Choosing between standard and high-definition camcorders
If you plan to watch home movies on your HDTV, you'll probably want a high-definition
(HD) camcorder (covered in our companion report on HD camcorders).
The best HD camcorders record 1,080-line images -- the highest resolution
an HDTV will display. Standard-definition (SD) camcorders, on the other hand,
record only about 480 lines in an image -- the maximum resolution an analog
TV will display.
If you have a standard-definition TV and don't plan to buy an HD set anytime
soon, you can save $200 or more by sticking with an SD camcorder. If you
store or edit your movies on your computer, SD footage eats up less memory
and doesn't require such a powerful computer (although many HD camcorders
have an SD setting for just this reason).
Most digital still cameras can also take HD video and are a good alternative
to a pocket camcorder. Our reports on digital cameras, cheap digital cameras and ultra-zoom cameras cover the best models. For short
clips, a smartphone can
also fit the bill.
- Long zooms are fun. Some models top out at 10x, but some
cameras have optical zooms that extend to 70x. Digital zooms can extend
things farther, but are of limited value as they tend to pixelate images
(e.g., cause them to become blocky and lose detail) -- sometimes to unusable
proportions -- as they enlarge the image. Camcorders with long zooms
should have some kind of image stabilization, preferably optical, which
helps counteract camera shake. Even so, using a tripod is a good idea for
computer compatibility. A relatively speedy computer with a large hard
drive and plenty of memory will make the digital video editing experience
- Look for a microphone jack. Many reviews
lament the poor quality of the built-in microphones in digital camcorders;
none of the new models discussed in this report includes a jack for
an external microphone.
- Pixels are different for camcorders than
for digital cameras. We're used to seeing digital cameras with 10
megapixels (that's 10,000,000 pixels) of resolution, but video needs less
resolution than still photos. 690,000 pixels will give you about 500 lines
of horizontal resolution. That's about the same resolution as a standard