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What You Need To Know About The New Breed Of Camcorders
Have you experienced dismay when you're in an electronic store trying to explain to a salesperson what you want from a camcorder? You're saying things such as, "I want to be able to shoot my kid's soccer game." Or "I want to record my grandparents while they're still alive." Or "I plan on videotaping a project so I can create a presentation at work." You're describing what you want to use the camcorder for.
But the salesperson asks, "Will you need manual focus? What about a FireWire port? Is image stabilization important to you? What about PAL?" And on and on and on.
In other words, do you get lost, even intimidated, by the language of video? If so, here's the solution. In this article, you will find an explanation, in easy-to-understand terms, for just about every video feature you can think of. It's your guide to understanding the technobabble that you'll hear everywhere camcorders are sold.
Of course, you'll also find a comprehensive list of camcorders in every format. This makes comparison shopping much easier.
If you're looking to buy, to upgrade, or just to compare, read on. We think this is the best guide available in the industry.
All camcorders output (send out) audio and video signals. However, only a limited number allow you the added advantage of being able to input (receive, or take in) audio and video. Without A/V input, you can record only through the lens; with it, you can record from another source, such as a VCR or TV. Some units have a single AN jack, with a switch that toggles back and forth between Output and Input.
This term refers to the process of replacing all or part of the original video soundtrack (e.g., with narration or music), without affecting the video.
All modern camcorders offer automatic focus. Just point the camcorder at an object; the camcorder senses the distance to your subject and automatically focuses the lens correctly.
Not all auto-focus mechanisms are created equal, however. Some focus better than others. Some of the areas to be concerned about include the following:
* Does the camcorder take too long to focus?
* Does the focus fail to lock onto a subject and, instead, move back and forth between the subject and the background (an undesirable process called "hunting")?
* Does the unit hold its focus in dimly lit situations?
Our suggestion is that you try out any camcorder you are considering in the following way: Slowly pan the unit back and forth between close and distant objects. See how long it takes the auto focus to adjust between these two objects. A second is acceptable; more than that may be a problem when you're trying to catch Uncle Dick juggling your son's birthday cake out of the kitchen.
Next, focus on a subject such as a person standing close to you and in front of a background that is some distance away. Make sure the camcorder is on full wide angle and that you're standing at least six or seven feet away from your subject. Is the camcorder able to lock on the person and hold the focus, or does it shift between background and subject?
Finally, find a very dark corner and aim the camcorder at some object in it. Will it focus, or does the recorded image blur in lower light levels? (Many camcorders that focus well in bright light perform poorly in low-light conditions.)
Many camcorders--not all--offer a manual-focus alternative. While you may wonder why you would want manual focus, rest assured, it is a true asset. When you are taping a special event such as a wedding and you have the camcorder sitting on a tripod, you will want to use the manual focus to get and hold the sharpest image. If your unit doesn't have a manual option, you will have to leave it to the camcorder's electronics to "decide" for you what the best focus is.
Finally, look for a ring around the lens instead of buttons to adjust the manual focus. A ring is far easier to control. Unfortunately, too many camcorders these days offer tiny manual-focus buttons, which are so small that your fingers are too big to operate them easily.
Auto Macro Focus
Virtually all camcorders offer auto macro focus. This allows full automatic focusing from the closest macro position (about a quarter-inch from the lens) to infinity. (You just point the camcorder wherever you want, and the image is always in focus.) Auto macro is very important, even if you never take super close-ups. Its real advantage is in making sure your video is always in focus during those in-between situations of about a foot or two from the lens, which used to be beyond the auto-focus capabilities of most camcorders.
The majority of models require that you go to full wide angle in order to use the auto macro feature. That's great for those above-mentioned super close-ups. A few, however, allow you to use auto macro in the telephoto position, which means you can get amazing close-ups even while keeping the camcorder several feet from the …