HD camcorders: How to buy the best digital camcorder Buying the best HD camcorder
Important features to look out for
When buying an HD camcorder, there are some features which can make a real difference to the quality of your films. There are also lots of features that you won't find on a pocket camcorder. Coming up are the features you absolutely must have, and the ones you can safely live without to save a little money.
Once you know what you need, read our HD camcorder reviews to see which camcorders not only have the right features, but deliver where it matters as well.
What makes a good HD Camcorder?
Good image quality
Perhaps the most important thing to think about when buying a camcorder, which is why it accounts for 40% of our score when we test camcorders. HD camcorders will give you much better image quality than a pocket camcorder can, thanks to their larger image sensors. These help the camcorder achieve better picture detail in varying light conditions.
Built-in optical image stabilisation
As the name suggests, image stabilisation eradicates the natural shake that occurs when holding an object, so that whatever you’re filming doesn’t look like it's in the midst of an earthquake. Image stabilisation technology doesn't work miracles, and can only compensate for minor shaking, but it is important if you want a nice steady shot, especially when using the zoom feature, which amplifies the shake effect.
Optical image stabilisation is preferable to digital, as it reduces shake before the image is recorded, as opposed to digital, which compensates after the image has been shot.
At least 10x optical zoom
Camcorder zoom comes in two types – digital zoom and optical zoom. The one you want to look for is optical zoom, which moves the lens of the camcorder like a telescope and there's no loss of image quality. Digital zoom simply zooms in on the image being recorded, meaning that the closer you get, the worse the quality, and the image becomes blocky and pixelated. Most HD camcorders will have both optical and digital zoom. If you want to get closer to your subjects look for a camcorder with at least a 10x zoom.
All camcorders have built-in microphones, but their sound quality will vary greatly. Some microphones are positioned close to the lens and will pick up the sound of it moving which can be very distracting. As a rule, built-in microphones on HD camcorders are of a much better quality than those in pocket camcorders. Ones with stereo microphones are best, but it's no guarantee of quality and we test every camcorder to ensure the sound is up to scratch.
Read about how we test HD camcorders for all the details on our scientific lab tests.
Features you can save on
With the recent explosion in 3D TV's, manufacturers are now producing camcorders that let you recreate Avatar in your own home. This technology does bump up the price of a camcorder, and beyond the initial novelty factor, is unlikely to be used on a regular basis.
Some HD camcorders are waterproof, but if most of your filming will be done on land, this feature is an unnecessary expense.