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Buying a new camcorder ... should you bother going digital at all?
Last updated 5-12-03

If you’re on the market for a new camcorder, chances are that you’ve been hearing a lot about the new “digital” camcorders and their ability to create “digital video.” This is an interesting time for home-movie makers, as camcorders have undergone a major revolution in design, and the quality of the video they create is beginning to approach film. Those older analogue camcorders (8mm, VHS-C, and Hi-8) are now selling at discounted rates at major electronic stores. Obsolete camcorders, that once retailed for over a 1,000 dollars, are now selling for a mere $250.

That’s incredibly cheap, especially when you consider the shear number of moving parts inside a camcorder, and you may be tempted to buy one of these discounted models. After all, if you don’t plan on editing your video on a computer, why bother with digital at all?

Don’t do it!

Whatever you do, don’t buy an analogue camcorder. There is no reason to shortchange yourself with an analogue camcorder when you can spend an extra hundred dollars and get a great digital model. Digital camcorders operate and function in exactly the same way as their older siblings. In fact, if it wasn’t for the sticker label, you wouldn’t know you were shooting in digital at all. The benefits of using a digital camcorder are numerous -- here are some of the major ones:

  1. Higher quality video: The recording chip inside of DV camcorders produces crisper, better-looking videos. In fact, the picture quality on these cameras is so good that many TV news crews and film producers are replacing their $50,000 analogue beta-cams with digital camcorders that cost only a fraction of the price.
  2. Your videos will last longer: Both digital and analogue camcorders record onto magnetic tape. Unfortunately, this tape degrades over time, gradually changing the magnetic signal and warping your precious memories with fuzziness and distortion. This destruction occurs faster with analogue signals, as the “mountains and valleys” of the analogue signal are affected by the smallest change. This is less of a problem with a digital signal because it contains only “0s and 1s,” which are harder to erode.
  3. Ability to edit your video: If you ever want to edit your video in the future (and you might, someday) it’s easier with digital film. Digital camcorders have a firewire (IEEE 1394) jack that allows you to connect it directly to your computer. You can then upload your video onto your computer’s hard drive for archiving and editing. This process is difficult to achieve with an analogue camcorder, as you need to buy and install an expensive capture card to “convert” your analogue signal to digital. This extra step further degrades your video quality.
  4. They are cheap: The market is flooded with digital camcorders, and they are getting cheaper every day. You can actually buy a brand new digital camcorder for under $400 online, or $500 in the store.

There are many more reasons for choosing digital, but ultimately, it comes down to how precious your video memories are. You only get one change to film a child’s birthday or Christmas morning, so you might as well film these special moments in a format that gives the best results, and with a film type that will last the longest. Fortunately, just about all the digital camcorders on the market today work very well. There aren’t really any “lemons” out there, it’s just a matter of finding one in your price-range that you like. Happy filming.

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