How to Buy a Digital Camcorder

Quick Camcorder Shopping Tips

Are you ready to buy a digital camcorder right now? Like, soon enough that you don't have time to read through this entire article? Here are some lightning-fast tips to help you find a camcorder that's right for you. Print this page and head to the store!

Check out the LCD screen in daylight, if possible. Some screens will wash out in bright sunlight, and you'll want to make sure you can easily see what you're recording under any conditions.

Look at the lens's optical zoom ratio instead of its digital zoom ratio. With a digital zoom, the camcorder is merely enlarging the image in the viewfinder instead of giving you a genuinely closer look. The optical zoom spec is much more important--you'll want at least 10X optical zoom.

For longer recording times, buy an extra, higher-capacity battery. The battery that comes with most camcorders may last only an hour or so. For $50 to $100, you can buy a longer-lasting battery, so factor that into your cost if you think you'll need it. (Remember, though, that larger batteries add to the camera's weight.)

Front-mounted microphones get better results. Top-mounted microphones tend to capture the voice of the person using the camera, drowning out everything else. If you want the best sound on a conventional camcorder, factor in an extra $50 to $100 for an external microphone. Make sure, of course, that your camcorder has a place for you to plug it in.

Try out the camera's controls before you buy. Sometimes the smallest camcorders can be hard to use, especially if you have large hands. A larger model may work better for you if it's more comfortable to handle. Make sure that a touchscreen-based camcorder has a responsive and intuitive interface.

Check out exposure controls. All camcorders offer a fully automatic mode, but some models have manual and semi-manual exposure modes. For example, some models let you shoot at slower shutter speeds than others, or have aperture settings that allow more light in. Many also offer scene modes, which you may be familiar with from digital still cameras.

Low-light options let you shoot in dim settings. Many cameras offer a long shutter mode to help you capture images in darkness, and a few offer an infrared light for shooting in total darkness.

Pump up your PC for AVCHD. Editing your HD video may mean that you'll need to bulk up your computer. Your PC should have a 2.0GHz or greater multicore CPU and at least 2GB of RAM; 4GB or more would be much better. You may also need to update your video-editing package for full AVCHD compatibility.

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