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Movies and Video For people making movies and editing video with their Mac.

How to Choose Your Camcorder...

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Member Since: Feb 25, 2009
Posts: 2,109
Nethfel is a glorious beacon of lightNethfel is a glorious beacon of lightNethfel is a glorious beacon of lightNethfel is a glorious beacon of lightNethfel is a glorious beacon of lightNethfel is a glorious beacon of light
Mac Specs: Late 2013 rMBP, i7, 750m gpu, OSX versions 10.9.3, 10.10

Nethfel is offline
Greetings all,

In the time that I've been here, I've seen countless threads on choosing a camcorder (ie: "what's a good camcorder?", "what camcorder should I buy?", etc.) most of which I have replied to - almost always with the same type of statements and questions. Since these threads get similar or the same answers each and every time, I figured I'd make a post that could easily be found and referenced to help a potential buyer find the camcorder that is right for them.

You as a potential buyer need to do some research to narrow down the scope of what you want/need to get a better response. It's even better if you get a couple of models in mind based upon your criteria and ask others what they think of those camcorders, if they've had any problems, etc.

First off -

what makes a good camcorder?

A good camcorder is one that meets/exceeds your needs within your budget

What makes a great camcorder?

A camcorder that not only meets/exceeds your needs, but also meets/exceeds your wants within your budget

Now -

Choosing your camcorder:

Every videographer has different requirements - you need to determine yours.

Here are some of the questions you need to ask yourself:

What is your budget?

What software / hardware are you planning on using? (this can be vital - for example, if you have a Macbook (just a plain newer Macbook, not a Pro) you have no firewire ports, which means you've eliminated the ability to use any tape based camcorders and some tapeless camcorders (mostly higher level tapeless - most consumer tapeless either has USB or records to a removable media or both) - also software compatibility may come into play)

What type of shooting environment are you going to be in?
Will it be natural/artificial light well lit?
Will it be natural/artificial low light?
Will you need it for underwater work?
Might you be in a harsh environment (desert, etc.)?

What will you be capturing?
General events?
Mini movies?
Training videos?
Depositions / interviews?

What resolution / frame rates do you want/need?
Is 1080i60 ok?
Do you need a progressive mode (ie: 1080p60/p30/p24)?
Do you need 720p60/p30/p24?
Do you need an standard def record mode (not sure of a good reason why, but just in case )
Do you need an extremely high resolution? (ie: 4K)

Is good image stabilization important? (it is for me since my hand isn't terribly steady)

What level of manual control do you want over the camera?

Do you need a 3 chip camera? (if you don't know what this means, then you probably don't need it)

Do you require 3D?

Do you need interchangeable lenses?

Do you need to record long lengths at a single sitting? (ie: are you doing interviews, or are you doing scenes where a scene might last 15-20 minutes or less - MAX)

If you are planning on recording short lengths, would you be interested in using a dSLR as a camcorder?
Their larger imagers tend to have the capability of capturing higher quality imagery - especially in low light - compared to a standard camcorder. Plus it's less conspicuous as a camcorder, gives you the ability to shoot stills - but requires you to use an external mic as the on board mics on still cameras tend to be low quality.

What zoom length do you need?

Do you plan on using an external microphone?
If you do - do you require XLR inputs?
iIf you need XLR, is it acceptable to use something like a JuicedLink or Beachtek device?

What type of storage medium is of interest to you to use (SD Card, internal HDD, tape, other)?

Do you need external control of the camera?

Do you need a shoe on your camera?
Do you need hot or cold shoe?
Do you want standard sized or a mini advanced shoe?

Weight requirements?
Are you going to handhold for a long period of time? heavier cameras can put a strain on your arms.

Size requirements?
Do you want something small that fits in the palm of your hand or something a bit larger - even as large as shoulder mount?

These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself, and even possibly place in a post prior to posting as no one can tell you what a good camera is for you without knowing your needs, wants and budget. Everyone has their own idea of what is a good camera, but good cameras come in categories based upon feature sets and pricing. There may be more questions that I'm not thinking of at the moment - but at least looking over this should give you as a camera buyer some idea of the things you need to consider when choosing your camcorder. Even choosing a cheap camcorder doesn't hurt from considering your needs / wants. Let's face it, why spend $2,000 on a camcorder if the one that meets/exceeds all of your wants is $1,200? The problem is you won't know if you can find that camcorder until you have identified those needs and wants.

My Macs: Late 2013 rMBP w/ 750m; Mac mini G4, 1.25 GHz, 512m ram (server); Late 2011 11" MBA, 1.8GHz i7, 4Gig Ram, 256Gig SSD, HD3000; Powerbook 12" G4 1.33GHz running Debian as a server; Apple TV (1080p version)
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