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How to choose a video camera or camcorder
The most important specifications
VHS is by far the most common video format in use today and
the automatic choice for most users. S-VHS (or "Super VHS"),
however, offers a better original by separating the chrominance
(color) and luminance (detail) signals. This separation eliminates
crosstalk between the signals, resulting in higher resolution
and greatly reduced loss of detail in the tape copying necessary
to editing. VHS-C offers VHS compatibility using a smaller cassette.
The VHS-C tape is identical to VHS tape but to it in a regular
VHS deck you need to use a special adapter. VHS-C is rarely
available in professional camcorders because smaller tapes result
in only 30 minutes of recording time in SP mode. Video 8 offers
quality similar to VHS in a much smaller cassette; Hi-8 is the
8 mm. equivalent to S-VHS. DV is a new digital format which
eliminates generational loss during tape copying.
different format tapes will not interchange from machine to
machine, it is easy to dub from one format to another. Thus,
even if youre standardized on VHS players, it might
make sense to buy an S-VHS or Video-8 camcorder. However,
there will be some loss in picture quality in the duplication
process. This is one advantage of using the VHS-C format for
home users, no duplication is needed.
audio is a recording format where stereo audio signals are
recorded using high speed rotary audio heads similar to the
way video is recorded. Normal linear audio tracks are recorded
with stationary heads as the slow moving video tape goes by.
In general, the faster the tape moves past the recording heads,
the better the sound reproduction. In fact, hi-fi audio recording
produces sound quality close to audio CDs and, in fact, well
into the specification ranges used for professional audio recording
measures the amount of detail that your equipment can capture,
and thus is a good clue to the quality of the image youll
get on your tape. In a camcorder, resolution is limited by the
video recording method. Thus youll note much higher resolutions
for S-Video and DV units than for VHS and Video 8.
to noise ratio measures the intensity of the video or audio
signal versus background noise. A ratio of 58 dB, for example,
means there are 58 decibels of signal for every decibel of noise.
Higher ratios mean a cleaner signal.
frequency response measures the range of tones that your
equipment is able to reproduce. How important this measure is
depends on the audio you record and the care with which you
record it. If youre taping concerts, a unit that will
handle 20,000 Hz high tones will make a difference to many audience
members (though most will not be able to hear above 15,000)
If youre recording people talking, however, you should
know that most voices span a range of only 200 - 2,000 Hz.
illumination is touted in camcorder specs, but these figures
should be taken with a grain of salt. The best video always
requires a lot of light, and since most people will shoot under
lighting much better than the minimum, the real question is
how good the unit looks at typical levelsand thats
not related to the stated minimum.
and weight. A consideration if you plan to travel with your
camcorder, but not a big concern for most people, once you get
below five or six pounds. Small palm held camcorders seem like
a great idea but they are more tiring to hold and promote picture
jitter when not on a tripod since they cannot be supported by
your shoulder. Also, keep in mind that a lighter unit means
a lighter weight frame that will withstand less abuse. Small
palm variety camcorders will almost never survive being dropped
even a few feet, whereas larger camcorders usually sustain very
little damage from a similar drop.
How you plan to use your camera is critical to what you buy, since
there is a wide variation in the features youll find from
one model to another.
capability can be a major money saver, since it can save
you from buying a dedicated VCR for an editing system. Although
the editing capabilities of a camcorder are rudimentary, they
may be sufficient for very infrequent use.
- A high
speed shutter can be very helpful for coaches and others
who will analyze moving subjects. A shutterless camera will
record motion as a blur, resulting in blurred slow motion playback
or still frames, no matter how good the playback deck. A camera
with a shutter, however, will record crisp individual frames.
image stabilization smoothes out jitters due to movements
of the camera operator. This feature is only helpful on camcorders
that are too small to support with your shoulder.
- A long-life
battery can be helpful, depending on how youll use
your camcorder. No one likes to shut down to change batteries
in the middle of a meeting or performance.
special effects can be very impressive, though they are
missing from the better units, since the manufacturers assume
any effects will be added during editing. This is true also
of audio dub and fade in and fade out: nice, but easier to do
with a digital a/v mixer.
code and genlock capability are features of use to those
buying cameras for professional systems use, and beyond the
range of this guide.
about recording speeds: home users often want to record several
hours of video on a single tape, but for educational and professional
users, its false economy, considering the low cost of
tape and the high cost of your time. Thus professional camcorders
dont even offer the option of EP recording, and they
boost quality with single-speed heads.
Reliability is a critical factor in camcorder selection. These
systems have a large number of moving parts, all packed into
a very small space. Repairs tend to be expensive, and for
that reason alone, a professional-quality camcorder makes
a good investment.