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Ten tips

Home movies: How to buy a camcorder.

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 4, 2002


Are you in the market for a camcorder that will allow you to capture the antics of your kids or pets or record the sights you're about to see on vacation? If so, brace yourself to encounter a bewildering array of models, many of which make it easy to add music to your home movies and e-mail video shorts to people. Consider these tips.

* * *

1. Think about your price range. If price is an issue and you're not too terribly interested in video editing, you can get an analog camcorder for about $300. If you want a more souped-up model with plenty of options, you can find a digital camcorder for $500 or more.

2. Understand what makes digital different. The picture quality is generally excellent and the sound quality is high with digital camcorders, and any copies you make of digital recordings won't deteriorate in quality. Digital camcorders also tend to be compact; some weigh only 1 pound. Digital formats include MiniDV, Digital 8 and disc-based DVD formats.

3. Appreciate analog's attributes. These camcorders typically have good picture and sound quality, and they cost less than digital models. They usually weigh a little more than 2 pounds. Three common analog formats are VHS-C, Super VHS-C and Hi8.

4. MiniDV models are big on quality. These tiny digital camcorders can record superb images. They use a special cassette that costs $6 for 60 minutes' worth of space. They range in price from $600 to more than $2,000.

5. Another option is Digital 8, or D8. This digital format gives you high-quality recordings on Hi8 cassettes, which cost $6.50, or on 8mm cassettes, which cost $3.50. Most D8 models can play older analog Hi8 or 8mm tapes. The price range for these models is $500 to $900.

6. Make the most of DVDs. Disc-based DVD-RAM and DVD-R formats are not all that common yet. They make recordings on DVD movie discs that are more durable than taped recordings. Blank discs can cost $20 or more, and disc-based camcorders can cost $900 or more.

7. Consider VHS-C. This analog format uses an adapter to play in any VHS VCR. VHS-C cassettes usually hold 30 minutes' worth of recordings and cost $3.50. The price range for these models is $300 to $500.

8. Or opt for Super VHS-C. This "high-band" variation of VHS-C requires special S-VHS-C tapes, which typically hold 40 minutes' worth of recordings and cost $6.50. The price range for these analog models is $350 to $500.

9. Give Hi8 a high-five. This high-band variation of 8mm provides a sharp picture and generally requires Hi8 tape and a TV set with an S-video input. A 120-minute cassette costs about $6.50. These analog models range in price from $200 to $400.

10. Take several camcorders on test drives. Before you leave the store, be sure that you can handle your future camcorder comfortably and reach its controls without too much difficulty.

-- Compiled by Laura T. Coffey. Sources: Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org); MSN eShop (www.eshop.com)

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