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Berkeley Parents Network > Reviews > What/Where to Buy > Appliances & Electronics > Video Cameras



Digital camcorder

April 2005

Our ''old-fashioned'' videocamera that we purchased right before our daughter's birth, finally gave up decent sound and vision. It seems time now to go digital and my husband is lost in a research jungle of features and possibilities. We are looking for a good quality digital camcorder, hopefully not to exceed $500, that is compatible with a Mac. It would be nice to capture still pictures from the tapings and print them - but it is not a necessary feature. Sony, Canon, Panasonic? What do you have at home that produces good picture quality and is easy to use and that you would recommend? What should we be watching out for in our search? Don't want to miss any more precious filming moments - got to move this forward and get some direction. hhh


I ended up buying a Sony DCR-HC21 because it has a superior zoom for the price ($370 at bhphotovideo.com).

I don't know anything about cameras, but a friend of mine is an expert, and here's what he told me to consider:

The first thing is to consider how to edit the video once you shoot it. Do you have a Mac? If so, problem solved. If not, think about getting a Mac. I'm bitter about all of the time I spent trying to get a PC to edit video!

Okay, in terms of cameras, there are two important factors to me, the quality of the media you're storing it to, and the quality of the imaging hardware in the camera. There's a lot of price variance between cameras for things like user interface and bells and whistles like Night Shot or Image Stabilization, but they aren't as important as the other two factors I mentioned.

Media: There's a big buzz these days about buying video cameras that can store the video onto flash memory or microdrives, but I think at this point, buying one of those would be a mistake. The prices are way too high, and the media is too volatile. Like a friend used to say, ''Drop one of those microdrives on the ground and it's toast.'' Another knock is that those camera have to compress the video as it travels from your CCD array to the storage media. In my opinion, tape-based media is still the way to go. Digital tapes, specifically the mini-DV format, are rugged and cheap. And they are easy to archive. And in terms of compression, the video is written to tape uncompressed (well, almost--color is an issue), so you make the compression decisions when you edit.

Imaging: Here's where you should sink the money into the camera. Most cameras that you see at Best Buy or whereever have a one-CCD array, a quarter-inch chip that handles all of the imaging work and sends it on the processor. If you work your way to the high-end cameras at Best Buy or Frys or whereever, you'll see some cameras with a ''3 CCD'' mark on the side. These are the camera with three CCD arrays, and they're more expensive, but I think they are worth it. The image is on a 1-CCD or 3-CCD array is about the same in terms of image resolution and contrast, but the color is more vibrant on a 3-CCD camera. They seem to handle poor shooting conditions better, too, maybe because more CCDs can pull in more light. I don't know.

In terms of purchasing one, once you figure out the specs, you need to find one that fits the price and feels good to you. It's important to get a camera that feels good in your hand and has an interface you like. A lot of people tend to buy cameras that are tiny, but I prefer cameras with some weight. It's easier to keep the camera stable if it's heavy, so your shot looks better. In terms of brands, I definitely favor Sony and Canon over JVC and Panasonic, but if you're on a tight budget, you may have to settle for the latter.

If you can spend $1500 or up, I think you can get a good three-CCD camera. If not, I'd recommend getting a one-CCD camera from Canon. If you can spend the $1500, I think you could either look at low-end professional cameras at B H photo, or at Amazon.com.

Amazon has a good selection of cameras. I wouldn't recommend buying a camera used, especially not from a pro video shop. Unless you can find a dentist or someone who has barely used their camera, you're going to be buying from someone who has worn out the tape motors on their camera, and that's an expensive repair. Like buying a Honda at 95,000 miles that hasn't had its belts changed. Steve


Hello. We have a Canon DV camera and LOVE it. The name is Elura. We bought it in early 2003. Grandma also bought one at the same time. Hers is a less expensive model. I can't remember the name. And, we also have a Mac. First, Canon makes great cameras- you can't go wrong with them. As far as which camera, if you plan to use iMovie or another digital editing program, you don't need many fancy features. We didn't think of this when buying ours and could've saved $! You can do all of the fancy stuff on your computer afterwards. And iMovie is very easy to use once you get the hang of it. You are able to make a still shot in iMovie from your video and transfer it to iPhoto easily. That said, the Elura is pretty easy to use, and super small. The quality is great. As long as it focuses and zooms, with a Mac, you'll be fine. Feel free to email me with more questions. Katja
We recently got a digital camcorder and I was overwhealmed with all the tech specs out there. We finally opted for a Panasonic PV-GS150. It has 3 CCDs which I guess makes a different. We haven't used it enought to give you a complete thumbs up or down, but so far we are happy with it. It was about $600.00. What we did regarding price was shop for the best price over the internet and then we went to Best Buy and got them to match it (which they did) and got a 1 year with 0% interest kind of deal. I hope this helps Good luck! Anon

Camcorder that Records on DVDs

March 2005

After our camcorder broke several years ago - we never replaced it. We now feel like we're missing out on recording the ''special moments'' in our family and want to try again. We're ''technically challenged'', but interested in those newer camcorders that record on DVDs that you can simply insert and play in your DVD player. Anyone have any experience with that type? I believe SONY and HITACHI make them. Thanks! Techno-Fools


I am also looking into buying a new digital video camera. I've been doing a lot of research on the subject. Here is a quick overview of what I learned. Camcorders that record onto miniDV's are much better than the ones that record onto DVD's. The digital information on a DVD will degrade over time. MiniDV's are super high quality metal tape, and are far superior at storing digital video information than a DVD is. Most digital camcorders use miniDV's. It is also the standard in professional video, and for a good reason. Also, if you ever want to edit your movies, you have a lot more flexibility with miniDV's. There are more software compatibility problems with the DVD camcorders. When you hire a professional to transfer old videos to DVD's, they will usually advise that the video be transferred onto digital tape (miniDV) first so that you have an ''archival'' hard copy of your video. Then from the miniDV tape, you transfer your digital information (your home movie) onto a DVD. There is no loss in resolution. Sony, Panasonic and Canon all three make a variety of digital camcorders that use miniDV's, from very affordable compact styles for the average consumer all the way up to more expensive larger styles for the professional/serious hobbyist, also known as prosumer camcorders. If you need help wading through all the different brands and styles, check out: http://www.camcorderinfo.com/

I found this website very helpful. They have all kinds of reviews and forums for different kinds of digital camcorders. Good Luck! Laurey


Digital Video Editing Software

November 2004

We purchased a Sony digital video recorder when our babies were newborns; they are now 1 year old and we have 8 hours of tape to edit before the winter holidays. Can anyone recommend a good, easy-to-use editing software for Windows XP? Your candor is appreciated! Thanks, Rachel


Windows XP is supposed to have a built-in movie editor, but I haven't really explored it. I've used Easy Media Creator 7.0 (by Roxio), which you can get for ~$50 at Costco. It's pretty easy to use-- the catch is, that you need to have a pretty fast computer with lots of memory-- my editing bogged down, because we only have a 500Mhz Pentium 3, with 384MB memory. I heard that you minimally need 2Ghz, with 512MB-DDR memory, and LOTS of hard disk space to store your video clips while you do your editing. After spending hours (actually, days!) working on a video, I transferred it back to digital tape and VHS and found several hiccups on the audio portion of some background music that I added. Repeated tries got the same result. Also, the software would not let me burn the video to an external DVD drive, again, because our computer was too slow. So, I think we need to upgrade our computer. JW

Recommendations for video cameras

Jan 2003

Just last week I purchased a digital camcorder in preparation for our first born that's due any day now. I did extensive research online and in stores, and purchased a Canon ZR45 at Best Buy in Emeryville (camera itself was about $500+, but with all the accessories such as a bag, extra batteries, DV tapes, media card, firewire cable, etc, it all came out to about $1,000). Most importantly, it has all the features that I wanted yet it was affordable (I'm an art director/graphic designer so I consider myself picky about this kind of stuff). It takes great stills -18x optical zoom (basically higher the better), is digital, compact, and easy to use. It is also PC and Mac compatible and I've been playing around with iMovie (basic video editing software) because I use a Mac, but the guy at the store highly recommended Pinnacle Studio DV for PC users (about $98) for ease of editing and affordability. If I could afford to spend a couple hundred dollars more, I would have purchased the Canon Elura 40MC for its compactness, though the one I purchased is compact and lightweight too, and I am very happy with it.

Some key features to look out for when shopping for a digital camcorder:

- video storage format (the most popular Mini DV, Digital 8,
or Micro MV)
- optical zoom vs. digital zoom (look out for at least 10x
optical zoom for magnifying quality, as opposed to digital
zoom which simply takes a portion of an image and
enlarges it, resulting in a loss of quality)
- LCD and viewfinder (most come with at least a 2.5-inch
color LCD display which lets you view and playback the
video/images you've captured)
- digital still photo capture (most camcorders now come
with this capability - you can store them on the tape or
directly into a flash memory card.)


Other features to consider:
- image stabilization
- video outputs
- night mode
- lighting options
- digital effects
Hope this helps! Good luck. Miki
I recommend the Sony DCR-TRV18. When looking for the best price on the web, make sure to ask the place you are buying:
1. Is it in stock? Do not believe bargin places when they say
it will be in stock in a week or so.
2. Is it the US version?
3. Is it new?
4. Is it the full retail package? If not, you could be buying
only the camera, and not the battery, AC adapter, strap, etc.
It is not necessary to buy from an authorized Sony retailer. The only difference is that if you buy from an authorized dealer, you can return it to the place you bought it for warranty repair. Otherwise, you have to send it to Sony. PN
I just bought the Canon ZR40. It's a digital video with mini DV. It was $599 at Good Guys, but I've seen it for $400 or so on the internet (I bought it at the last minute). I like it a lot. It's small, has a firewire connection for downloading to computers, can take still photos, and is very easy to use. It's a very good camcorder for the money. For a little more money you get more features I didn't want. mjcopelandet
Hi, I have been shooting my 14 mo. old with my digital video camera since he was born. Also, I teach video at CSUH so I've seen several cameras in use and have ideas about features that you should consider.

First, make sure there is a Firewire plug on the camera. I don't think they make digital video cameras without them anymore but check anyway :).

Manual focus is important. Your child will eventually be able to move faster than the camera can autofocus. If you have manual focus, you can use autofocus to set your focus then turn autofocus off. As your child moves around (s)he will be a little out of focus but this looks much better than the camera trying to find the correct focus.

Canon has (or used to have) a setting called Flexizone in which autofocus and autoexposure are set using a target square area that you can move. If you use Felxizone you don't have to center your child every time you frame a shot.

I really appreciate having a color viewfinder, LCD screen, image stabilization and a plug for an external microphone. Consider buying extra batteries.

Also, try really hard to avoid getting a camera that this too small for 2 reasons. First, the smaller the camera the harder it is to hold still. (I highly recommend getting a tripod or monopod!) Second, in small cameras the on-camera microphone is very close to the motors that move the tape through the camera. So you always hear those motors when recording and sometime they drowned out softer noises.

I haven't been camera shopping for awhile so I don't have any specific models to recommend but if you have any further questions feel free to email me, kbecker@csuhayward.edu. Give me a few days to reply. School is ending soon :). Have fun shopping!! BTW, Camerworld or B&H Photo are places to get good prices but not much customer service help. All the best! Kristin


We bought a Canon Elura20MC last year before our 1st daughter was born and have had so much fun with it! This mini-DV camcorder retails for about 800$ on the web (although I think Canon has an updated model now, the Elura40MC). This camcorder is TINY which was very important to us since that allows us to take it everywhere. It also is vertically oriented which we liked better (see the Canon web page for details). We also tried out the lower end Canon models, the ZR series, (as well as some Sony models) and they were very good as well (400-500$ range) although not quite as small. Firewire (buy separately) download to our computer was incredibly fast, and if you have a Mac, iMovie, which comes with OSX is a fun and really really easy editing program. My first baby movie took about 30 min from start of download to email. Feel free to email if you have further questions. Mary
July 2002

Does anyone have recommendations for where to buy a moderately priced, good-quality digital video camera (stores, Web sites, etc.)? Also, suggestions for best and worst brand names as well as good and bad features, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! Kira


After doing much research using Cnet and Consumer Reports, we got a Canon ZR 25. We found that Cnet.com had comments from individuals who'd bought the camera, pros and cons. Consumer Reports broke down the digital camera jargon, rated all the major brands, and will tell you at what price the particular model should be retailing. Cnet also had competitive pricing from retailers right on the site. We actually bought it on line from a retailer on Cnet, and we were pleased with the service, AND the price. Julie
There is a very good site ; '' monthly digital Camera web Magazine'' http://www.megapixel.net/html/issueindex.html. They have great reviews about literally every camera in the market and they seem to be on the target. Going through their site also helps to lock in your criteria. I had a nikon coolpix 880. Took amazingly high quality pictures which was snagged by my sweet sister. Gave my son rather inexpensive Fuji fine pix to enjoy my grand daughters pictures. The camera is working fine and also taking good pictures and handling. I believe most of the popular brands have lots to offer. I try to go for user friendly software and fever buttons. Like to have the camera with some override functions also a flash off feature to be able to take pictures in low light Currently I am shoppping for a canon powershoot. Mostly for its size. Super compact. Realized that only way I'll be carrying a camera would be if I could stick into my shirt pocket. Where to purchase is an interesting proposition. With yahoo shoppping you'll get tons of vendors some with incredible prices but if you go for the really low offers you'll never get the camera. I ordered before Christmas and after 3 vendors and 6 months gave up. Amazon is excellent ,have an informative users review but their prices are more or less the same with places like circuit city. Ebay has options with some vendors '' buy now '' not too bad. Good luck camera buff
I can't recommend a particular brand, but Costco has good prices and fabulous return policies. The downside is that their staff doesn't seem to have a lot of knowledge about their products. Amanda P.
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