Buyer's Guide 2007: Digital Video Cameras
From DV tape to hard drives, today's cameras offer something for everyone
Are you clinging to decade-old gear or living on the high-tech cutting edge? Do you want to replace a worn-out camcorder or move up to a new system? Do you shoot once-a-year vacation videos or are you a video enthusiast? No matter which of the various video formats you choose, a new camcorder will most likely have more features and better resolution, be smaller and lighter, and cost less than the equipment you're using now.
Videotape has been the medium of choice since the videotape recorder was invented more than 50 years ago. While tapes have gotten smaller and smaller over the decades, the basic technology has remained the same. However, the past couple of years have introduced camcorders using several tapeless recording media: DVDs or hard drives.
MiniDV tape is by far the most popular recording medium currently in use for consumer and semi-professional camcorders. That popularity means tapes are available everywhere. Every manufacturer offers a lot of choices, from pocket-sized to professional. If you transfer video into a computer for editing, then staying with your current recording format means you won't have to update your computer or software to adapt to a new camcorder.
The new media formats include recording to disk (mini-DVD) or an internal hard drive. As with tape-based systems, each of the new-format camcorders is offered in a range of features and prices.
A big advantage of the hard-drive systems is longer recording times. One hard-drive camera (the JVC Everio GZ-MG77U) boasts more than seven hours of video capacity in its highest-quality mode or 37 hours at low resolution. It's not that changing a tape is difficult, but it always seems to be needed at the most inappropriate time. Think of how that long recording time would help out if you were taping an all-day event or an extended vacation.
Camcorders that record to DVD or hard drives allow for simple editing in-camera. You can access your video clips instantly—there's no fast winding back and forth to find them. You can select the order in which you want to play back clips, delete the bad scenes and tighten up the good takes, then hit play and watch the edited show. With a DVD-based camcorder, you can finalize the DVD in-camera and then play it back on almost any DVD player.