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Digital camcorders usually offer better picture quality and sound quality than analog camcorders, but they are somewhat more expensive. Digital videos can be copied repeatedly without losing picture quality or sound quality, whereas analog recordings tend to lose quality because they cannot be copied exactly. Digital video cameras usually feature a "still" mode, but their still pictures are much lower resolution than pictures from a good still camera. Features to look for when buying a camcorder include a large CCD, high ratio optical zoom, a memory card, and quality construction. Extra accessories to consider include an extra battery, a tripod, and a polarizing filter.
With today's camcorders, you can do much more than play back videos on your television. Most of today's modern digital camcorders allow you to edit what you have recorded, add music, play your productions on your DVD player or computer, and even send what you have filmed to family and friends through email.
So, how do you choose the digital camcorder that is right for you and your situation? First of all, pick your price range. The cost of the digital camcorder you buy will depend upon the features it offers, as well as the quality of those features. Starting with a definite price range will help you determine which features you can't live without, which features you would like, and which features you don't need. A good rule of thumb is to buy the best camcorder for your budget.
Next, you'll need to determine which kind of recording format is best for you. Not only will the recording format tell you how much recording time you'll get, it will also tell you how much you will need to spend on tapes, discs, or memory cards. Here are a few rules of thumb. MiniDV, Digital 8, or MicroMV tapes give you about 60 minutes of recording on a standard cassette. Of these, the MiniDV and Digital 8 cassettes are the easiest to find and the least expensive. Some digital DVD recorders use DVD-RAM discs, which can be reused but don't work in all DVD players. These recorders can also use one-use, DVD-R discs that do work in most DVD players. These types of video recorders usually have two settings: standard and fine. The standard setting gives you 60 minutes of recording, while the fine setting usually gives you 20 or 30 minutes of recording.
Some digital camcorders use memory cards. The amount of recording time you get can vary significantly, from 15 minutes to an hour or more. Camcorders with hard drives are limited only by the capacity of their hard drives. On most models you can store a few hours at the highest quality setting, and up to ten or more hours on the lower-quality setting.
Once you've decided on a camcorder in a format that fits your budget, you'll need to make sure it's comfortable for you. Each camcorder has a unique configuration, so checking out the size, weight, and controls — and making sure they suit your needs — is imperative when making your selection. Make sure the camcorder fits your hand well and is comfortable. Some of the ultralight, small models that appeal to you initially on sight may actually be difficult to maneuver and use because of their tiny size. You'll also want to make sure that the important controls — like the zoom, record button, and still button — are easily within reach when you are holding the camera. Make sure that the camcorder has a system that allows you to remove and change the cassette, disc, or memory card easily. The same concerns apply to accessing and replacing the camcorder's battery.
After you have determined that the camcorder is comfortable to hold and easy to use, be sure to check out the flip-out LCD viewer to make sure that it suits you. Larger viewers will cost significantly more, but are well worth it. The last thing you want is a camcorder with a viewer that is difficult to see because of size or glare.
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