Choosing a Digital CamcorderMay 8, 2001 (Updated Apr 13, 2005) Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in CamcordersThe Bottom Line You should choose a digital camcorder based on the features and accessories you need, price and convenience.
There are several questions you have to ask yourself when deciding on what camcorder to buy.
Probably, the first question is weather you should go with MiniDV or Digital8 format.
1. MiniDV Versus Digital8
Picture And Sound Quality
There is no difference in the picture and sound quality between MiniDV and Digital8 much more depends on the optics, CCD and electronic components of the particular camcorder.
MiniDV is smaller and the camcorders based on it are usually smaller and weigh less than D8 ones.
The MiniDV tapes can hold 30, 60 and 80 minutes in the standard SP mode. In LP mode, they hold 1.5 times more 45, 90 and 120 minutes (without the loss in picture quality, but sometimes with a loss in features, like audio dubbing).
D8 uses 8mm or Hi8 tapes (Sony recommends Hi8), but, since the tape travels twice as fast, the capacity is twice less than in Video8 mode you can record 60 minutes on the 120-minute Hi8 tape. In LP mode the capacity increases by 50%, so 120-minute tape can hold 90 minutes of digital video. Sony recommends to play back the LP-recorded D8 tapes on the same camcorder they were recorded. Same with 8mm tapes in SP mode.
Also, keep in mind that you cannot record in LP mode on a 8mm tape only on Hi8 tape. Even if you select LP mode and 8mm tape is in camcorder, the recording will be in SP mode. To be able to get LP mode recording, you need to buy a Hi8 tape.
If you go to Best Buy, you will see that 120-minute (60-minutes in D8 more) 8mm tapes cost around $2, Hi8 - $5, 60-minute MiniDV - $10 and MiniDV with a 4K chip - $20. So if you plan to shoot a lot, you can save some money using Hi8 or even 8mm tapes (Hi8 is recommended, but 8mm will do fine).
But you can buy MiniDV tapes online (on Ebay and on sites of the companies that sell MiniDV media on Ebay) for $5-7 including shipping, if you buy them in 5 or 10-pack. And if you dont use the camcorder a lot, the price advantage of D8 shouldnt matter.
Some MiniDV camcorders allow you to record additional information on the aforementioned chip, embedded in some MiniDV tapes. Other than that, both formats provide the same level of features.
If you have 8mm or Hi8 recordings you would like to play back on your new camcorder, Digital 8 allows it (you cannot record in 8mm or Hi8 format, only in D8, and play 8mm and Hi8 tapes). But if you used VHS-C (VHS) or S-VHS-C (Super VHS), I suggest you go with MiniDV.
The problem with Digital8 is the fact that it is a proprietary format that, as of this writing, only two companies support (and both also have MiniDV models). And if you use D8 and later your camcorder dies, or you decide to get a new one, there is a good chance you will want to (or have to) go with MiniDV. With no way to play D8 tapes on the new camcorder.
So D8 provides compatibility with the past, whereas MiniDV with the future.
D8 is currently less expensive. If you want to buy a camcorder made by Sony, the cheaper models use D8 with more expensive ones using MiniDV (and having more features).
Majority of digital camcorders include similar features: image stabilizer, FireWire (ILink) input/out, A/V and S-Video inputs, powerful digital zoom, etc. However different camcorders have different level of implementation of certain other features.
You have to carefully read specs and included accessories lists to find a camcorder with all features and accessories you need.
As you probably know, digital camcorders, on average, outperform analog models. There is no video noise; picture quality in SP and LP modes is the same. The difference in picture quality is quite small among digital models of name brands. However, some models are still better than others (but to achieve this they employ expensive techniques, like 3 CCDs).
Two leaders in picture quality and volume are Panasonic and Sony. Although their comparably priced models feature similar performance, one or the other one has an edge when it comes to features.
Sony has somewhat better image stabilizers. Panasonic generally has better low-light performance, mechanics and reliability. But the difference is not overwhelming, and in addition, as new models are released, this might change.
Good source of information on picture quality and features is Consumer Reports".
4. Bottom Line
You should choose a camcorder based on the features and accessories you need, price and convenience. Since the picture quality of brand-name digital camcorders in the same price range is similar (and much better than for analog models), it is difficult to go wrong.
5. Recommended Models
Inexpensive digital camcorders:
Sony DCR-TRV460 - Digital8 model with analog inputs and backward compatibility with 8mm and Hi8, USB interface, Memory Stick and ADC
Panasonic PV-DV402 MiniDV model with still camera capability (1280x960), large 3.5" LCD screen and USB interface
Sony DCR-TRV350 Digital8 model with still camera, backward compatibility, USB interface, Memory Stick and ADC
Sony DCR-HC20 - inexpensive MiniDV camcorder, easy to use
Medium-priced digital camcorders:
Panasonic PV-GS70 - 3CCD MiniDV model
Panasonic PV-GS120 - MiniDV Digital 3CCD model
Sony DCR-HC30 MiniDV model with analog inputs
Sony DCR-HC40 - 1-Megapixel MiniDV model with still camera, MemoryStick, analog inputs
Sony DCR-TRV33 MiniDV model with 1-Megapixel still camera, Memory Stick, analog inputs
Premium digital camcorders:
Panasonic PV-GS200 - 3CCD MiniDV Digital model
Sony DCR-TRV70 - MiniDV model with 2.1-Megapixel still camera, Memory Stick, USB, analog inputs
Panasonic PV-DV702 MiniDV camcorder with 1.3-Megapixel still camera, SD memory card, large 3.5" LCD screen
Sony DCR-TRV900 Arguably the best MiniDV camcorder (3CCD)
Panasonic PV-DV950 3CCD MiniDV model
My Recent Reviews of Digital Camcorders
Sony DVD Camcorders:
Sony DCR-DVD201 Handycam DVD Camcorder Review
Sony DCR-DVD101 Handycam DVD Camcorder Review
Sony MiniDV Camcorders:
Sony DCR-HC40 1-Megapixel Handycam Mini DV Digital Camcorder Review
Sony DCR-HC30 Handycam Mini DV Digital Camcorder Review
Sony DCR-HC20 Handycam Mini DV Digital Camcorder Review
Sony Digital8 Camcorders:
Sony DCR-TRV460 Handycam Digital8 Digital Camcorder Review
Panasonic MiniDV Camcorders:
Panasonic PV-GS200 Palmcorder 3CCD Mini DV Digital Camcorder Review
Panasonic PV-GS120 Palmcorder Mini DV Digital 3CCD Camcorder Review
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