With the baby on the way, it’s time to buy a camcorder.  This is proving to be much more difficult than I thought.

I was really excited about this.  I love gadgets and electronics and I’m pretty handy with them.  There are all kinds of “gadget-guy types” out there and I am a combination of two of them.  First, I have that “gadget instinct” – I can usually pick up a device and not only figure out how to make it work but instinctually tap into the high end features.  On many occasion I have helped a friend with a device that they own but I have never seen before.  Second, I actually read the manual.  I’m such a geek.  But I like to know what my equipment can do, especially when it comes to something complicated like a camcorder.  Also, I have some experience with this stuff.  I used to shoot and edit videos (some professional stuff and a LOT of weddings).  But that was at least 15 years ago and a lot has changed.  And I have owned a few camcorders too but the last was probably 8 years ago.  So I have experience but I’m seriously out of the loop.

The first and probably biggest decision is format.  MiniDV, DVD, or HDD? 

It seems like MiniDV (little tape) is the popular standard.  The downside is that they are slow to put onto the computer and you can’t quickly access different portions of video.  The upside is that the picture quality is supposed to be the best, which seems odd to me.  It sure would seem like the quality on a DVD or Hard Drive would be better but I guess the camera use more compression with those formats.  Plus, you can only play these back with the camera, unless you migrate them and burn DVDs.  It seems that this technology is old and on the way out.

DVD seemed like a cool option.  Shoot video and stick it into your DVD player – couldn’t be easier.  But this has drawbacks too.  It seems that this doesn’t work with all editing software.  And some reviews say you need to “finalize” the DVD before watching it, and then you can’t put it back in the camera to shoot more vide.  But, some people have told me this isn’t true.  Maybe the newer models work differently…I don’t know.  Plus, DVD has a short time span, I think 20-30 minutes on a DVD.  That could be a pain but probably not too often.

At first, Hard Drive (HDD) seemed like a bad idea to me because of the durability issue.  But many people seem to think that these portable hard drives are pretty strong.  It makes me a little nervous.  But the cool part is that you can store hours of video on the camera.  I was really surprised to read the the manufacturers use a lot of compression though, so the quality isn’t the best.  But it’s really easy to move files between the camera and the PC for editing and storage.  I still can’t figure out if these formats work well with editing software.  I think that this format will catch on and some of the issues it will get better quickly.  But I am leaning in this direction.

Next comes the HD question.  HD is cool, no doubt.  But is it worth the extra money?  Buying electronics is always depressing because as soon as you buy something it is outdated and replaced by a better, cheaper model.  I am sure this is the case with the HD cameras.  They are still quite a bit more expensive then the regular models.  I don’t know if it is worth a few hundred dollars extra yet, when all of the kinks haven’t been worked out yet.  Plus, I don’t know if I can edit the HD video with the same software.

Features, features, features.  There are so many options on these things that it is tough to weigh out all the pros and cons.  Some people like just the basics.  But I think I’ll use some of the advanced settings.  I have a digital camera and I am always playing with the exposure time and aperture to tweak my photos.

So here is what I want in my Camcorder… so far.

    • Size – Small to Mid sized.  Doesn’t need to be tiny, but nothing too large.
    • Format – I think I am leaning towards Hard Drive (HDD)
    • High Def – NOPE, I think I’ll wait on that.
    • Video Quality – High
    • Features – Bells and Whistles include:
      • Good battery life
      • Wide Screen Format
      • Manual Control (focus, white balance, etc)
      • View finder would be nice (for sunny day shooting)
      • Good image stabilization
      • Good in low light
      • Mic and headphone jack
      • etc
    • Editing:  Must be compatible with typical editing software and not limited to manufacturers proprietary editing software.

And the winner is… I still have no idea!  Let me know if you have any suggestions.

One thought on “Trying to choose a camcorder – what a pain!

  1. Don’t go with a DVD cam! I went through the same choice process two years ago before my second son was born.

    HDD cams were very new and very expensive at the time, so they were out of my budget range. But I’d have the same durability concerns you listed above. (What do you do if someone steals you camera on vacation when all of your videos are permanently attached to the camera! At least with tape or DVD, you only have the most recent stuff on there.)

    Mini DV tape seemed "old fashioned" to me. Tape?! Yeah right… who’s gonna use that in 6 months!

    The DVD sounded so convienent to be able to pop out of the camera and into any DVD player. I was warned about lack of software support, but figured that was just a side-effect of DVD cameras being relatively new to the market. I figured the software would catch up at some point, leaving me with the convienence of having DVDs.

    Well, here I am 2 years later, and I STILL have no direct way to edit my DVD video content. My only option is to use a 3rd party tool to "rip" the DVD (potentially losing quality) and convert it into a format most editing software can handle. And even with my attempts at that so far… my camera records 16:9. Everything I’ve ripped automatically gets "crammed" into a 4:3 video! (That’s great for making me look skinny, but…) So, I’ve got two years of video sitting on DVDs still waiting for the perfect software to edit them!

    Anyway… if I had to do it again, I’d still be skeptical about HDD. I still see lots of Mini DV cameras out there. And every editing software I’ve seen knows how to pull their content in for easy editing.

    As for High Def… that’s still on the pricey side now, but might be worth the spend for ensuring your precious moments are captured in a video quality that will look good 20 years from now. It’s only a matter of time before all TVs are HD. Soon "standard" def content will look like grainy the videos of our parents from the 50s!
    -Peter

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