Buying a Camcorder Made Simple

Purchasing a camcorder doesn’t need to be a stress-inducing event. With a bit of insight, a clear idea of what type of camcorder you plan on buying, and the low-down on which stores will suit your needs, shopping for a camcorder can be a simple, satisfying experience.

There are a variety of places you might look for a camcorder, ranging from your local department store to a big city camera dealer. But who has the camcorder that’s right for you? This article will help you determine where to look to find what you’re after.

Department Stores and Consumer Warehouses

Are you a first-time camcorder purchaser? Shopping on a tight budget? Looking for a camera to shoot home video of family events? Finding the right camcorder may be as easy as stepping into the local Sears, Wal-Mart, Costco or comparable store. While these retailers typically don’t carry a wide selection, most offer a range of choices that will suit the needs of the soccer-game and birthday-party videographer. Models available at such stores usually range from basic and inexpensive to moderately priced with standard point-and-shoot features such as automatic focus and exposure.


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Be aware that associates working in consumer warehouses often have scant knowledge of the camcorders offered for sale on their shelves and documentation detailing each model is sparse, often consisting merely of manufacturer, model number and a list of basic features and price. Additional information must be sought from the manufacturers, price guides and articles, or on the Internet. Consumer warehouses frequently change stock, so if you discover a great deal on the camcorder of your dreams, don’t expect to walk away and return in a week to purchase it. Odds are the same model will no longer be available. Bulk discounts, however, allow deep price cuts, and for bargain hunters, individual market research may prove a small price to pay for a terrific deal. Stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club have liberal return policies, helping guarantee that customers will still find satisfaction, should the camcorder purchased not suit their tastes.

Sales staffs at department stores frequently prove better informed and more helpful than their consumer warehouse counterparts, especially if they work on commission. Product specifications are readily available, as are details on guarantees and warranties, both standard and long-term. Sales and specials can further reduce already discounted prices. And the ease of charging a camcorder on a store credit card appeals to buyers. Stores of this type usually provide service and support on the cams they sell; extended service is often available to customers, at a higher price. Department stores’ return policies are generous, so buyers needn’t fear being stuck with an unwanted purchase.

Although many stores in this category offer limited selection and uneducated sales help, shoppers looking for affordable models for home use will find name brand camcorders at affordable prices. If all you need are the basics, you may not need to look any further than your local Mart store.

Retail Electronics Stores

For the more serious video enthusiast or hobbyist with limited financial resources, retail electronics stores, such as Circuit City, The Good Guys, Best Buy, etc. sell camcorders in a broader range of prices, brands and models, including some with more advanced features like manual focus, shutter, exposure and microphone input. Numerous choices are represented within each price range. You might discover a variety of possibilities to consider within your price range.

Salespeople at retail electronics stores are usually well-equipped with an abundance of knowledge and expertise in their fields, and can typically explain the features and functions that cause one camera to differ from another. Carry a list of questions with you as you shop and expect to have answers when the time comes to make that final decision. Associates should also be familiar with the particular store’s markdowns, promotions and sales.

Consumer electronics merchants usually provide service on the products that they sell, and often offer additional extended warranties. Standard return policies are 60 days from purchase. Buying and using a camcorder for two months permits ample time to discover whether you made the right choice.

Professional Photo/Video Supply Stores

Advanced videographers and semi-professionals can expect to look to other avenues than those previously mentioned to meet their camcorder shopping needs. Prosumer and professional camcorder prices begin around $2,500 and climb rapidly, based on a myriad of features and distinctions within each class and model. Camcorders of this caliber aren’t sold at K-Mart or Costco. For a high-end camcorder, you’ll need to go to a video specialist. You may have a professional photo/video retailer in your city, or at least within driving distance. You may be able to justify a weekend road trip to a nearby metropolis when it’s time to make your purchase.

Sales professionals in photo and video stores are just those professionals. You can walk into a retailer and hold a camcorder in your hand as you carry on an educated, informed discussion regarding the options, features and models that will fit your needs and your wallet. Return policies vary widely from store to store, but most offer a 30-day return with in-store credit. Ask about return policies before plunking down your credit card. Service and warranties on products also differ from one establishment to the next. While many provide service on their products, turnaround time may be lengthy.

Mail Order and Internet Merchants

If you live outside an urban area, are you doomed to videographer’s limbo? Not at all. Camcorders of every make and model are accessible online and through mail-order merchants like B&H in New York. Countless mail order and Internet retailers accept both checks and credit cards, and most offer toll-free telephone numbers. There are some drawbacks to purchasing by mail or online, but keeping these in mind while you shop will often prevent mishaps or miscommunications. Camcorders are frequently in limited supply at individual retailers, so should you locate a tremendous deal, consider striking while the iron is hot. Don’t be surprised if the item is already out-of-stock when you order. But don’t be bait-and-switched into a more expensive model than you want.

Know what you want before you order. This is where market research pays off. It helps if you have a list of model numbers when you call to ask for information. Procedures for returns differ between stores, as do shipping rates. Several retailers rigidly adhere to narrow times on returns, sometimes as few as five days after receipt of merchandise. Others allow a generous 30-day return, but only with store credit. Shipping rates gravitate from a flat $4, to a hefty 20 percent of the purchase price, and rates will vary depending on how quickly you’d like to receive the product. Knowledge is power. Watch for hidden costs. Know every possible detail about the camcorder you are purchasing and weigh the shipping options carefully.

Good Buy

Whether you find your next camcorder at your local consumer warehouse or at a mail-order company in the pages of Videomaker, enjoy the process. Buying a camcorder should be a pleasant, gratifying experience, simplified through an understanding of your needs and available shopping resources. A camcorder exists for virtually every need and price range; discovering and purchasing that cam is the first step on the road to creative bliss.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.