Choosing A Camcorder
Choosing A Camcorder
Tim Smith (Camcorder Training Specialist) gives expert video advice on: How do I decide which camcorder to buy?; What factors should I consider when comparing one camcorder to another?; What camcorder features are unnecessary? and more...
What factors should I consider when comparing one camcorder to another?
So when you're comparing camcorders from one to another, obviously price is a big factor. You've got to find what fits your budget the best. The good news is that even the inexpensive cameras really do a great job these days, so, you know, don't feel bad about buying an inexpensive one, but if you spend a few more dollars you may get a few more features that really help you do a better job of recording video. But also, let's not forget size. What's your lifestyle like? Do you hike a lot? Do you sit home a lot? Are you shooting things that, like, from the audience, are you big on shooting your children's plays or do you have to be out there on the soccer field with them trying to shoot? So size and comfort. So really it's kind of a strange thing, but you got to try on a camcorder. Put it in your hand, shoot it, zoom inside the store, pull back inside the store, use some of the functionality of the camera and see if you're going to be comfortable with it because that's important. And then, really features and price tie together. The more you spend, the more features you'll get. And then when you really get into the upper-end camera's, and I'm talking about the camera's now that are eight hundred to a thousand dollar range, now you're looking at camcorder's that may actually out-perform the less expensive ones in terms of picture quality. They might be very high-end, standard definition camcorders, or they might start to be the entry level high definition camcorders. So really picture quality's about price, but feature set and ease of use is something you really need to consider.
What is a camcorder's "lux" rating?
One of the big buzz words when you're shopping for a camcorder is the term "lux." Lux, really, is just a reflection of how well these camcorders perform in a low light environment. I've got to tell you that almost everybody does well on low light these days. Every manufacturer has camcorders which have the ability to produce pretty much what you can see and in some cases even better than what you can see with your own eye in a low light environment. So, don't get too caught up in the term "lux" It is not as important as it was years and years and years ago, but it still does play into it. If you know that you are into shooting mostly in low light you want to look for camcorders that have the best low light performance. There is a difference, but all of them these days are good when it comes to low light.
What are some additional features I should look for in a camcorder?
When you're looking for a camcorder, you're looking for some pretty obvious things, like zooms and things like that. But if you dig a little bit deeper, you find some really neat features in today's camcorders. One of them might be even something as simple as a built-in lens cap. And it may sound like a little thing at the time, but the idea that it's built-in, and doesn't disappear, plays a big deal for you. Or digital effects in a camcorder. The ability to do a little bit of creative stuff inside a camcorder. If you're someone that doesn't like to add it, and you want to jazz up your video, there's tricks you can do inside a camcorder to make it more interesting, and those features are in there. The other thing you need to look at is battery life. Battery life is a feature of a camera, so which ones produce the best--give you the most run time? And that's a function of not only the battery, but the camera. So those kind of subtle features really have to be considered when you're in the market for a camcorder.
What camcorder features are unnecessary?
Sometimes when you're looking for a camcorder, you've got so many features on there that maybe they don't ring true as something you need when you buy it. Some of these features we put on a camera just because we can. Electronics have come a long way. You may find camcorders that chirp, some that will have barks on them, some things that will give you indications that something is recording and not recording. Sometimes, as a manufacturer, we tend to maybe throw some unnecessary overkill into these cameras. Don't be intimidated by them, you don't have to use them; most all of these functions can either be turned on or turned off or sometimes just ignored. So if it's a feature you think unnecessary, don't let that sway you from buying a camera. Look for the ones you do need.
What is a "viewfinder" and what kind do I need for my camcorder?
All camcorders have some way, of course, of viewing the image. It's either with a viewfinder, or maybe what's called a flip-out LCD screen. But a viewfinder's just really a small television set that sits inside the camcorder so you can see what you're recording. It's an electronic image. It's not like the old days where you actually saw through the glass what was coming through the lens. You're seeing an electronic image that's coming off the chip, which is what ends up on tape. This is a viewfinder.
What is an "LCD'" and what kind do I need for my camcorder?
When you go shopping for a camcorder, everybody's going to tell you the size of the LCD meaning the liquid crystal display. And when they say LCD they mean the little viewfinder or the little television that flips out from the side of your camcorder. Bigger is better but it tends to make the camera bigger and harder to carry around. So it's really a matter of how big a camera do you want, you'll get a bigger screen. One thing to know about LCDs is sometimes they're a little difficult to see outside in bright sunlight. You're fooling yourself if you think in a bright sunlight you can actually see all that information. That's a good time to flip the side back in and default back to the standard LCS viewfinder.
How do different lenses affect a camcorder's image quality?
What you want to look for in a lens is the best picture quality you can get out of it. So, you look for companies that have been known to produce lenses or if you can you'll look at the picture quality out of the lens itself. The sharper it is the better. One of the things I would try in a store is macro. Get in as close as you can. That's where you're going to see so much of the detail of this lens and how much it can produce. If the camera has a macro function, try to look at something like fine print even on a sales tag, that will tell you how much detail you're going to get. Then, pick it up and zoom around a little bit. All the way in, all the way back. Does it stay sharp through the entire zoom range? Does it get soft anywhere? That's really how you can tell the quality of a lens when you're shopping. How will it perform in the field? You want to try the camcorder out as much as you can before you buy it.
What is "power draw", and how does it affect my camcorder's batteries?
How long's that battery going to last? Is it going to last as long as the manufacturer tells you it is, or is it going to last less? It's probably going to last less. What we do as manufacturers, is we put the camera in an on position and see how long it's going to take before that camera will turn off, because we can't anticipate how much time you're going to spend zooming, whether you're going to use that LCD or not, or how much time the camera's going to be in pause mode. Any function on that camera tends to draw more power. If you zoom a lot you're going to draw more power. If you use the LCD a lot, you're going to draw more power, and just the tape turning draws more power than the tape sitting still. So, really use those numbers that we give you in terms of battery draw as just a thumbnail. Just a little piece of advice; always have an extra battery with you, I promise you they're not going to last as long as you think they are.
Do I need an extended warranty on my camcorder?
Pretty much all retailers are going to offer you an extended warranty on your camera. Look for the manufacturer's warranty. Is it 90 days? Is it one year? Does it cover all parts? Does it cover all labor? Then make an informed decision. What are they charging for the extended warranty? Would it be worth it? The less expensive cameras these days are almost not worth fixing anymore. By the time that they are fixed, if you're looking at a camera in a 200 to 250 dollar price range, most repairs are going to come close to that. So, in that case, an extended warranty may well be worth it, because who wants to spend 300 dollars to fix a 250-dollar camera? But, it's really a matter of: How much is the camera worth? How much is the warranty worth? The thing is, you're buying insurance, so it's up to you, it's up to the manufacturer, it's up to the retailer that's selling you to give you a great value. An extended warranty might be worth it, but it might not.