A guide to the key features you need to consider when buying a digital video camera. Learn the basics about pixels and megapixels, CCD's, light performance, zoom, image, sound and much more. Pick the perfect digital camera for your needs!
Step 1: Tape or Disc?
One question you may ask yourself is whether you want a camera that records on to tapes or discs. Tapes and discs are just two of the formats onto which digital video can be recorded. Others include Hard Disk Drive Cameras, and Card Cams. To see an overview of the benefits and draw backs of the major formats please watch the VideoJug film http://www.videojug.com/film/digital-video-cameras-tape-or-disc
Step 2: Pixels
Digital pictures are made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny dots of light arranged in a grid. Each of dots is called a "picture element" or a pixel. A mega-pixel is a million pixels. The greater the number of pixels the clearer your images will be, and the more realistic colours your camera will be able to capture. However, when considering a camera, always ask for the number of effective pixels a camera captures instead of the gross number of pixels. Effective pixels are the number the camera's CCD chip actually uses when recording.
Step 3: CCDs
Pixel information is captured on a CCD chip behind the lens, the same way film captures light for a film camera. These chips come in different sizes. Most home camcorders have chips between 1/6-inch to 1/3-inch. The larger the CCD, the more light is taken in with the image, resulting in brighter pictures with better colours.
Another important factor is the number of chips. 3 chip cameras have a different chip for capture each primary colour - red, green and blue. 3-chip cameras give you far more vivid colours.
Step 4: Low Light Performance
As most home camcorders are used indoors, it is important to find a camera that can perform well in low lit conditions. The better models will not only have a number of automatic mode settings in their menus for dark conditions, but will also allow you to manually set features such as the iris and shutter speed to allow more light into the camera.
Some camcorders have an option called "gain" to help with filming in dark conditions. Using gain boosts the light levels being recorded, but be aware that the picture quality will suffer when using this function.
Some models even come with a night vision function, making it possible to shoot in pitch black conditions.
Step 5: Zoom
On a digital camera there are 2 types of zoom. Digital and optical. Optical zooms are the important ones, as they maintain picture clarity. Some camcorders boast massive digital zooms, but all they are doing is enlarging a part of the existing picture, which means there are less pixels and the image becomes less clear.
Step 6: Image Stability
Apart from lowlight, the second biggest complaint for picture quality is shaky pictures. However, the most important feature for stability is how comfortable you are with the camera. Pick it up, imagine operating it. Is the weight distribution comfortable in your hand? Can you access the controls without fumbling for them?
Step 7: Interconnectivity
Each camcorder will come with a number of sockets in the back to allow you to connect the video camera to a VCR or DVD recorder to transfer images, or to a computer for editing. Most have the sockets for the old fashioned red white and yellow audio-visual leads for connection to VCR and DVD recorders, but some also have S-video ports. Check what connections are on your computer, VCR or DVD recorder to ensure they are compatible. Mini-DV cameras will also have DV out ports to connect to your computer, but it is worth checking if the ports will also take information in so you can put edited films back on to tape from your computer.
Step 8: LCD Screens
Most modern camcorders come with LCD screens to view what you're filming and to review what you've already filmed. Again the more pixels on the LCD screen the better. Remember these screens use up the battery very quickly, ad can