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tech 10 Simple Things To Know Before Buying a Camcorder  

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Whether you're trying to be the next Speilberg, a TMZ paparazzi or just film your son's soccer game there are 10 basics you need to know about buying a camcorder. Sales people can be more confusing then your credit card statements so here are 10 tid bits for every day people to understand about buying a camcorder from camera zoom to defining HD. If you're looking for camcorder advice click here for expert camcorder reviews.

FPS Made Simple

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Video: YouTube

While searching for camcorders occasionally the acronym "FPS" will be uttered by greedy salespeople. "FPS" stands for "frames per seconds".

Camcorders record by usually taking 24 (film industry standard), 30 or 60 pictures in one second. When footage is played back it gives audiences a video image. Any less then 24 FPS will appear jerky.

Does FPS matter? It depends on what will be shoot and how or if it will edited. FPS at 24 or 30 should suffice when just shooting David Hasselhoff in his bathroom. When trying to make the next Matrix movie with kick ass slow motion scenes a higher FPS will be needed. For slow motion scenes use a camera that can adjust to 120 FPS so when it's played it back then slowed down it will yield clear footage. For general action sequences or recording kids in a backyard smackdown 60 FPS should be suitable.

Lighting For Dummies

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Video: YouTube

Camcorders will usually have settings for different light environments. The usual settings are outdoor, incandescent, florescent and overcast. The quality of indoor footage can vary greatly between camcorders.

Camcorders and cameras typically need twice the amount of light then the human eye needs to properly see. Most camcorders will auto adjust the standard white balance to capture an appropriate amount of light. If light control is essential purchasing a camera that allows manually adjustment to the aperture (amount of light camera takes in) could be the way to go. HD DSLR cameras can be perfect for indie film makers and peeping toms that don't want to use extra light. HD DSLRs are discussed later in this article.

One thing to remember is if shooting someone indoors wearing a white shirt and focusing the camera directly on the white will usually darken or blackout everything else in frame with almost any camera. It's referred to as white out or blow out when the camera is focused on a bright image and the white balance adjusts to see that image and nothing else in frame.

If shooting a first time indie film check out the youtube clip on the left or follow these links for a quick lighting tutorial.

Three Point Lighting

Three point video lighting tutorial

Internal vs. External Memory

The type of memory desired in a camcorder will depend on what the camera will be used for.

Some camcorders will use internal memory meaning the footage is recorded onto a hard drive (memory device) inside the camera. This can work best for those who don't want to worry about memory and are willing to dump the footage into a computer after each use. The drawback is if no footage has been erased or backed up during your 2 month trip to Europe you may run out of memory while proposing to your to girlfriend on top of the Eiffel Tower. Another drawback is that hard drives can be fragile and may not survive a baggage handlers clumsiness during check in at the airport.

External memory is typically a memory card or memory stick (flash memory) that inserts into the camcorder. Memory Cards are discussed later in this article.

Other External memory types are Mini DV (cassettes), DVD and outdated 8mm (cassette tape) which often max out at 30-60 minutes of footage. Beware that 8mm cameras require additional costly equipment to edit on a computer and often have lower quality footage.

For the budding Tarantinos in the room Mini DV is preferable for precise pinpoint accurate editing when making movies although flash memory HD DSLR cameras are a less expensive alternative.

DVD camcorders record footage directly onto a DVD so you can pop out that sex tape and put it on ebay faster. One drawback with a DVD camera is the fact that it is a combo device that takes footage and burns DVDs. Whenever you combine two devices into one you double the likelihood for product defects. Need a toaster buy a toaster, need a hairdryer buy a hairdryer. Don't buy a toaster hairdryer.

What HD Is All About

An HD or High Definition camcorder will say HD on the box, the description or on the camcorder itself. If it doesn't say HD anywhere then it probably isn't.

Whether you need HD or not will again depend on what you're shooting and how you want to view it. HD is basically a line in the sand for image resolution. SD or Standard Definition is 640 x 480 resolution defined as 640 lines vertical resolution and 480 lines horizontal resolution. HD starts at 1280 x 720. Within HD there is 1280 x 720 and 1920 x 1080 resolutions.

Camcorders don't need to be 1080 to be considered HD however, when shooting a first time no budget movie or short 1080 will be the way to go. For shooting a cat running around a living room 720 will be fine.

Remember when a SD 640 x 480 image is blown up onto a large TV or monitor the image will degrade meaning the tiny pixel boxes that make up the image will show up and the picture will not be as clear. Going for an HD camcorder over a SD camera will typically cost an extra $100-$200. The exception would be mini HD camcorders or "bloggie cameras" that have poor zoom. Look further down for the skinny on zoom.

Some camcorders offer 1080 resolution but recommend using a sport setting for recording action and movement. This sport setting is usually only 720 resolution. What this usually means is the camcorder is not sophisticated enough to record action in 1080. So unless the person is standing still the camcorder will usually need to be used in 720. That's basically a rip off paying a 1080 price for a 720 camera.

Check out this link for further illustrations of resolutions and picture size.

720p vs 1080i HD Explained