Buying a Digital Video Camera - WTH Are They Talking About?

We’re ready to take the plunge.

We want to buy a decent <$500 digital video camera so as to record our little darlings doing their little darling things, which we plan to send in for that $10,000 Grand Prize. Or at least the $3k runner up.

We have an EasyShare, that tells you what doofuses we are. Actually it’s a great camera that doesn’t give me any flak about f-stops and apertures. Love it.

So I’m looking at the cameras in the department store and they’ve got more features & highfalutin gee-gaws than I can possibly decipher while chasing my twin toddlers up and down the shoe aisle.

Consumer Reports likes Sony. I like Sony. But which one? The 8-something? The one that burns DVDs? The el-cheapo? The models on the store shelf don’t exactly match the ones the magazine tested, plus their test is over a year old.

I just want to shoot film, indoors and out, to email to my relatives (or link it to my kids’ webpage, I did figure out how to do that, yay me). And sent it off to that guy who replaced Bob Sagat (who I never could stand). For that $10k.

You have a few of choices to make:

  1. Digital vs. Analog. Seeing as how you mention that you want to email videos to your relatives, you are probably leaning towards digital. The only advantage to analog at this point (at least that I can see) is that iot is cheaper and can play directly in your VCR (if you get a VHS-C camcorder).

  2. If digital, what media do you want to record on (8mm, DVD, Mini DV). Personally, I would stay away from DVDs because of the cost. 8mm digital camcorders are cheaper, and are only made by Sony. They tend to be bigger (which may be a good thing) and tend to have a bigger zoom (make sure you look for optical zoom, not digital). They can also (typically) play analog 8mm tapes. MiniDV camcorders tend to be lighter and smaller, but also tend to have smaller zoom lenses. Also, there are many, many more choices with the Mini DVs (and many more options that you probably won’t use!)

  3. Determine what features you want. If you don’t know what the feature is, it is likely that you don’t need it. When I made this decision last year, I determined that the following things were important to me:

  4. Cost - as low as possible

  5. Size/Comfort - It had to “feel” right in my hand…smaller is not necessarily better

  6. Large Zoom

  7. Quality of video’s taken indoors. Most camcorders do very well in full sunlight. but how do they do at capturing your little one blowing out his candles on his first birthday while seated around the dining room table?

What I did was to narrow the choices down to about 4 or 5 choices. Then I bought them all and tried them out. (If you do this, which I recommend, make sure you do it at a store that will allow you to return electronics with no restocking or other fees). Watch the results on your TV. Import them into your computer. Feel them in your hand…try to tape something for a few minutes and see if your arm orhand gets tired. test them out yourself. In the end, it has to meet your requirements, not Consumer Reports’ or anyone elses.

In the end, I ended up with a Sony Digital 8 camcorder and haven’t regretted it once! Good Luck!

I have a Samsung, which ain’t anything special but does just fine for the baby babbling, but I’ve heard great things (great!) about the 3 CCD Panasonic ones. The low end ones are around $500 and they are supposed to give professional-quality color, which remedies something I always find lacking in home movies.

It is just another factor to consider; I know nothing about their features, dependability, durability, or anything else.

I have the PVG953 3 ccd Panasonic I got for $1000 off ebay (Canadian). Damn good camcorder. A new shotgun mic, filters and lens makes for a great baby music video maker.

Really, it’ll depend on how much you want to spend and how important what you shoot is going to look. If all you want is to email a few videos (email implies small highly compressed files) get a digital camera with a video record function or the lowest digicam you can find. Really, it’s not worth it to buy a $500 camcorder for a 180x120 video shot of your kids in an email.

If you want something decent pretty much any mini-DV camcorder should be fine. Make sure you have the appropriate interface (USB2/Firewire) and prepare to shell out for some decent video making software like Pinnacle Video Studio (or just use whatever it comes with).

Unless you’re really going for the upper range of camcorders, get what’s on sale. I would personally avoid places like Best Buy though, their prices are steep. Ebay or use to get what you want.

Thanks for the info!

It’s strange that they copy onto tape, digitally - I thought the footage would be saved on some kind of mondo chip, like my camera.

And it seems strange to buy a camera that burns DVDs directly - why wouldn’t a person download the footage and edit it first? And then burn from the computer? That’s what I’m planning to do.

Mini-DV (Digital Video) is digital. The signal is digital and it’s transcribed onto a tape. Using a compact flash or SD card would be pretty pricy considering my 1 hour mini-DV tape is ~18 gigs of raw full-detail video. My camcorder can record Mpeg-4 onto it’s SD card but it’s pretty lousy in terms of image quality.

And the DVD thing is really about ease of use. Using a Mini-DV requires a Firewire/USB2 connection and software. A mini-DVD you can just pop into a DVD drive and record the data off your DVD-ROM. Many people don’t have the required Firewire so that’s an added expense (my camcorder can only transfer video through the firewire. Images are transfered via the USB2 port).

moving pictures take up quite a lot of space; typically, the camcorder user wants a storage medium that is:

-big enough to store a decent length of footage
-cheap enough to allow him to carry a few spares

Solid state storage is currently at a disadvantage on both counts, in comparison to tapes and miniDVDs, although the gap is closing.

Good point, and others have correctly answered that Compact Flash cards and the like aren’t big enough yet. Makes me wonder why someone doesn’t develop a physically larger card? Non-standard size, just for digital video recorders, and that’s the same width but many times longer. We’re talking about a camcorder, right? Unless you get the ultra small one I’m picturing them being at least 1.5 times the width of your hand. So a 5-6 in long card could hold 4x as much as standard size (CF card is 1.5 in long). There are 2GB CF cards for $129 (link), so you could have 8GB for $600ish probably. If you use the same resolution as badmana that’s 26 minutes.

Someday soon we’ll see no moving part (except for the zoom lens) camcorders. 2 years.

I guess I should mention that the digital camera my dad bought me for Christmas a few years ago (samsung digimax 350se, 3.2Mpix) could take videos also, and didn’t have any time limit. Nor size limit for the CF card. So now that I have a 1GB CF card, I currently have 24 pix taken at highest quality and still have room for a 41 min. video. Obviously these pictures and video won’t be as quality as the ones taken from a current digicam, but it’s still pretty cool. :slight_smile: