When shopping for a digital camcorder, it’s easy to get caught up on features such as resolution, zoom and megapixels. But there’s more to a camera than shooting quality—in fact, as the price comes down and the quality goes up, you’ll be harder pressed to spot the difference between one HD video camera and another, in terms of final product. What’s more important now is ensuring that the camcorder works for your lifestyle and usage. So, once you’ve decided to get a 720p or 1080i or 1080p HD camcorder, start looking at these additional features that are just as important.
It’s rare to find a consumer level digital camcorder with a viewfinder. That’s because most camcorders now come with flip out LCDs that allow you to see the video as you shoot it. The problem is that these LCD screens tend to wash out severely in bright sunlight and can drain your battery very quickly. But if you find a reasonably priced handheld camcorder that gives you the option of using a viewfinder or an LCD screen, you might want to consider it. The viewfinder lets you compose shots without using the LCD screen, which can help conserve battery life and get better shots in broad daylight (i.e. soccer games, picnics, etc.).
On that note, battery life is key. This isn’t something you’ll get an accurate fix on from reading the manufacturer’s specifications. Instead, dive into the user reviews and see how customers rated the battery life. A camcorder that calls it quits after 2 hours of shooting isn’t going to cut it for a day long outing or an entire high school football game. Either look for a camcorder that has impressive battery life or invest in some spare batteries.
The digital zoom sounds impressive, usually upwards of 50x, 100x or even 400x, but the optical zoom is where it really matters. With digital zoom, you’re really just blowing up the picture, rather than getting a closer look. As such, the more you zoom in with digital zoom, the worse your picture gets. A camera with a 10x optical zoom and no digital zoom listed will almost always be better than a camcorder with no optical zoom and some ridiculously high number listed for the digital zoom.
The more you zoom in, the shakier your picture gets. And unless you’re using a tripod, even the steadiest of hands will cause an earthquake effect when zoomed in 50x or more. Digital camcorders can offset this effect using image stabilization.
How do you plan on getting your videos from the camera to your computer? Most camcorders come with USB connections, but FireWire ports are handy (and fast) for Mac users. Camcorders with SD card slots are also very convenient. If you want to go straight from camcorder to TV, get a Camcorder with HDMI ports. Lastly, you may want to consider a camcorder that allows you to charge batteries directly with the camcorder via an AC adapter. Otherwise, you’ll have to buy a separate battery charger.
When it comes to buying a camcorder, don’t just think about quality—think about what it’ll be like to own and use the camcorder. From exporting video to charging batteries and carrying it from place to place, make sure your camcorder works for you.