What to look for when shopping for an HD camcorder

If you're looking for an HD camcorder for capturing those precious moments, your budget will certainly play a large part in the camcorder you choose. But here are the features to look for when you’re ready to make a purchase (see our HD camcorder guide for more information).

1,080 progressive video You’ll get cleaner video out of the camcorder if it captures 1,080p video (rather than interlaced 1080i video, which produces smoother but more-jagged images).

The right format for your situation Do you have an older Intel Mac or a PowerPC Mac? If you purchase an AVCHD camcorder, you’re going to have to jump through the extra hoops of converting your video so you can edit it on your older Mac. Nearly obsolete though tape may be, HDV camcorders will be a friendlier fit with your Mac. Plus, the video these cameras produce can be spectacular.

Strong optical zoom All full-size camcorders have optical zoom. If you sometimes shoot your kid’s soccer games from the last row of the bleachers, look for a camcorder with a long reach—12x optical zoom or better.

Large sensor The larger the sensor is, the better the detail and the low-light performance generally are. If you’ll regularly shoot in low light, seek a camcorder with a sensor 1/3-inch.

Media options If you need to shoot nonstop for long periods, get a camcorder with a hard drive. If you can deal with shorter shooting times but want to quickly move media without also moving your camcorder, find a camcorder that records to removable media. Tape, for example, limits you to one hour of shooting but is easily swapped.

Ample ports and functional design Ports are important, particularly if one vital to your work or pleasure is missing. Videocasters and filmmakers doing professional work will absolutely need a camcorder with a microphone port. Desire a light for your camera? Check for a hot-shoe for attaching such a light. Also check the position of the ports. If they’re hidden under a battery (as they are on some Panasonic camcorders) or tied to a base (Sony does this with some cameras), you may be denied access to those ports when you need them.

Manual controls The point-and-shoot convenience of today’s HD camcorders is great, but if you need to work outside the box, look for greater manual control of the camera’s functions. At the very least, you should be able to manually adjust a camcorder’s exposure and white balance. And, ideally, you won’t have to wrestle with a camcorder to focus it manually.

Portability Small as full-size camcorders are, they’re not small enough to put in your pocket. If you often wish you had a camcorder with you to capture your life’s journey, consider getting a pocket camcorder. The video you get from it won’t be equal to what you capture with a full-size camcorder, but you’ll at least capture something.

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