Buyer's Guide 2007: Digital Video Cameras
From DV tape to hard drives, today's cameras offer something for everyone
The disadvantage of a hard-drive camera is that you can't replace the media when the drive is full. To make additional recordings, you must download the video you want to save to a DVD burner, a computer or even a VCR, and then delete the old files from the camera. You'll need to plan ahead with your downloads to make sure you have enough drive space available for the next shooting session. You'll also need to have an archiving system in place to store and catalog your video clips after they leave the camera. Generally, the new-format camcorders come with basic editing software that you can load into your computer. But if you already have a favorite editing package, you may need to upgrade your software and/or hardware to be compatible with a new system. Also, be aware that DVD-based camcorders use the smaller three-inch mini-DVD disks, and not all DVD players can accept these. Generally, tray-loading players will work, but slot-loading players won't.
Another thing to consider when camcorder shopping: Will you stay with the standard-definition television format (480 lines of resolution, or 720 x 480 pixels, at 30 fps in the U.S.) or move up to high definition (HD). HD is the future of video, and the transition is picking up speed.
Video can also be recorded as progressive or interlaced frames. With progressive, the entire frame is captured in one scan; with interlaced, all the odd-numbered lines are scanned first, followed by the even-numbered lines (standard broadcast television uses interlaced frames). Interlaced frames are better at handling rapid camera movements; progressive frames make sharper still images and have a more "film-like" quality.
Many HD cameras also give you the choice of shooting at 30 fps (the U.S. television rate) or 24 fps, the rate for 16mm and 35mm films. If you plan on transferring your program to film at some point, shooting at 24 fps will give you better results. Fortunately, many HD video monitors will accept video in all these formats, as will many of the newest video-editing packages for your computer.
(Note: Most standard-definition camcorders also record in wide-screen mode, but this isn't an HD image. Wide-screen only stretches out the standard-definition picture from its normal 3:4 ratio to a wider 9:16 format, but it's still recording only 480 lines of resolution.)
If you're thinking about moving up to an HD camcorder, be sure that your whole system can handle HD. You may need to upgrade your editing computer to handle the data flow of HD video (about four times the data of SD). Of course, you'll want a true HD monitor to watch your creations. And right now, the only way to play back HD is from your HD camcorder or your computer, although high-definition DVD players should be on the market by the time you read this.