Digital Video Cameras

They're an ideal way to record footage of your family, friends and those special occasions: but which one is right for you?

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Camcorder pricing

Consumers have never had it so good when it comes to purchasing a new DV camcorder. Prices can range anywhere from $500 for a budget handycam to over $10,000 for a professional model. Naturally, the price you pay will depend on the camera's image quality and the amount of additional features it offers. As a general rule, models that cost over $3000 are aimed at the serious user, while anything below $1000 is strictly for amateur shooting. Most video cameras fall somewhere between these two price points, offering high quality visuals at a semi-affordable price.

DVD camcorder models are generally priced between $700 and $2000, with more expensive models offering larger optical zoom lenses and high digital still image resolutions. DVD camcorders are not recommended unless you have a specific need for this type of model. As all who have used DVD media are beginning to realise, the discs are not as indestructible as the industry would have you believe, and the price per MB is still too expensive compared to alternatives such as tape.

A MiniDV-based camera

On the MiniDV camcorder front, models for around $1000 should provide all you need to take great video: 20X optical zoom, LCD viewfinder, a simple menu system, and compact size. Other features on offer may include some wireless connectivity and multiple megapixels in still images. You can also expect to buy a 3CCD camcorder in this price range, though high-definition models tend to go for a bit higher.

DV Camera Shopping Tips

Check out the LCD screen in daylight, if possible. Some screens will wash out in bright sunlight, and you'll want to make sure you can easily see what you're recording in any conditions. If you can't see the screen in bright daylight, look for a viewfinder. It can help get the job done without eating up a lot of battery power.

Look at the lens's optical zoom ratio instead of the digital zoom ratio. With a digital zoom, the camcorder is only enlarging the lens's image instead of really giving you a closer look. The optical zoom spec is more important--you'll want at least 10X optical zoom.

For longer recording times, buy a higher-capacity battery. The battery that comes with most camcorders only lasts an hour or so. For around $100, you can buy a longer-lasting battery, so factor that into your cost if you think you'll need it. (Remember, however, that larger batteries add to the camera's weight.)

Front-mounted microphones get better results. Top-mounted microphones tend to capture the voice of the person using the camera, and drown out everything else.

Buy an external microphone for the best sound. Factor in an extra $100 to $150 for an external microphone if you want the best sound possible. Of course, make sure your camcorder has a place for you to plug it in.

Try out the camera's controls before you buy. Sometimes the smallest camcorders can be difficult to use, especially if you have large hands. A larger model may work better for you if it's more comfortable to use. Some cameras, such as Sony's handycam range, utilise a touch screen interface that almost does away with buttons and directional sticks entirely. Make sure to check both interfaces out, as some people prefer one over the other.

Low-light options let you shoot in the dark. Many cameras offer an infrared light or long shutter mode to help you capture images in dark settings. Most dedicated Night Modes will continue to work in nearly complete darkness, but the footage will have little or no colour. Long shutter modes will usually shoot in colour, but at a vastly reduced frame rate, which can cause a severe strobing effect.

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