There might be no such thing as the perfect camcorder but a lot of today’s models get pretty close. When choosing the best camcorder for your needs, there are two basic criteria to keep in mind: ease of use and video and audio quality. Here are a few more things to look out for.
- Lens. Most high-end digital cameras, including SLRs, have a set of interchangeable lenses, meaning you can choose the right one for the job, but camcorders only have one lens. That’s why it’s important to choose a wide-angle lens, opening to at least 35 mm in 24 x 36 mm equivalent, with a smooth zoom and a powerful image stabilisation system like Sony’s ‘active’ Steadycam technology or Canon Power IS.
- Audio. All camcorders have a built-in mic, but some also have a 5.1 directional mic for capturing surround sound. Others even add a line-in for an external mic, which can be real help for interviews. A headphones jack is a great extra too if you want to check the sound levels or play back your video in peace.
- Screen. With viewfinders often painfully small (if they’re there at all …), you’ll probably be using the screen both for lining up the perfect shot and playing back your clips. Three inches is an absolute minimum, and you can even go up to 3.5” to get a decent 500,000-pixel or even 1-Megapixel display.
- Memory. Inside or out? Camcorders either film onto internal memory of anywhere from 16 GB to 120 GB, or onto an (SD) memory card. Models using the former system are ready to use straight out of the box, but with the latter you’ll need to supply a card yourself. However, you can use the card with other compatible devices too.
Our Top Choice – Sony HDR-CX740
It’s hard to find fault with Sony’s CX740. It’s a five-star camcorder with an impressive number of qualities and features. The unique image stabilisation system works very well and picture quality is good in all conditions. It’s not cheap, but at least the CX740 gives you top quality for your top dollar.
Experts and Pros – Sony NEX-VG20
The NEX-VG20 is a Full HD camcorder with an APS-C sensor and a 18-200 mm zoom lens with autofocus. Image quality in 50p resolution is very good and 5.1 audio is a nice addition. There’s even a swivel viewfinder/screen! All that’s missing is a motorised zoom.
Top Value – Panasonic HC-X900
With 50p resolution, a wide-angle lens and a superb LCD screen, the Panasonic HC-X900 has remarkable advantages, including an exceptionally sharp image. It has all the makings of a high-end camcorder. The only thing missing is finer materials on the body.
Budget Option – Sony HDR-CX190
For just under $250, the Sony CX190 camcorder films Full HD video with a very effective stabilisation system (that even works when you’re walking around) and a powerful 25x zoom. You’d be hard pushed to find a better option at this price!
An important step in finding a camcorder that will suit your needs is to ask yourself, “What is the main purpose of this purchase?” Determining what type of videos you plan to make will help you decide what type of camcorder you will need. If you’re looking for a recommendation from someone, ask people who are making the same type of videos you would like to make, whether it’s professional or just a fun video to commemorate your favorite pastime.
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