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?



Controls and features

The central part of a DV camcorder is the Charge Coupled Device (CCD). This sensor creates a video picture by recording light intensity to recognise an image shape, and levels of red, green and blue (RGB) to reproduce a full-colour picture. A single CCD captures information on RGB colours in one go, while a three-chip CCD (found on more expensive camcorders) devotes a CCD to each of the three colours.

Many tape-based DV camcorders have both colour eyepiece viewfinders and a flip-out TFT LCD screen to view the action as well as preview video footage. However, most tape-less models only offer the TFT screen to preview captured video and to view while recording footage.

When you need to get close to the action, a good zoom lens can be a valuable feature. However, don't be swayed by the digital zoom figure, no matter how large; always base your buying decision on the optical zoom. The optical zoom gives a true indication of the video image, whereas digital zooms interpolate the available pixels to zoom in on an image. Optical zooms generally range around the 10X mark, with digital zooms ranging from 120X and above.

Auto focusing systems are great, although a manual focus option can be very handy in conditions such as low light or when focusing on a subject against a landscape. Available on most camcorders, the manual focus control can be found either as a ring on the lens itself or as a dual-button system on the camcorder's body. Most expensive, high-end models will typically have a large focus ring located near the end of the lens. Cheap models usually only offer rudimentary focus options located via the menu screen.

Program AE (Auto Exposure) allows the camcorder to set all the functions for shooting certain types of footage, leaving you simply to point and shoot. Situations covered include Portrait, Sports, High Speed Action, Twilight, Spotlight, Sand & Snow, and Low Light.

Playback and record controls are much like the ones on a VCR, with all camcorders including the basic functions of Play, Stop, REW, FF and Pause.

Most video camcorders these days provide a titling feature in the camcorder itself; however, this feature is to be avoided at all costs unless you do not intend to edit the footage on a PC. The title effects on many camcorders are quite limited and can't be removed afterwards.

Virtually all new camcorders use a rechargeable Li-ion battery, although a spare battery may be useful as the batteries are unique to each camcorder maker and often each model.

Many of the latest DV camcorders allow you to capture digital still images onto a removable flash memory card. The most popular media choice is SD/SDHC or MMC memory, but Sony and Samsung camcorders capture still images to a Memory Stick. Some of the latest models have broken the megapixel image barrier and a few offer up to 6Mp still image capabilities.

Note: DV camcorders are unlike digital still cameras in this regard. Most camcorders offer no more than 2Mp, with anything above considered to be a distinctive feature.

If your camcorder doesn't have still image capabilities, you can always do a capture of the screen in your editing program. Remember that the image resolution when capturing a still in this manner will always be 640x480, which is less than 1Mp.

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