What I Look for in a Camcorder

There are many versions of camcorder available, each with benefits and shortcomings. I most often use camcorders to record interviews, focus groups, and other events from a fixed vantage point. So, your needs my may differ significantly from mine.

Top Loading
While mounted on a tripod, it’s difficult or impossible to change the tape in a bottom (and many side) loading camcorders. Top loading recorders allow you to quickly swap out a tape in just a few seconds without loosing the image frame. Bottom loading recorders require you to unmount from the tripod, swap the tape, remount, and reframe the image.

Microphone Jack
Many low-end recorders omit a microphone jack, leaving you with only the built-in mic to capture audio. Unless you’re planning only to record scenes where the subject is within five feet of the camera, the built-in mic is probably useless. I strongly favor a camera with a mic jock so that I can connect a mic that fits the situation.

Earphone Jack
Similarly, many low-end recorders lack an earphone jack. Without this, you can’t tell whether the sound level is usable or there is unacceptable wind or background noise.

Macintosh Compatibility
I admit it: I use Macs. If you do, too, you’ll want to check carefully that any potential camcorder can be controlled from within iMovie and/or Final Cut Pro. This usually means you need a Firewire port on the camera (and will likely need to purchase a separate Firewire cable to connect to your computer).

Many camcorders include USB and/or Firewire connections. USB, at least on a Macintosh, often allows you only to download still photos taken with the camera, not video. Again, check the compatibility of the camera with your operating system carefully.

Avoid Mini-DVD, if you use slot-loading drives
Most slot-loading DVD drives, such as those found on Macintosh notebooks, can’t handle the mini-dvd format. It’s simply a matter of the physical size of the disc.

Hopefully, these preferences will help you to choose a camera that fits your needs.