environmental extremes or drops (as can your camcorder itself). But if you ruin your tape-based camcorder, while the camera may be dead, you still have the tape. In the case of an HDD-based camcorder, if it gets destroyed, you are unlikely to get your existing recordings off the camcorder.
HDD camcorders are extremely versatile and they are principally meant for the home user.
== DVD camcorders ==
Camcorders that store directly to a DVD as their recording medium are a good choice for folks who desire a recording format that is widely playable and for those without a computer. There's nothing simpler than recording a movie on your camcorder and putting the result right into the DVD player.
The primary negative for DVD camcorders is the length of recording and the image quality. The amount of recording time available will depend on the compression employed, but at the best recording quality settings, you can expect to get only get 20 - 30 minutes per DVD. If you reduce the quality of the compression you can get longer recording times, but then your recording quality is reduced.
DVD camcorders are an excellent pick for people without computers since there is no need to upload the video from of the camera; it comes off directly on the DVD. If you have a computer, and it's a model that you do not think is appropriate to the increased demands of video transfer and editing, a DVD camcorder may also be a good pick for you.
== Flash Camcorders ==
As advances continue to be made in the flash memory field, flash-based camcorders are becoming more prevalent. Solid-state flash takes up very little space and is relatively low-power, so camcorders with flash memory as a storage media tend to be lighter and smaller than other camcorder models. They also tend to be more rugged and are able to take more abuse such as drops. Like many other models, flash-based camcorders need to have their recordings transferred to a computer before the video can be put onto a DVD, but the transfer is typically very fast for most models.
As with other non-tape based camcorders, there may be issues around image quality and compression. Also, depending on the amount of the flash memory available, there may issues around the amount of the recording time available.
If you are searching for the lightest and smallest camcorder obtainable, a flash-based camcorder is probably your best bet.