What the best HD camcorders have

  • True high-resolution video. "High definition" can mean a variety of things. Generally, footage recorded in 1080i (or more advanced 1080p) "full-HD" resolution will look better than 720p footage. More frames per second (60i or 60p versus 30p) usually look smoother, although some camcorders offer a 24p mode that can look film-like.
  • Compact design. Camcorders don't necessarily have to be pocket-sized, but they don't have to be behemoths either. Flash memory can help reduce the bulky design of older camcorders that used heavier internal drives. Models that use memory cards are even lighter.

Know before you go

Where will you be shooting? Indoors? Outdoors? Will you be close to your subjects? Different camcorders will have strengths in specific areas like low light or long-range zoom.

What is your budget? A few key features will greatly affect the price of a camcorder. Often times, camcorders with higher internal memory capacity will come at a higher price than those with flash media. Other factors include zoom capability, 3D functionality and bundled goods, like extra media cards, USB cords and software suites.

Do you really need a camcorder? If you're mostly shooting short clips, you can probably use the video feature on your digital camera or your smartphone. Only people who need the highest quality video and ample memory – wannabe filmmakers and dedicated home movie enthusiasts, for example -- should consider a camcorder.

Buying tactics and strategies

Even if you plan to buy online it's best to try out a camcorder before purchasing, so browsing a brick-and-mortar store can be extremely helpful. If nothing else, it will help you determine the most basic features of the camcorder, including whether it fits comfortably in your hands and you find the controls accessible. When purchasing online, make sure the vendor is a reputable seller with clearly defined return policies and shipping options.

What's to come

HD camcorders are facing increased competition from smartphone and digital cameras. If you only shoot the occasional video, it may not be necessary to purchase a separate device. We expect this category to continue shrinking.

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