How to Pick the Best Camcorder

Most cell phones capture short video clips with ease. When you want to shoot longer-form footage or document big events in work or family life, add a digital camcorder to the technology at your service. From pocket-sized choices that can accompany you on recreational outings to larger--but still small--choices with features designed for greater recording flexibility, you can find the right device for your video needs.

Size

As recording media shrink, so do camcorders. VHS camcorders' bulky size accommodated a bulky cassette shell and tape transport mechanism. Now that you can record to a solid-state SD or MicroSD card the size of your thumbnail, the device you use has slimmed down accordingly, and camcorders come in more than one form factor. Pocket recorders can attach to an armband for action recording. Their flat, rectangular cases look more like cell phones or compressed point-and-shoot cameras. Palm-sized or larger camcorders with flip-out viewing screens use larger casework that can accommodate optical zoom capabilities, bigger lenses and image sensors. They lend themselves to a wider range of shooting scenarios, including low light and manual focus. Choose the camcorder type that matches the kind of footage you plan to capture.

Performance

Camcorder performance specifications center around resolution, video formats, monitoring capabilities, zoom hardware, image stabilization and input/output connections. Recording resolution measures the size of the video frame produced by the image sensor, with full HD at 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. Video formats reflect the types of footage and still images a camcorder can capture and the playback capabilities necessary to view the footage on a computer. You can monitor and play back recordings on a flip-out LCD panel instead of, or in addition to, a viewfinder you hold up to your eye. Camcorders typically feature two kinds of zoom hardware. Optical zoom uses lens optics to enlarge the image and reveal closeup detail. Digital zoom performs pixel-based manipulations that can result in a softer, pixelated image. Image stabilization compensates for hand and body movement and counteracts the blurriness that can result when you handhold a camcorder. Input/output features define the types of connections the device accepts, including digital--HDMI and USB--or analog. Make your device selection based on the level of performance you want.

Weather & Shock Resistance

Camcorders vary in their suitability for use in outdoor and underwater situations. Some devices feature waterproof, dustproof seals that make them ideal for documenting extreme sports, wildlife and adventure footage in locations that include sand or underwater exposure. Some provide shock resistance that can withstand vigorous, rough-and-tumble activity, ideal for use on a mountain biking run or trail hike. Others suit more conventional recording scenarios such as family get togethers or personal movie making, trading environmental tolerance for recording features such as built-in stereo audio and time-lapse photography. If you don't plan to take your device on a run or ride, you may not need weather and shock protection.

Online Connectivity

Today's camcorders increasingly offer Wi-Fi® connectivity and features designed to help you post your recordings to your blog, social media stream or website. Instead of using your smartphone to make recordings, you can stream footage to online venues as you capture it, using a Wi-Fi connection to the Internet. Some models enable you to back up your footage to your computer without removing the camcorder's memory card or establishing a wired USB connection. Opt for these features if they fit in with your digital life.

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