THERE ARE BIG ONES,
little ones, old ones and new ones. Analog, digital, remote controlled and palm-size ones. Still shots, NightShots, LaserLinks and memory chips. Fully automatic and manually controlled ones. There’s Hi8, regular 8, Digital8, MiniDV, and more. Find out from these buyer’s guides today’s models at today’s prices. Go ahead, poke around and pick the cam for you.
Wait a Minute. Not so Fast
OK. Let’s slow down a little. After all, picking the perfect camcorder can be fun or frustrating. Identifying the format, features and prices that best suit your personal needs will guide you towards a final purchase decision. If you intend to produce only home videos, or are technically challenged, the less expensive, standard grade, analog units will most likely do the trick. However, if you want a camcorder for professional use, or you want to produce some fairly sophisticated projects, or edit on your computer, the high grade analog and digital formats will better suit you. More on those later. Right now, let’s take a look at the difference between all the major formats.
Consumer camcorders can be classified into three categories. Standard grade analog (VHS, VHS-C, 8mm), high grade analog (S-VHS, S-VHS-C and Hi8), and digital (MiniDV and Digital8). The main differences between standard and high grades of analog camcorders are image and audio quality. High grade formats noticeably increase image resolution and audio fidelity over standard grade. The digital formats record a digital signal that significantly increases resolution over high grade analog.
The increased image quality, combined with the diversity of features, coincide with higher price tags. The best thing to do is determine what you really need and how much you want to spend. Then, based on the features the different models offer, you will be able to find the best model for your needs. Let’s take a look at some of the products available today.
STANDARD GRADE FORMATS VHS, VHS-C and 8mm
In this least expensive category, it’s possible to get a camcorder for as little as $329 from Sony and $350 from Canon. The fact that people can start shooting their own video for this low price is revolutionary. And just because they’re inexpensive doesn’t mean they lack in innovative features. You can find digital-still capability, Canon’s controllable auto focus/exposure, FlexiZone and Sony’s low-light shooting feature, NightShot. But really, the biggest advantage of the standard grade format is that you can get started simply and inexpensively. If that’s what you’re after, look no further than our grid of standard grade units.
HIGH GRADE FORMATS Hi8, S-VHS, S-VHS-C
Stepping up a notch in quality and price range, the high grade formats have enjoyed attention from hobbyists and professionals alike. JVC offers an innovative feature on all of its S-VHS-C ET (Super VHS Compact) models. The ET feature gives the camcorders the ability to record the Super VHS signal on regular VHS-C tape. This can result in quite a saving in tape costs.
In this category, you can find models oriented to professional shooters with professional prices, like Panasonic Broadcast & Television systems’ AG-456U that lists for $2,225 and JVC Pro’s GY-X3U at $4,950. But you can get analog video that is good enough to be broadcast on any of the Hi8 and S-VHS models that offer some manual controls, headphone input, microphone jack, and stereo audio. If you’re not ready for digital but want better quality than the standard grades offer, the high grade grid will be the one for you.
DIGITAL FORMATS Mini DV, Digital8
The digital grade camcorders are in an exciting and highly robust category. There are innovations and price decreases coming out every year. If you’re worried that some new technology is going to come along and replace DV in the near future, don’t. This format will be around for a while. We encourage the most timid of fence sitters to jump down and get one.
Not only do mini DV and Digital8 camcorders offer greater resolution than their analog contemporaries, but their small size and light weight can be an advantage as well. For example, the Canon ZR10 ($999) is only 2 1/4″ by 4″ by 5 1/8″ and weighs just over a pound. These small-sized cams are great for carrying around in a pocket or purse, but the digital format offers larger, more professional-looking models too. Canon, JVC Pro and Panasonic’s Broadcast division all offer larger models.
A while back, Sony invented the digital format called Digital8 that could record digital video using Hi8 tape and play back tapes previously recorded in Hi8. This is a boon to the person who uses a lot of tape and is able to save cash by buying the less expensive Hi8. This year, Hitachi joined in and entered two products in the Digital8 category. The VME865LA ($699) and the VME965LA ($799) will appeal to the hobbyist more than the Sony models due to their lack of manual controls. However, their prices are right, making Digital8 a great way to get into digital video inexpensively.
Which to Buy
So that’s it. A brief synopsis of some of the cool cams out there. They’re fun, innovative and cheaper than ever before. So, put some thought into the goals you have with your footage and then poke, prowl and scrutinize our grids to find a camcorder today!