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Camcorders Buying Guide

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Camcorders Buying Guide

Record baby's first steps or make your first low-budget indie film. Whatever you want to do, you can find a camcorder that's right for you on eBay. From budget-conscious choices to high-end selections, discover everything you need to capture the moment.

Select the Right Camcorder Format

Digital camcorders make it easy for you to create home movies on your computer with the help of video-editing software. Older, analog camcorders that record to videotape are also readily available on eBay, and can give your videos a unique look.

Digital camcorders

Digital camcorders offer better color and clarity than analog camcorders and most can produce studio-quality video with 500 lines of resolution. With the digital video (DV) format, it's easy to transfer video to your computer and your editing is a snap. Look at different parts of your video, select scenes, choose precise edit points, and add special effects without forwarding or rewinding tape. When choosing a digital camcorder, consider the following formats.

  • Digital8: Digital8 camcorders record to Hi8 tapes, digitally encoding the audio and video, and will also play back analog Hi8 tapes. Along with recording high-quality digital video, most have a still photo feature and also allow you to make small video clips for the Internet.
  • MiniDV: For superior picture quality in a small package, consider the MiniDV format. You'll get better lenses and more effects with MiniDV than with Digital8. Also, you may even be able to shoot still photos and create smaller, compressed video clips to post online.
  • High-Definition Video (HDV): High-definition camcorders record to MiniDV tapes and deliver 1080i resolution for sharp, clear video that looks great on your 1080i-capable HDTV. To edit high-definition video, make sure your computer has a fast processor and plenty of memory that meets, or exceeds, the minimum recommendations for your video-editing software. If your camcorder does not come with bundled video-editing software, look for packages that support high-definition video editing like Final Cut Pro HD or Pinnacle Studio.
  • DVD: DVD camcorders allow you to record video directly to a DVD-R or a DVD-RW. Once you finalize the disc, you can then play it back on your computer or DVD player. Because your videos go straight to DVD, they won't degrade over time, as can happen with taped images. If you want to record in DVD-VR mode, which makes it easier to add titles and reorder segments, record to DVD-RW discs.
  • MicroMV: Ultraportable MicroMV camcorders are some of the smallest on the market. MicroMV compresses video more than MiniDV camcorders and although some video-editing software can handle the format immediately, you often need to convert it to another format before editing the video on your computer.Analog camcorders

Analog camcorders

Analog camcorders that record to Hi8, 8mm, or VHS cassettes are typically easy to operate and have few frills. However, you'll need to find a way to convert your video to a digital format and transfer it to your computer in order to use video-editing software. Many people choose to use a video capture card, which can come with video-editing software. 

  • Hi8: Hi8 is the most common analog format available today. Record on a Hi8 tape and get 400 lines of resolution.
  • VHS-C: VHS-C tapes are smaller than the standard VHS tapes you play in your VCR, so you'll need an adapter to play them back. VHS-C offers 240 lines of resolution.
  • VHS: Use standard VHS tapes to record your favorite shows or your own home videos. The format uses 1/2-inch videotape, offers 240 lines of resolution, and plays back in any VCR.      
  • Super-VHS (S-VHS): S-VHS tapes look exactly the same as standard VHS tapes but offer 400 lines of resolution. Although S-VHS VCRs can play back standard VHS tapes, only a few standard VCRs can play back S-VHS tapes.
  • 8mm: 8mm tapes provide 270 lines of resolution (studio-quality recordings have 500 lines of resolution) and 120 minutes of recording time at standard speed. You can only play back video by connecting the camcorder to a TV or VCR.

Evaluate Camcorder Features

Once you decide on the format that's best for you, you'll want to review each camcorder's features to find what suits your needs. Take a look at things like lenses, CCD sensors, viewfinders, microphones, inputs and outputs, manual settings, and special effects.

Lenses & lighting

If you're trying to choose between two camcorders, compare their optical zoom and lux ratings. Optical zoom is a “true zoom” that allows you to enlarge an image without any enhancement. Digital zoom, on the other hand, increases the pixel size of an image and can lead to distortion. Don't be swayed by high digital zoom numbers. Instead look for at least a 10x optical zoom.

The lux rating (lumens per square meter) tells you how well you camcorder will work in low-light situations. The lower the lux rating, the better your dimlylit videos will look. A rating of 7 lux or lower is best.

CCD sensors and resolution

To get the best picture quality, look for three things: number of CCDs, size of CCDs, and number of pixels on the CCDs. A CCD is a charge coupler device that reproduces colors.

  • CCD count: Some cameras use one CCD to reproduce red, green and blue, while others have three CCDs, one dedicated to each color. Separate CCDs will give you better color quality—for a higher price, of course.
  • CCD size: The larger the CCD, the better the picture quality. Why? Because larger CCDs hold more pixels.
  • CCD pixel count: The more effective pixels a CCD produces, the better your images will be. If you mainly record home videos, you should be fine with an effective pixel count of 300,000. For more polished, professional video, look for 250,000 pixels per CCD, or 690,000 pixels from a single CCD.

Viewscreens and viewfinders

Many camcorders come equipped with LCD viewscreens, which give you a great view of what you're shooting. However, viewscreens can be hard to see in bright sunlight, and they can drain the camcorder battery quickly. The larger the viewscreen is, the more battery power it'll suck up, so look for one around 2.5 inches. A touch viewscreen lets you spot focus and navigate menus right from the LCD screen.

You should also assess the quality of the viewfinder, a small monitor that allows you to frame a shot. Most come in color, although black-and-white viewfinders give you more contrast and can quickly show you any overexposed areas.

Microphones & sound quality

Most digital camcorders can record sound in 12-bit or 16-bit formats. If you want to add narration or music later, go for the 12-bit format, which lets you record an additional stereo track during editing.

Built-in microphones are mounted on the top or the front of the camera. If you're going to be doing the voic-eover and the videography, a top-mounted microphone is best. To capture what your subjects are saying, you'll want a front-mounted microphone. But to get the best sound, you should invest in an external microphone. A shotgun mike picks up sound without a lot of background noise, while a lavalier mike is best for on-camera interviews, and an ominidirectional mike can capture a lot of people speaking at once.

Inputs & outputs

Input and output cables let you connect your camcorder to your computer, TV, or VCR. A few types of connections:

  • IEEE 1394: Commonly known as “FireWire” for Macs or “i.Link” by Sony, this cable transfers your files to your computer
  • USB 2.0: Another high-speed way to transfer files to your computer. Most common with DVD camcorders
  • A/V: Allows you to hook your camcorder up to your TV or VCR for playback
  • S-video: Similar to A/V, but can provide better picture quality

Manual Settings

Manual adjustment settings give you the most control over your shots.

Aperture: Control the amount of light that reaches your camcorder's CCD(s). If you shoot in dim lighting, look for a maximum aperture of f1.4 or f.1.6 for best performance.

  • Shutter speed: Increase or decrease the amount of time your camcorder spends on a frame. Faster shutter speeds are best for action shots, while slower shutter speeds make the most of low light.
  • White balance: White looks different in bright outdoor light than it does inside under fluorescent bulbs. With this control, you'll get perfect color reproduction, no matter what light you're shooting in. Some camcorders even have presets for sunny, cloudy, incandescent, and fluorescent lighting.
  • Image stabilization: Unless you're going for that spooky, shaky, “Blair Witch Project” look, image stabilization is a must. It's especially helpful when you're zooming in for that close-up.

All camcorders provide automatic focus, a feature that selects the subject in the foreground of a video for you. Professionals and hobbyists should look for a camcorder with a focus ring or dial to manually shift focus. Also look for a professional or prosumer camcorder with a threaded barrel that can accept filters and lens converters.

Still photos & special effects

Many camcorders have the ability to take still photos or create short video clips compressed for the Web. DVD camcorders store the stills and clips on a memory card or record directly to DVD while Digital8 and MiniDV camcorders use memory cards exclusively. Don't plan on replacing your still camera with your camcorder, though. You'll get better resolution and optics out of a standalone digital camera. If you need help choosing one, head over to the Digital Cameras Buying Guide.

Camcorders come with automatic focus, but you may want to be able to set the focus on your own. If so, look for a focus ring or dial. And if you want to play with lenses or filters, look for a threaded lens barrel.

For taking still shots, a camcorder is no substitute for a good digital camera. Still, some camcorders can take 2-megapixel shots, which is adequate for posting on the Web. Some camcorders also allow you to create small, compressed video files that can easily be posted online. These files may be stored on a memory card, or, if you have a DVD camcorder, you can record them directly to the DVD.

Look for these special effects from your camcorder:

  • Fade: A gradual dimming effect used to move from one scene to another
  • Wipe: Pushes a scene to one side. 
  • Mosaic: Breaks an image up into small tiles
  • Sepia: Gives images a brownish tint for an old-timey, antique look
  • Titling: Lets you add on-screen titles, captions, or comments
  • Date/time stamp: Records date and time information on the video
  • Night vision: Allows you to shoot in the dark, although images will take on a green glow

Get Essential Camcorder Accessories

Complement your camcorder with these must-have accessories and make sure you have the right gear for every shoot. 

  • Blank tapes: In order to record you'll need blank tapes. You'll want a couple hours worth of tape to get started. Plan your projects ahead of time and know how many extra tapes you'll need to bring to each shoot. 
  • Tripod: Keep your camera steady and avoid shaky handheld camera movement. A tripod with a fluid head will give you the smoothest motion.    
  • Extra batteries: You can expect to get about an hour of power out of the battery that comes with your camcorder. Keep one or two extra batteries in your camera bag so you can shoot as long as you want.
  • Microphone: Get the best audio possible with an external microphone. Pro-level camcorders usually accept high-quality XLR microphones. Make sure you have enough XLR cable and an adapter if necessary. 
  • Cables: To transfer video from your digital camcorder to your PC over a high-speed IEEE 1394 (a.k.a. FireWire) connection, you'll need an IEEE 1394 cable. You may also want a set of standard RCA cables to connect your camcorder to a TV or VCR. 

Video editing software: Point, click, and edit. Install easy-to-use video-editing software to organize your footage, insert transitions and special effects, or add music.

Print the Camcorder Checklist

Once you have determined which camcorder you need, print out this handy checklist and keep it next to you while you shop on eBay.

Make home movies

Preserve birthdays, holidays, graduations, and vacations on video.

Feature

Specs

Format

MiniDV, Digital8, DVD, or MicroMV

Zoom

At least 10x optical zoom with image stabilization

CCD

One 1/6-inch or larger CCD with at least 340,000-pixel effective video resolution

Lux

7 lux or lower

Monitor

Viewfinder and 2.5-inch or larger color LCD viewscreen

Inputs & ouputs

IEEE 1394 (FireWire), A/V, S-video, microphone, headphone terminal, accessory shoe

Optional

Digital effects, fader, webcam mode, 16:9 aspect ratio for widescreen playback, still photo, remote control, touch-screen LCD, video-editing software

Buy on a Budget

Inexpensive camcorders come packed with enough features to please most new to intermediate users. Look for bundled extras, such as a tripod, case, and video-editing software, to save even more.

Feature Specs
Format

MiniDV or Digital8

Zoom

At least 10x optical zoom with image stabilization

CCD

One 1/6-inch or larger CCD with at least 290,000-pixel effective video resolution

Lux

7 lux or lower

Monitor
Viewfinder and 2.5-inch or larger color LCD viewscreen.
Inputs & ouputs

IEEE 1394 (FireWire), A/V, S-video, microphone

Optional

Digital effects, fader, remote control, video-editing software

Make an indie movie

Save money making your independent short or feature film. Digital video costs less than traditional film. Plus, you don't need to pay to process your footage; just import it into your multimedia computer. Look at a camcorder with a fixed lens that accepts filters and add-ons, three high-quality CCDs, and manual settings for aperture, shutter speed, focus, and white balance.

Feature

Specs

Format MiniDV
Lens

Fixed with interchangeable system

Zoom

At least 10x optical zoom controlled by a lens ring or switch, optical image stabilization, cam-driven

CCD

Three 1/4-inch or 1/3-inch CCDs with at least 250,000-pixel effective video resolution each, progressive scan

Lux

7 lux or lower

Monitor

Viewfinder and 2.5-inch or larger color LCD viewscreen

Focus

Automatic, manual focus ring, on-screen reference numbers

Exposure

Automatic, exposure shift, manual aperture and shutter, selectable gain, zebra stripes

Inputs & ouputs

Automatic, exposure shift, manual aperture and shutter, selectable gain, zebra stripes

Optional

SMPTE color bars, interval recording, fader, 16:9 aspect ratio for widescreen playback, gamma curves, manual saturation and sharpness adjustment settings, selectable 24p, 30p, or 60i frame rate

Shoot like a pro

 

Make your professional or semi-professional videos look great. Look for a high-quality lens and CCD as well as a lot of manual settings.

Feature

Specs

Format

MiniDV or DVD

Zoom

At least 10x optical zoom controlled by a lens ring or switch, electronic or optical image stabilization

CCD

Three 1/6-inch or larger CCDs with at least 250,000-pixel effective video resolution each or one 1/4-inch or 1/3-inch CCD with at least 690,000-pixel effective video resolution

Lux

7 lux or lower, preferably 2 or lower

Monitor

Viewfinder and 2.5-inch or larger color LCD viewscreen

Focus

Automatic, manual focus ring

Exposure

Automatic, exposure shift, backlight, programmed scene modes, gain, zebra stripes

Inputs & ouputs

IEEE 1394 (FireWire), A/V, S-video, microphone, headphone terminal, accessory shoe

Optional

Digital effects, fader, webcam mode, 16:9 aspect ratio for widescreen playback, still photo, remote control, touch-screen LCD, Bluetooth, spot metering, spot focus, video-editing software

Find Camcorders on eBay

Head over to eBay's Cameras & Photo portal, click Camcorders, and use the following tips to find the camcorder you need.

  • Categories: Lists of links on the left side of each page will help you logically sort item listings.
  • Finder: Use the Camcorder Finder on the left side of the page to narrow down item listings to the type of camcorder you need. Select analog or digital, choose a brand, or enter your own keywords.
  • Keywords: Let eBay find items for you by entering the keywords you want to find into the Finder's Keywords box or into the general eBay search box. Visit eBay's Search Tips page for more advice about searching with keywords. 
  • Expand your search: If you can't find exactly what you want, don't give up hope.
  • Search eBay Stores: it's like walking into a virtual electronics superstore.
  • Tell the eBay community what you want by creating a post on Want It Now.
  • Save a search on MyeBay and eBay will email you when a match becomes available.

Once you find the camcorder of your dreams, go to the Camcorder Accessories page and pick up a case, tripod, tapes, cables, and an extra battery.

Buy Camcorders With Confidence

Before making your purchase, make sure you know exactly what you're buying, research your seller, and understand how eBay and PayPal protect you.

Know your purchase

Carefully read the details in item listings.

Figure delivery costs into your final price. If you spend a lot of money, make sure the seller will insure the item when it ships.

If you want more information, ask by clicking the "Ask seller a question" link under the seller's profile.

Always make sure to complete your transaction on eBay (with a bid, Buy It Now, or Best Offer). Transactions conducted outside of eBay are not covered by eBay protection programs.

Never pay for your eBay item using instant cash wire transfer services through Western Union or MoneyGram. These payment methods are unsafe when paying someone you do not know.

Know your seller

Research your seller so you feel positive and secure about every transaction.

What is the seller's Feedback rating? How many transactions have they completed? What percentage of positive responses do they have?

What do buyers say in their Feedback? Did the seller receive praise?

Most top eBay sellers operate like retail stores and have return policies. Do they offer a money-back guarantee? What are the terms and conditions?

Buyer protection

In the unlikely event that a problem arises during your transaction, eBay and PayPal are there for you.

Pay safely with PayPal: PayPal enables you to pay without the seller ever seeing your bank account or credit card numbers. In fact, PayPal protects buyers 100% against unauthorized payments from their accounts. Plus, with PayPal Buyer Protection, your purchase can be covered up to $2,000.

eBay Security & Resolution Center: Visit the Security & Resolution Centerto learn how to protect your account and use eBay's quick and efficient resolution tool.

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