The video camera market has grown in leaps and bounds in the last few years and every year brings more features and variety. This is a good thing, however, it becomes a big chore to sit and sift through page after page of features when you are not even sure of what they might mean.
Purpose of the Guide
This guide will give you all the information you need to buy a consumer video camera in a clear and concise manner. We will look at the features of the camcorder and the different considerations you may have before you actually purchase the product. This guide seeks to educate you so you can get the camcorder that is perfect for your requirements.
What is a Consumer Video Camera?
There are a variety of camcorders available in the market today. Lets have a look at them in terms of the budget range they fall in.
Small, Very Affordable and Easy
This category has mostly been replaced by smartphone cameras and the video capabilities of point and shoot digital cameras. With the increase in quality and ease of using a smartphone to record family vacations and events with friends, very cheap camcorders are no longer popular. Many point and shoot cameras can also shoot high quality video with a simple push of a button. Unique Photo does carry some low priced camcorders for those who do not have another device that can take video.
These are traditional camcorders which are used everyday for shooting vacations, baby steps, school plays etc. They possess more features than the flip style models, but can also be set to auto modes for ease of use. Entry level models have higher zoom range and ergonomic features that make up for subpar HD video quality. These can be found in the price range of $300-$600.
Full Featured and Manual Capability
Besides possessing more manual controls than the above, they also have better sensors and lenses, and produce better video quality. They also have options for attachment of microphones and flash. A growing number of higher models also support interchangeable lenses. These are priced upwards of $800.
They are also named sport or POV (point-of- view) cameras. They have very good video quality and have built in Wi-Fi. Slow-motion video capture also adds to its popularity. They are available for as little as $100, but the best models are available for $300-$400. Cameras like the GoPro and Sony Action Cam are some of the most popular in this category.
Features of Consumer Video Cameras
Camcorders come in many flavors and varieties, and each of them have a multitude of features. There are, however, a number of key features shared by all of them that you should look into before picking one up.
There are a few specifications associated with HD video. Resolution, sensor capture frame rate (fps), and actual recorded frame rate (shown by “p” for progressive or “i” for interlaced).
Camcorders turn 30fps into 60i by combining every other line of video from 2 sequential frames.
The most common options are:
- 1,280x720 at 30fps or 24fps = 720p
- 1,920x1080 at 30fps, 24fps = 1080p or 1080i.
1080p is better than 1080i.
The following are the formats that camcorders support:
- MPEG-2: An old but popular file format with minimal compression as compared to MPEG-4 or AVCHD.
- MPEG-4: This is a standardized format that is optimized for web upload.
- AVCHD: This format is a flavor of MPEG-4 that is also used by Blu-ray discs. They may not necessarily be transferable to Blu-rays, but the current blu-ray format only supports 3D files of AVCHD 2.0.
Cheaper camcorders provide either too little (5x) or too much (more than 25x) zoom. Greater zoom capabilities may not always be good because long telephoto lenses are difficult to use even with good image stabilization, which is generally results in poor quality.
Always look at the optical zoom instead of the digital zoom, as it degrades video quality.
The lens should have a maximum aperture of f2 or lower, and an equivalent focal length maxing out at 39mm. Search for a shorter focal length for a wider viewing angle to grab more of the scene in the frame.
Image Stabilization (IS)
It compensates for unwanted camera movement. Optical image stabilization is generally better, but if you are shooting on the move digital stabilization may be a better option. Updated IS systems with names like hybrid or dynamic have been released to compensate for shooting while walking.
For best results, the sensor resolution must be at least twice the video standard’s resolution. That is to say, for a 720p camcorder the sensor resolution should be at least 1.8 megapixels; for 1080i/p it should be at least 4 megapixels (the same goes for each chip in the 3-chip model). Higher resolutions will most likely not improve the video, however they may give higher still photo quality. When it comes to the types of sensors, most camcorders employ CMOS sensors. The latest development in CMOS being BSI technology (backside illuminated), which tend to give better results in low light situations. The only one to have branded this technology is Sony (Exmor R). While most companies have left it behind, Panasonic continues to offer 3-chip camcorders - an older method for improving dynamic range and color reproduction.
All newer models use flash memory exclusively for storage. Few models offer hard drive, disc or tape options. Most manufacturers sell the same camcorder with inbuilt flash memory and an SD card slot, or only a slot for pushing in storage. It is recommended to use only class 6 or above when recording in HD video.
This mainly has to do with the bundled software. Most recent camcorders offer Mac and iMovie compatibility.
If you want a product that takes good photographs, as well as videos, then camcorders are not for you. Barring a few prosumer models, it would be better to go in for an ILC, digital SLR or high end point and shoot camera.
This is a test of how well the camcorder is able to perform in low light conditions. It pans out to about 5-7 lux for consumer models. Claims for lower light generally means special shooting modes like infrared or slow shutter, which give odd effects.
We can see touchscreen deployment in more and more camcorders, however, it does not mean all of them are optimally functional. One should try making a pass through the menu section and the shoot settings of the product before making a purchase.
An electronic viewfinder comes in handy when the LCD is not easily viewable (in direct sunlight), or if you prefer shooting with the camera to your eye. Some people find it easier to stabilize the camcorder when making use of one or find an EVF-less distracting than the LCD. These are mostly available on full-featured and manually capable models.
Headphones are useful accessories if you are shooting in noisy locations. It’s the only way to assess what the microphone is actually picking up.
If recording people conversing is your thing, having your sound coming from a directional microphone will deliver better results than the inbuilt omnidirectional mics. This feature is only available on high end manually capable or low priced educationally targeted camcorders.
This is only useful if you plan on using an add-on microphone or video light. This feature is usually available on fully featured manually capable camcorders.
Manual Exposure Controls
All camcorders allow for exposure compensation control. There are some, however, that even give you control over shutter speed and aperture. These features are available mostly on manually capable products.
In this world of social sharing, the manufacturers have taken the initiative to integrate wifi into their devices. They can be connected to a mobile device, like a smartphone, to transfer clips and photographs on the go. Mostly, you are limited to sending a few short, low-resolution clips.
Certain camcorder models serve up a built-in GPS for geotagging videos. However, there is no standard for geotagging videos, and you may be left with using just your manufacturer provided software.
Top 5 Manufacturers
In order to choose and buy from the different types of camcorders, it is necessary for users to determine which one is most suitable for them. As such, it is preferable that the user has knowledge about the leading manufacturers of camcorders.
Canon is a company that needs no introduction to anyone even remotely related to the photography/video industry. Every year Canon pushes itself to produce ground breaking technology, making their products sleeker, and feature rich making their products one of the most sought after in the market.
Sony is another electronics company that has become worldwide, a household name. Their camcorders have taken the awards for best camcorders many times. They are known for their sleek designs, and feature packed designs without compromising on quality.
Panasonic provides products that few can compete with in the market, considering the price point that they offer. They are rarely mentioned when recommending camcorders, but most of their models would put a lot of their competition to shame.
JVC is an old player in the camcorder market, and has been keeping pace with the big boys ever since. They produce camcorders with new features, and are not afraid to experiment to get unique results.
Toshiba is another electronics manufacturer that have been making some impressive camcorders. Their products always has some unique feature, making them stand apart from the crowd.
- A megapixel is equal to 1,000,000 pixels, and is used to refer to the resolution of a photograph or camera.
- Lux is the SI unit of illuminance and luminous emittance. It is used to measure luminous flux per unit area. It is equal to one lumen per square meter. In photometry, it is used as a measure of the intensity, as perceived by the human eye, of light that hits or passes through a surface.
- This is a process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media, like videos, photographs, websites, etc. The metadata is usually latitude and longitude coordinates, though they can also have altitude, bearing, distance, accuracy data and place names.