At the other end of the spectrum is the dedicated camcorder. On the lowest rung of the ladder you’ll find pocket-sized “shoot-and-share” camcorders that record on
SD memory cards (some on internal memory also, or on both). As an aside, be sure to use a SD card that’s at least a Class 4, otherwise it won’t be able to transfer data fast enough for satisfactory results. These little cameras are great as secondary recording devices, as an afterthought and for parties and backpacking. They’re sometimes overwhelmed by contrasty light, ill equipped for dim light and the audio quality suffers. But some deliver resolution as high as 720p and can snap stills, to boot. Any businessman who wants to add a little life to boring PowerPoint presentations will do well to embed small video clips—and these tiny camcorders are one of the most convenient ways to create them.
Traditional camcorders are larger than their shoot-and-share cousins and offer distinct advantages. They often have articulated LCD screens for more convenient capture and playback, perform much better in low light and accept external microphones for improved audio. Because they use a larger sensor, image quality is
innately better. They’re typically equipped with extended zoom lenses, electronic viewfinders that are easy to use even in total darkness and can record on a variety of different media, depending on model. They also have superior autofocus systems that can keep moving subjects sharp even while panning. Plus, there are dozens and dozens of models available, from many highly reliable manufacturers, so it’s easy to find the right combination of features at the price that’s right for you.
Prosumer camcorders use “a three-chip” system (three separate CCD or CMOS sensors, one for each primary color) to deliver outstanding picture quality, accurate color reproduction and a wide dynamic range with virtually no color noise. They feature extremely high-quality optics, image stabilization and extended zoom lenses (20X optical zoom is typical). Many offer a variety of scene transition effects for on-the-fly enhancements, plus alphanumeric character recording (names, dates, locations) on top of the live video capture when required. As you’d expect, audio quality excels and all offer extensive external microphone options.
Of greatest importance to photographers is the addition of HD video capture to conventional digital still cameras. Nikon pioneered this frontier when they introduced the Nikon D90 with 720p HD capability in August of 2008, and made it ultra affordable with the Nikon D5000 in the spring of ’09. Other Nikon digital SLRs that