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How to Buy a Digital Camcorder

Recording your own movies has never been easier than it is today with the latest models of digital camcorders. Make high quality videos with these lightweight, easy-to-use multimedia devices that capture digital video, but can also do so much more.

How Digital Camcorders Work

Digital camcorders, also known as digital video (DV) cameras, record dramatically sharper images and better sound than analog video cameras. Analog cameras record data magnetically, while digital cameras store data on chips, like a computer. Using digital video also makes it much easier to edit your movies on a computer, where you can add a music soundtrack or rearrange the order of events. Some digital camcorders also offer a digital still function that allows you to take digital still pictures like you would with a digital camera.

Mini Digital Video (MiniDV) cameras are compact in size and offer high-quality digital video that should retain its quality when copied. Mini-DV cassettes run on lightweight lithium-ion batteries and can record up to 3 hours of footage in SP mode. You must connect the camcorder directly to the VCR or TV for playback. MiniDV cameras can also be connected directly to your computer with an IEEE 1394 port (also known as FireWire).



  • Most camcorders come with an LCD viewfinder that lets you review your tape or see what you're filming without looking through the eyepiece.
  • They come in either Black and White or Color
  • LCD screens range in size from 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Keep in mind that larger screens are easier to use but are more expensive.


  • Most cameras offer some form of image stabilization-which helps minimize the shakiness that results from recording with a handheld camera.
  • High-end models offer advanced stabilization features which work extremely well.


  • Most camcorders come with a zoom lens that lets you get closer to the action without actually moving.
  • You can get an idea of how powerful the camera's zoom is from its magnification rating: the larger the number, the closer you can zoom in. For example, a camera with an 18x zoom can create an image that appears to be 18 times closer than if you weren't using a zoom lens.
  • Be careful to distinguish between optical zoom and a digital zoom: Optical zoom lets you change this focal length, so you can move from one magnification to a closer magnification. Digital zoom uses electronics to enlarge a small portion of the entire image, which can lead to fuzzy pictures.

Special Effects and Scene Transitions

  • Special Effects can enhance your videos with options such as animation, classic film effects, and many other fun features.
  • Scene Transitions can be used to add effects between your video scenes. Various wipes and fades are the most commonly used transitions.

Capturing Still Photos

  • Many digital camcorders offer a digital camera feature that can capture and store still photos that you can download to your computer.
  • The resolution is usually the same as a decent quality digital camera, between 1 and 3 megapixels.
  • Also look for how many megabytes (MB) of memory comes with the camcorder - this will determine how many photos you can save at once. Some camcorders also have memory card slots that let you add more memory.

Size and Design

  • Vertical - Slim and long, generally with a built-in eyepiece
  • Horizontal - generally longer than it is taller with the eyepiece sticking out upward like old VHS camcorders, but smaller.
  • Compact - The smallest camcorders available don't exceed 5 inches in any dimension and weigh only a few ounces.


When purchasing a digital camcorder, you may also want to consider what accessories you will need:

  • Digital/Mini Digital video cassettes - record, store, and create a collection of movies from 60 to 180 minute lengths.
  • Camcorder bag - keep your digital camcorder safe, along with having pockets to store cables and tapes.
  • Tripod - for keeping the camera perfectly still while recording movies.

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