Digital camcorders buying guide

Don’t worry too much about picture quality when shopping for a digital camcorder — it’s mainly their sound quality that sets them apart.
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Digital camcorder

Whether it’s that dream holiday or your kids growing up, a digital camcorder can help you preserve your favourite memories in high, never deteriorating quality.

Want to know more? See the full CHOICE test of camcorders.

Please note: this information was current as of June 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market. 

What you get

If you’re thinking of buying a digital camcorder, you can expect:

  • Picture quality that will look fantastic on the latest LCD and Plasma TVs.
  • Good quality stereo sound. However, the limitations of the often tiny built-in microphones mean you won't get as good an audio experience as when using an external microphone.
  • Amazingly small and lightweight camcorders packed with generally easy-to-use menu-controlled features and functions. With the arrival of camcorders that can record video to removable memory cards as small as a postage stamp you can almost fit your camcorder in your pocket.
  • The ability to play back your recordings on your TV in either Standard Definition or High Definition depending on the camcorder you choose. If you want to edit the video you can simply transfer the footage to a computer for near-professional editing (if you have the necessary software) without loss of quality. However, be aware that the MPEG video format used on most of these camcorders is more difficult to
  • The ability to take still photos either on the tape or (with most models) on a memory card. Some of the latest camcorders are providing image resolutions approaching the same quality as an average digital still camera.

What to look for

Consider the following before you buy:

  • Which system do you want? For example, if you are starting out and want to edit your video MiniDV is still a very good value option if you can find one. Unfortunately, cheap models are now hard to find as most companies are abandoning this format. The latest hard drive and Flash removable memory based camcorders provide the flexibility to show the video on your TV as well as move the video to a computer quickly and easily. CHOICE does not recommend mini DVD camcorders as a good solution, the media is harder to find than flash memory and preparing the discs for DVD playback can be finicky.
  • Think about which connections to your TV and computer you’ll use, and make sure the model you’re interested in has them. Get all the necessary cables when buying the camcorder. If you use a MiniDV camera you will need to have a FireWire connection on your PC, whereas most camcorders now use the more commonly available USB 2.0 connection. HDMI is becoming increasingly available and is a great way to enjoy video and audio on your Plasma or LCD TV, however this connection can't be used to transfer video from the camcorder onto your computer.
  • Think about what features and functions you need, and make sure the model you’re interested in has them all. On the other hand, some models are packed with features you may never use, so there’s no point paying for them.
  • Go to a shop and try out the models you’re interested in. Check whether you can comfortably hold them and reach the main controls (such as the zoom) at the same time, especially if you’re left-handed — virtually all of the latest models are designed for right-hand use.

For more information on systems, connections and features, as well as the results of our latest test, check out our HD & SD camcorder test.

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