How to choose camcorder for video editing system

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About Video Editing > Hardware Guide

Choose Camcorder For Your Video Editing System

Before you shoot and edit video, you need a camera or camcorder. This is the first step you must take in order to create great videos to share with others.

The hard part for you is that there are so many cameras out there - so how do you get a good value and enough camera to do the job?

The most important consideration besides the cost of a camera, is whether or not you are working with a digital format (Digital-8, miniDV) or an Analog format (Hi-8, VHS, VHS-C, Super VHS-C).

VHS & 8mm cams use composite video jacks. S-VHS & Hi-8 cams use a special connector called an S-Video (or YC or SVHS) jack. This special connection breaks the video signal into chrominance (color) & luminance (brightness). If your camcorder has these jacks, you definitely want to use them when you edit. Composite & S-Video are bpth analog video. With analog video, the video quality of your editing system is variable. Factors such as the capture card, storage & CPU will have a big impact on your overall production.

Today there is a better format to use - Digital Video (DV). This new format is dramatically better then the older analog standards. When you combine the quality of DV with the special FireWire (or IEEE1394 or iLink) and DV/FireWire capture cards, you get a digital video editing system that is simply incredible. The video quality is the same regardless of what card you buy. There are now two consumer digital formats. MiniDV and Digital8.

If you are planning on getting a new camcorder, GO DIGITAL.

And do not hesitate to get a Digital8. Make sure the camcorder has FireWire (or iLink or IEEE1394) jacks. Do not under any circumstances buy a digital cam that does not support FireWire input & output.

The bottom line is that you will get a better experience with the newer digital formats.

The next step forward is considering how much you want to spend on a camcorder. New digital video cameras run anywhere from as little as $450 all the way up to the high-end George Lucas style digital video cameras. A realistic price ranges from about $500 to $1200. There are so many good choices in this range.

Now you should think about what features you need. Below I have listed the most important features that you should investigate before deciding to make the purchase.


Resolution, in this case, is defined as the number of lines that make up an image on a screen. While the DV format is capable of about 550 lines of resolution, some models do not take full advantage of these capabilities. The closer you get to 550 the better your video quality will be.

Optical Zoom

There are two types of zoom: Optical and Digital. Optical Zoom is handled within the phisical lens itself. Digital Zoom is handled inside the brains of the camcorder. Some manufacturers hype up the digital zoom capabilities of their cameras stating their camera has "Up to 500x Digital Zoom!" or even as high as 700x...

While this sounds fantastic, you really never want to use footage in a video that you achieved while using the Digital Zoom feature. The way it works, is that the lens can zoom a certain amount - once this level has been surpassed, your camera shifts to Digital Zoom. Most of the time, a digital zoom will result in poor picture quality, choppier images, and a noticeable presence of square pixels on the screen.

Still Picture

Some people may want to use their video camera as a method for acquiring still images. If you already have a digital camera for photography (aka a digital still camera), then you might not find this appealing because the quality you get with a video camcorder will usually be around 640 x 480 pixels.

Other Features

To be honest, many camcorders under $600 are very similar. You will probably be happy with any of these makes/models provided you are not looking for a specific feature and you just want to shoot some video. When you start to get a bit more advanced and seek better alternatives, you may want to investigate these finer points:

CCD Size/Number of CCDs/Better Lens quality
Your lenses are the eyes of the camera, converting images and sounds into digital bits. The more you pay, the more lens quality you are likely to get. The larger the CCD, the more light it lets in, and the better the video quality. The more CCDs a camera has (only 3CCD and 1CCD camcorders are on the market today) determines how carefully each color is segmented, which results in higher quality videos.

Optical Stabilization System
Higher end cameras include an optical stabilization system which balances shaky images internally to the lens itself. Many consumer cameras include a digital image stabilization system which is cheaper and lesser in quality. Digital image stabilization is good, yes, but not like optical stabilization.

USB Web Streaming
Some camcorders include a USB cable for you to transfer pictures, video clips, and streaming live video to the web.

So go out there and get started. Owning a digital video camera is a blast and can be used for so many things like filmmaking, wedding/event taping, birthday party, and more. Pick one that you will use and connect to your home computer for editing.

To create desktop videos, you also need:

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