Want to make sure your camcorder doesn’t get tuckered out before you do? Check the battery’s mAh (milliamp hours) rating—you’ll usually find it listed in the specifications or manual. The higher the rating, the more charge the battery can hold.
To extend the life of your battery while shooting, use the viewfinder instead of the LCD screen, and avoid the temptation to play back recently shot footage. If you’ll be shooting for a long time, consider buying an extended-life battery. These larger, heavier batteries cost $50 to $100 and can double a video camera’s battery life. If you are really roughing it, get a solar charger such as the $279 Brunton
Convert old movies
Do you have old VHS tapes that you’d like to digitize? If so, look for a camcorder with an analog video input. This plug lets you turn your camcorder into a video converter. Just connect your VCR to the video input and record the video to the camcorder’s digital tape. When you’re done, connect the camcorder to your Mac and import the video into iMovie. For a step-by-step guide to converting old movies, see
From Tape to DVD.
Still camera versus camcorder
If you mostly take photos but occasionally want to capture video, you may be better off investing in a high-quality digital still camera that also records video. You can download this video—which is usually saved as QuickTime or MPEG-4 files—directly into iMovie and edit it as you would any other video footage.
Just keep in mind that video quality varies from camera to camera. For best results, look for a camera that captures video at a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels and a frame rate of 30 fps. It should also have a microphone on the front for recording audio with the video. Of course, the video from even the best still camera isn’t as good as what you’d get from a dedicated camcorder—camcorders have better microphones that can record stereo sound, and they tend to produce smoother video. But a good still camera should be adequate for the occasional clip.
If you’re looking for a true hybrid device, consider a flash memory camcorder such as the $500 Sony Cyber-shot M2, which records both 5-megapixel still images and video to flash memory cards. Although not as good as their dedicated cousins, these hybrid devices do an admirable job of capturing pictures and video, and they’re small and easy to carry.
5 accessories every camcorder needs
While you’re at the store, don’t overlook these digital video essentials.
A decent tripod holds the video camera steady, resulting in sharper video and smoother movement. If a tripod is too heavy, consider a monopod. Though smaller and lighter, this one-legged tripod provides a steady platform.
Camcorders aren’t cheap. Keep yours protected by investing in a good carrying case.
Although relatively inexpensive (most are about $30), a spare battery can save the day by acting as a backup if you run out of juice halfway through a shoot. Just remember to keep it charged.
Camcorder manufacturers focus on making their zoom lenses longer, which can make it harder to get the whole picture. A wide-angle adapter makes it easier to take group portraits, for example.
A grungy recording head can lead to glitchy video. To prevent this, run a head-cleaner tape through your camcorder every couple of months.
If you get back from your trip and find that your video doesn’t look or sound as good as you thought, don’t panic. iMovie HD includes a number of filters that can correct common problems.
The Noise Reducer feature filters out annoying background sounds while preserving important stuff such as voices. To access it, click on iMovie’s Editing button, select the AudioFX tab at the top of the window, and select Noise Reducer from the list of effects. Move the slider to the right to be more aggressive in removing noise. Use the Preview button to test the results.
For video that is too dark or too light, try iMovie’s Brightness & Contrast filter, which adjusts the video’s exposure. To correct for a color cast (for instance, if you moved from outdoors to indoors without adjusting your camcorder’s settings), try the Color Adjust filter, which shifts the video’s color balance. For example, drag the Hue control to the left if your colors look too green, or to the right if they look too red. You’ll find both filters in the VideoFX section of the Editing pane. They can’t work miracles, but they can do an effective job in many cases.
You’ll get far better sound from an external microphone. But to connect one of these mikes, you’ll need a camcorder with a microphone input (in most cases, it’s a 1/8-inch stereo minijack, although some camcorders have their own proprietary connections).
The language of video is complex and filled with technical terms and jargon. Here’s a guide to some terms you’re likely to encounter.
Video is usually recorded at 29.97 interlaced fps, but film runs at 24 progressive fps. Some high-end camcorders have a 24p mode, which records video at 24 progressive fps. While this mode does produce a film-like look, you don’t need it unless you really want to be the next Ang Lee. For a guide to 24p video, visit the
Zerocut Web site.
One of the two main types of camcorder image sensors,
are found on many expensive camcorders. CCDs tend to produce better-quality video than CMOS sensors and are less prone to picking up electronic noise. Some camcorders use three CCD sensors, one each for red, blue, and green.
Image sensors using
complementary metal-oxide semiconductor
technology are often found in inexpensive camcorders. CMOS sensors are more susceptible to electronic noise than CCDs; this can result in noisy video in low-light settings. However, thanks to recent developments in image-sensor technology, the quality differences are less significant than they used to be.
Sony calls the FireWire port on their camcorders an iLink port, but the two are compatible.
This is the format used to store video on DVDs and many hard-drive-based camcorders. Because the format has numerous variations, Mac apps may have trouble correctly decoding these files.
This compression format provides good-quality video in small files, and it’s based partly on Apple’s QuickTime technology.
Richard Baguley has reviewed digital camcorders and cameras for