Video cameras have come a long way, and while it’s great to be able to whip out your smartphone and record moving images in a pinch, if you’re looking to really create lasting home movies you’ll want a dedicated video camera or camcorder. With so many models out there it can be difficult to know what to look for. Here’s what you should consider if you’re in the market for a new video camera or camcorder.
1. HD May Not Be the Best Option For You
When a new technology hits the scene, it can feel like the old gets thrown out with the bathwater. Consider what you’ll be creating with your video camera. Are you wanting to make a short film to submit to competitions? If so, you’ll definitely want HD. If you’re looking to create personal videos that are easy to share and quick to edit, a simple point-and-shoot camera may be a better bet—even if it doesn’t shoot in full 1080p HD. Any camera with 720p HD video capability is going to create beautiful videos that look great when uploaded and shared online.
2. Video File Format
Most consumer-level HD video cameras shoot in AVCHD format instead of traditional .mov or AVI video files. If you don’t have professional editing software, such as Final Cut Pro or Avid, it can be very tricky to convert or edit these types of files. AVCHD files are also considerably larger than other formats, consequently taking up more space on your computer (you’ll likely need to plan on investing in external drives for storage).
3. On-Board Camera Storage
Video cameras will record to an external memory card, on a hard internal disk, or to the camera’s internal memory. We prefer camcorders that record to an external memory card, as you can increase or decrease your storage capacity as needed. A 64-gig memory card will record about 300 minutes of HD video, making it a great choice if you’re planning on making a short film, for example. Again, consider the camera’s default video format: just like on the computer, AVCHD files take up more space. Camcorders that have both internal on-board storage and an external card slot are a win-win: if you run out of room on your card in the middle of the shoot, the internal memory takes over.
4. External Jacks
External microphone and headphone jacks are extremely important if you’re using the camcorder to create short films or pieces for serious broadcast: not all YouTube videos are created equal. Those with good sound are more likely to get more views—no one wants to listen to scratchy, inaudible, or adulterated sound. The headphone jack is crucial if you think you’ll be shooting in loud or busy areas as it will help you tune out distractions and stay focused on what you’re shooting. An external microphone jack is a must if you’re planning on doing interviews, or truly capturing what’s happening in the video. Good sound can often compensate for poorer video quality, so budget accordingly.
5. Extra Functions
Will you be taking this video camera on a trip? If so, having on-board GPS or geotagging may be a big factor in your purchase decision. Do you want to be able to instantly upload your videos to social networking sites? If so, you’ll want a camera that is Wi-Fi enabled. Some camcorders even link directly to your smartphone, so you can have high-quality video directly on your phone. If you’re making a more serious video, you’ll want manual exposure controls and an eye-level viewfinder. Knowing what kinds of extra functions like these that you need depend on what type of project you’re aiming to create.