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Digital Camcorder Buying Guide

Today's digital camcorders offer features and image quality that rival the professional models of just a few years ago. Web video, HD and even 3D models range from point-and-shoot camcorders that fit in your pocket to semi-professional models that capture broadcast-quality video. So what do you need to know to choose the one that's right for you?

Recording Format

Manufacturers have abandoned tape-based camcorders in favor of hard drives and flash memory. The result is much smaller and power-efficient camcorders producing video that’s easier and much quicker to transfer and share. Here are your choices when it comes to recording media:

● Embedded Flash Memory
Stores video and photos on internal solid-state memory. Flash memory, also called solid state memory, has no moving parts and is relatively tiny.

● Removable Flash Memory Card
Stores video and photos on tiny removable memory cards, specifically SDHC/SDXC and/or Memory Stick PRO Duo (Sony models).

● Hard Drive
Stores video and photos on an internal spinning hard drive. Hard-drive models tend to be slightly larger to accommodate the bulkier and more complex moving parts of a hard-drive setup.

You will likely find models that conveniently offer both embedded memory (flash or hard drive) and a memory card slot.

Features

If you’ve shopped for a digital still camera lately you’ll likely recognize many of the features listed below.

● High-definition
HD models shoot widescreen video in either 1080i or 720p resolution.

● Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization

● Touchscreen LCD
A bright, large touchscreen LCD makes framing your shot and navigating menus easier.

● Zoom
Like digital still cameras, optical zoom describes the camera’s ability to magnify or zoom in on your subject. 10:1 optical zoom is equal to 10x optical zoom.

● Viewfinder
Viewfinders have largely been replaced by flip-out LCD screens and are often found only on higher end handhelds and ‘prosumer’ models. The advantage of a viewfinder—whether optical or a tiny LCD screen—is better shot composition and slower battery drain.

● Auto-exposure (AE) Modes
Similar to those on a digital still camera, AE modes help optimize focus, white balance, iris and shutter speed to a variety of preset conditions (e.g., daylight, sport, snow, etc.).

● Face Detection
As its name implies, face detection can identify people’s faces in a scene and optimize focus and exposure for them.

● Tracking Focus
Ideal for motion, tracking focus keep focused on your subject even as it moves within the frame.

● GPS
Models with built-in GPS allow you to “geotag” your clips to remind you exactly where you shot them.

● Surround Sound Microphone
Record in surround sound for the ultimate immersive experience.

● Integrated light
Built-in LED lights can help illuminate your scene in low- or poor-lighting conditions.

● Integrated USB
Found on most pocket camcorders and some handhelds, a built-in USB connector is very convenient for connecting to a PC or other USB device.

● 3D
Shoot 3D video for playback on a 3D TV.

Shapes and Sizes

Digital camcorders range in size from pocket-sized on up. Size largely determines feature sets, particularly zoom range and image quality. There are three basic categories of digital camcorders:

● Pocket-sized
Not much bigger than a smartphone, pocket camcorders (also known as “shoot and share”) are ideal for shooting video to share online. They are extremely simple to operate and capture better quality video than most smartphones, though lower quality than larger camcorders. Pocket-sized models generally have no optical zoom. Most come with integrated USB plugs and on board software for quickly connecting to a PC.

● Handheld
These models are lightweight and fit comfortably in your palm. Handheld digital camcorders offer many of the features listed above. Price, feature sets and image quality vary greatly among this group, giving buyers ample (perhaps too many) choices.

● Prosumer
Prosumer models offer semi-professional features and the highest image quality among consumer camcorders. They are considerably larger, feature high-quality, interchangeable lenses and give users full manual control.

Connectivity

All digital camcorders offer USB connectivity for transferring videos and photos to a PC. Many also offer an HDMI port for playing back images directly on a HDTV.

Edit and Share
Many camcorders offer in-camera editing and special effects filters. While these features can be fun, video editing software is the best way to edit your videos and add transitions and other special effects.

What good is shooting video if you can't share it? With a digital camcorder, you have lots of options for sharing:

● HDTV
Connect your HDMI-equipped camcorder to your TV

● Internet
You can easily upload videos to sites like YouTube, Facebook and other sharing and social networking sites.

● Blu-ray and DVD
Burn your videos to disc for playback on any player.

● Smartphones, Tablets and Portable Players
Sync your home videos to your portable device.

● Memory Card
Insert your camcorder’s memory card into any number of TVs, PCs, digital photo frames and other electronics with built-in SD or Memory Stick slots.

Accessories

Before you complete your purchase, consider some essential extras to help you get the most out of your new camcorder:

● Extra battery pack
An extra battery will give you power in reserve.

● Extra memory card
You can never have too many Gigabytes of storage.

● Tripod or Monopod
Helps you shoot steady, professional-looking video.

● External microphone
An external microphone will help capture great audio, particularly for on-camera interviews.

● Lighting
A camera-mounted light can drastically improve shooting indoors and in dark or back lit scenes.

● Bags and cases
A stylish bag or camera case protects the camera and holds all of your accessories.

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