Choose A Digital Camcorder

Now that everybody in America has written a screenplay (see Sell a Screenplay), it’s time to start shooting. Digital camcorders, many selling for under $1,000, capture remarkably high-quality images and are just plain fun to use. Combine one with editing software on your computer, and capture your family’s favorite moments in style.


1. Walk right by those analog camcorders. When it comes to image quality, even the worst digital camcorders are on a par with the very best analog models. Still waffling? Analogs can’t connect to your computer so forget about editing your home movies.

2. Choose a digital recording format: MiniDV (the most popular format, with easy-to-find blank tapes), Digital 8 or MicroMV.

3. Pick a model with a liquid-crystal display (LCD) screen that’s at least 2.5 inches (6 cm) diagonally. The bigger and brighter the screen, the easier the camera will be to focus and use. Ask to view it outside, in bright daylight. (Many cameras have a black-and-white viewfinder in addition to the LCD.)

4. Look for a front-mounted microphone rather than a top-mounted one. For the best sound, get a jack for an external mike.

5. Pay attention to the optical zoom. The higher the numbers, the closer your camera will bring you to the action. Digital zoom, on the other hand, simply reduces the resolution of the recorded image.

6. Try the controls and the on-screen menus. See if you’re comfortable using them and they make sense to you.

7. Picture-stabilizing circuitry and low-light operation can be useful. Ask to see what they do and how well they work.

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8. Weigh–pun intended–the features of the camera against its bulkiness, weight and price tag. A large, heavy camera won’t be comfortable for you to use. Tiny, palm-sized camcorders can be had, but at a hefty price.

9. Make sure to get a camcorder with a FireWire (IEEE 1394) or USB 2.0 jack if you’re planning to edit your movies on your computer. (Check that it has the appropriate connection.)

10. Have a ball with video-editing software and turn your raw digital footage into entertaining movies complete with professional looking cuts, transitions, and sound tracks. Basic editing programs come with some computers and digital camcorders. For example, new Macs come standard with easy-to-learn iMovie.