Camcorders Buying Guide
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Camcorders Buying Guide


Whether you want to record a birthday party or make a prize-winning documentary, choosing the right camcorder for your needs will help you have a successful filming experience.
First consider what you want to use the camcorder for - are you looking for an easy way to take home videos? Or are you an enthusiastic director with a passion for film? Whether your priority is ease of use or complete creative control, there's a camcorder on eBay for you.
In this guide you'll find out about all the different types of camcorder available, and how to find the right one for you.

Camcorder Formats


Camcorder Formats

Digital camcorders and traditional film camcorders are as different as digital cameras and traditional film (analogue) cameras, but with camcorders the choice is even broader - analogue camcorders include formats such as 8mm and VHS, while the growing range of digital camcorder formats include MiniDV, DVD and Digital8. The formats all have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and the one that suits you best depends on price, quality of playback and computer compatibility.
Here's a quick look at the formats most widely available on eBay.


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Analogue Camcorders


Analogue Camcorders

You can find many VHS camcorders for sale on eBay, along with other traditional formats that record onto spools of tape, such as 8mm and Hi-8. Here's how they differ:

VHS  

The same format used by in a typical home video recorder- just make your home videos using a VHS camcorder and normal VHS tapes and play them on your VCR. But this compatibility comes at the expense of quality. All video resolution is measured in lines (a bit like pixels in still digital cameras), and VHS has a maximum of 270 lines - compared with a much sharper 480-500 lines for digital video. VHS camcorders and tapes also take up a lot of storage space.

VHS-C 

Like normal VHS but smaller. It's small in recording time, too - you can fit only about 30 minutes of footage on a tape. It has the same low price, low resolution and 1/2-inch tape width as normal VHS, but you'll need an adapter to play VHS-C tapes on a normal VCR. S-VHS: Super-VHS tapes look the same as standard VHS tapes but offer 400 lines of resolution and better audio. On the downside, only a few standard VCRs can play S-VHS tapes. S-VHS camcorders tend to be big and expensive, and they're mainly targeted at professionals.

VHS Editing 

To edit VHS tape you'll need to transfer the video onto your computer. The cheap option is to use a video capture card, but this can be tricky and time-consuming. A better solution is to invest in VHS transfer software such as Pinnacle Studio Moviebox USB, which quickly and simply converts your analogue video into a digital format that you can edit on your computer. The software also offers lots of easy-to-use editing features. Make sure your computer meets all the system requirements before you buy.

8mm  

This tape format offers about the same resolution as VHS (270 lines), but the tape itself is much smaller and has a longer recording time of 120 minutes at standard speed. 8mm tapes won't play in your VCR, but you can connect your camcorder directly to your television.

Hi8 

Hi8 is like an advanced (and more expensive) version of 8mm, with 400 lines of resolution and all the advantages of a small, lightweight format.


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Digital Video Camcorders


Digital Video Camcorders

Now you can master filmmaking and video editing on a budget and in your own home, thanks to digital video.

Digital video (DV) camcorders record onto tapes that are saved as a digital file. DV files take up a lot more space than still image files - 200MB is enough space for 50 high-resolution digital photos (or hundreds of snapshots) but only 60 seconds of digital video. So digital video tapes are basically big versions of digital memory cards. DV offers better colour, clarity and sound than traditional camcorders. All but the most basic produce studio-quality video with 500 lines of resolution and also let you take good-quality still photos. Another great advantage of DV is that you can make digital copies without loss of quality. But within DV there are many formats to choose from, and the one that's right for you will depend on what you want to spend and how you plan to use your camcorder.

Here's a quick overview, starting at the entry-level budget end of the scale:

D igital8  

This is the 500-line DV format recorded onto 8mm or Hi8 tape. It's big advantage (apart from the budget-friendly price) is the ability to play old 8mm and Hi8 tapes, so it's a great choice if you want to upgrade from Hi8 or 8mm.

MiniDV

This is the most popular DV format. MiniDV tapes are smaller than 8mm tapes and can record about an hour of footage and sound. They have more sophisticated lenses and effects than Digital8.

MicroMV

Sony's ultra-compact camcorders are similar to standard MiniDV camcorders, but smaller and more expensive. They are beautifully designed and offer fantastic picture quality, powerful features and ease of use.

DVD

If you have a DVD player you could buy a DVD camcorder to record directly to DVD-R or DVD-RW discs. DVD camcorders have similar features to mid-range MiniDV camcorders, but tend to be bigger and cost a little more.

Hard Disk

Hard disk (HDD) camcorders save files onto a disk just like the hard disk in your computer or MP3 player. These files can easily be deleted or transferred onto your computer for editing.
You'll also see names such as DVCam and DVCPRO for sale on eBay. These are higher-end formats used in professional cameras.


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Digital Video Editing


Digital Video Editing

Transferring digital video to your computer for editing is a lot simpler than editing analogue video tape.

Most DV camcorders are equipped with FireWire (IEEE 1394), a type of super-fast connection that you find on most new computers. Older computers may have USB instead - in this case you'll need to buy an expansion card to connect your camcorder to your computer.

Digital video is a non-linear format, which means that you can jump to any point instantly. Video editing software automatically breaks up your film into a series of scenes, making it very easy to find exact editing points on your computer. Then you can rearrange scenes, add titles, delete scenes or add all the special effects you want.


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CCD Sensors and Resolution


CCD Sensors and Resolution

The quality of your digital video depends on your camcorder's CCD (charged-coupled device). The CCD is an image sensor that converts light into pixels to produce images; your digital camera works in the same way. The signal is converted to your camcorder's digital video format, and the image and sound data are recorded onto the tape.

As with digital cameras, more pixels equal higher resolution - and higher resolution means higher quality. Here's what you need to look for when comparing different camcorders:

CCD count 

Camcorders either come with one CCD or three CCDs. Those with one CCD are cheaper, but their colour quality is lower. Those with three CCDs (one each for red, green and blue) produce better colour quality but cost more.

Effective pixels  

CCDs use some pixels to output image data (effective pixels) and some to filter the image. It's the effective pixels that matter when it comes to image quality. If you're looking for a camcorder for home use, look for a minimum 300,000 effective video resolution on a single CCD. If you want professional quality, look for three CCDs with minimum 250,000 effective pixels per sensor.

CCD size  

The CCDs in consumer camcorders range in size from 1/6in to 1/3in. A larger CCD typically offers a higher number of effective pixels, meaning better performance.


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Viewfinders & LCD Screens


Viewfinders & LCD Screens

Make sure you can see what you shoot. The viewfinder is probably the most important feature on a camcorder, because it shows you exactly what you're recording. Most will even show various special effects if you're using them.

Entry-level camcorders generally come with a black-and-white viewfinder, which cuts costs but doesn't let you pay attention to colour when shooting.

Most camcorders also have built-in LCD screens, usually 2in to 4in across. A small LCD screen ("viewscreen") displays the same shot that you can see through the viewfinder, so it's handy for relieving the eyestrain that you can get when you're squinting into a viewfinder. The LCD screen will also let you navigate your digital camcorder's menu.


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Lenses & Lighting


Lenses & Lighting

When choosing a DV camcorder, compare camcorder optics by looking at lux ratings, optical zoom and manual settings:

Lux ratings:

Lux (lumens per square metre) measures low-light sensitivity. It indicates how much light a camcorder needs to record a usable image. In general, you want your camcorder to have a lux/low-light sensitivity rating of seven or lower, because lower ratings offer better performance in low-light situations.
For example, camcorders with a night vision feature let you set a lux rating of zero for usable video when shooting in the dark. Lowering your lux setting and shutter speed also produces better colour than using pre-set low-light modes. If you plan to shoot in low light fairly often, look for a camcorder with a built-in light or an accessory shoe for fitting an add-on light.

Zoom in on a good lens: Most camcorders include a zoom function so that you can move in closer to a subject. Camcorders, like digital cameras, have two types of zoom: optical zoom and digital zoom. Optical zoom physically lengthens the lens, a bit like binoculars, and retains high image quality. Many camcorders also have a digital zoom, which enlarges a portion of the image digitally, just as when you blow up a section of a photo on your computer.

The more optical zoom your lens can tackle, the more control you have when you're shooting from a distance or when shooting close-ups. A 10x minimum optical zoom works best for most consumers. Ignore digital zoom numbers while choosing a camcorder; digital zoom enlarges pixels, so zooming in can result in a "blocky" effect.


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Essential Manual Settings


Essential Manual Settings

Make the most of your lens with these must-have manual adjustment settings:

Manual focus: All camcorders have automatic focus, but if you're enthusiastic about your film-making you should look for a camcorder with a manual focus ring or dial. Also look for a professional or pro-sumer camcorder with a threaded barrel that can accept filters and lens converters.

Shutter speed: This increases or decreases the time your camcorder spends recording a frame. Use a faster shutter speed to get the best results when shooting moving objects.

Aperture: This controls how much light reaches the camcorder's CCD(s). Look for a maximum aperture of f1.4 or f1.6 for the best low-light performance.

White balance: This setting tells your camcorder what white looks like in your scene's lighting, and is important for getting perfect colour reproduction. Some camcorders have pre-sets for sunny, cloudy, incandescent and fluorescent lighting.

Image stabilisation: This setting compensates for shaky hand-held camera movement or wind, especially while you zoom in for a close-up.


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Microphones & Sound Quality


Microphones & Sound Quality

All DV camcorders have a built-in microphone, but the sound quality is generally quite basic. For better audio results, look for a camcorder with a connection port for an external microphone. If your camcorder has an accessory shoe, you can use that to attach a microphone. Top-level camcorders can also accept high-quality XLR microphones.

Digital8 and MiniDV camcorder microphones record 12-bit or 16-bit audio. Choose 16-bit recording if you want CD-quality stereo sound, or 12-bit recording if you want to capture one stereo channel and leave the other channel available for music or voiceovers. You can add this music or voice when you edit. DVD camcorders provide stereo Dolby Digital sound.


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Inputs & Outputs


Inputs & Outputs

When choosing a camcorder, it's important to know how (and whether) it will connect to your computer, television, video recorder or traditional camcorder. Here are the most popular types of DV camcorder connection:

Fire Wire (IEEE 1394): Nearly all DV camcorders have a FireWire port so that you can transfer your video footage at high speed from your camcorder to your computer.

USB 2.0: DVD camcorders typically transfer video to a computer via high-speed USB 2.0 instead of FireWire.

A/V: Connect your camcorder up to a TV or VCR with standard RCA connectors.

S-video: Connect your camcorder to your TV or VCR using an S-video cable.

Tip: If your camcorder supports analogue-to-digital conversion, digitise your old footage by connecting your analogue camcorder to the A/V input or S-video input on your new camcorder.


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Still Photos & Special Effects


Still Photos & Special Effects

Many digital camcorders let you take still photos or create short video clips compressed for the web. DVD camcorders store the stills and clips on a memory card or record directly to DVD, while Digital8 and MiniDV camcorders just use memory cards. The still images taken by a camcorder are of lower quality than those you can take with a good stills camera, but many new camcorders take very good quality still pictures indeed.

Camcorders can also come with a variety of built-in special effects that you'll also find in your video-editing software. Standard options include:

Date/time stamp: Lets you records date and time information.

Titles: Lets you create on-screen titles, captions or comments.

Fade: This gradual dimming effect is often used to change between scenes.

Wipe: Pushes a scene to one side.

Mosaic: Breaks an image into small squares.

Sepia: Removes colour from a picture and adds a brown tint to give it an antique look.

Night vision: Lets you shoot usable video in the dark, but the video takes on a green tint.


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Camcorder Accessories


Camcorder Accessories

Kit out your camcorder with these must-have accessories, and make sure you have the right equipment for every shoot.

Blank tapes: Before you can record anything, you need something to record on. You'll want a couple hours' worth of tape to get started. Plan in advance and think about how many spare tapes you'll need for each shoot.

Spare batteries: You can expect to get about an hour of power out of the battery that comes with your camcorder. Keep one or two spares in your camera bag so you can shoot as long as you want.

Memory cards: If your DV camcorder has a still photography feature, stock up on memory cards for storage. You'll find plenty of CompactFlash, Secure Digital, Memory Sticks, and xD Picture Cards on eBay that you can also use with compatible MP3 players, PDAs and digital cameras.

Microphone: Get the best audio possible with an external microphone. Pro-level camcorders usually accept high-quality XLR microphones. Make sure you have enough XLR cable and an adapter if necessary.

Tripod: This keeps your camera steady and avoids shaky hand-held camera movement. A tripod with a fluid head gives the smoothest motion.

Cables: To transfer video from your digital camcorder to your computer over a high-speed FireWire connection, you'll need a FireWire cable. You may also want a set of standard RCA cables to connect your camcorder to a TV or VCR.

Computer necessities: If your computer already supports FireWire you don't need any extra hardware to transfer digital video from your camcorder. If your computer doesn't have a FireWire port, install an inexpensive PCI card. You may also want a designated video card to process your films.

Video-editing software: Point, click and edit. Install easy-to-use video editing software to organise your footage, insert titles and notes and add voice-overs, music and special effects.

Case: Protect your new digital camcorder with a simple carrying case, shoulder bag or hard case.


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How To Find Camcorders on eBay


How To Find Camcorders on eBay

There are all sorts of ways to find the digital camcorder and accessories you want on eBay. Here are a few tips:

Search

If you know exactly what you're looking for and want to find it quickly, use the Search box. Go to the Photography Overview page, type your key words into the box and select the appropriate sub-category from the drop-down box - for example Camcorders or Camcorder Accessories. eBay will then search all the listings in that category for titles containing those words. For example, if you're looking for a Sony camcorder, type in "Sony" and select Camcorders from the drop-down box to see all matching items in that category. Once you're on the listings page, you can narrow your search even further by using the Search Options and Matching Categories boxes at the left of the page. For example if you are looking for a Sony MiniDV camcorder, click the MiniDV link in the Matching categories box to see all Sony MiniDV camcorders currently for sale. If you're not sure which brand you want, you can search for a specific type of item first, then browse the featured brands on the listings page. For example, if you want a DV camcorder but can't decide between Sony, Panasonic, Canon or Samsung, click the Digital Camcorders link on the Photography Overview page. Just below the search box on the listings page you'll see links to the top brands currently listed in the DV camcorder section, such as Sony, JVC, Canon, Panasonic and Samsung.

Tip: If your search doesn't come up with many results, you can broaden your search by clicking the "Search title and description" box at the top of the listings page. For example if you'd searched for "JVC camcorder", a title and description search will find listings titled "Brand new hard disk DV cam" with the all-important words "JVC camcorder" hidden in the item description. For more tips on using the Search box, have a look at eBay's Search Tips page.

Browse the categories

eBay has a huge selection of categories for all your needs. You may not know what you're looking for, but it's still fun to browse. If you want to browse for digital camcorders and accessories, start from the Photography Overview page and click the categories that interest you. For example if you find that you're getting more and more enthusiastic about your film-making and want to invest in an external microphone and tripod, look at the list of links on the left-hand side of the Photography Overview page and click on the Camcorder Accessories category to see all camcorder accessories currently for sale, from cases and tripods to battery chargers, remote control gadgets and spare cassettes.

Narrow your search

The listings page gives you lots of ways to narrow your search. At the top of the listings, just below the search box, you'll see a short list of the most popular brands matching your search - for example Sony, JVC, Panasonic and Samsung. Click any of these brands to see matching items made by that company currently for sale. By browsing this way, you may discover items that you'd never thought to search for, such as JVC's latest hard disk camcorder. The Categories list on the left of the listings page also lets you narrow your search. For example in the Camcorder Accessories listings, the Categories box contains links to sub-categories including Accessory Kits, Batteries, Lenses, Microphones, Remote Controls, Cassettes and Memory.

Tip: If you're not sure how much to pay for an item, click the Completed Listings check-box in the Search Options menu to the left of the listings. This will show how much others have paid for similar items in the past 30 days.

Want It Now

Desperately seeking that hard-to-find item, such as a lead for your Samsung VP-W60 lens or software for converting 8mm or Hi8 to digital video? Post a message on Want It Now and tell millions of sellers exactly what you want. eBay sellers constantly read the Want It Now boards to find potential buyers for an item they're selling. Want It Now is free and very easy to use. Click the Want It Now link on eBay's homepage and post a message in the relevant category. You might want to reach as many people as possible by posting in the main Photography category, or you may decide to target specialists by posting in the Camcorders or Camcorder Accessories categories.

eBay Shops

eBay Shops are run by experienced eBay sellers who often put hundreds of items up for sale each day. These sellers tend to specialise in one area, so you can be sure you're buying from someone who knows their stuff. You'll find that the item descriptions are often much more informative, and many of the items are available as Buy It Now at a fixed price. To browse all the eBay Shops by category, click the eBay Shops link on the eBay homepage, then click the Photography link in the left-hand menu. On the next page, you'll see a list of all the Photography sub-categories, including Camcorders and Camcorder Accessories as well as Digital Cameras, Digital Camera Accessories, Digital Camera Memory and so on. Click on these links to explore hundreds of digital camcorder specialist shops - shops that specialise in MiniDV camcorders, shops that sell all the equipment you need to transfer your VHS home movies onto DV, shops that specialise in hard-to-find Hi8 or 8mm items - and many more. You can search just within eBay Shops. Go to the main Shops page and type your search terms into the box, and the search engine will look only within eBay Shops. For example if you're looking for VHS transfer software and want to buy from a specialist, type in "VHS DV transfer" on the eBay Shops homepage. The results will look much the same as any other page of listings, but they will only be from Shops sellers.

Tip: When you search or browse without going to eBay Shops, you're still offered a short-cut to shops specialising in the item you searched for. After searching for a Sony camcorder, look underneath the Search Options box on the left of the listings page - here you'll find links to featured eBay Shops currently selling Sony camcorders, as well as shops selling additional items such as bags, microphones and cables for Sony camcorders.


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Buy Camcorders with Confidence


Buy Camcorders with Confidence

Once you've run a few searches and browsed the Camcorders category, you may find the DV camcorder of your dreams and decide to bid on it. Before you place a bid, here are a few tips on what to look for when you're thinking of buying a digital camcorder and some questions to ask the seller:

Work out the postage costs: Include the cost of delivery in your calculations when deciding how much to bid. If you spend a lot of money on a camcorder, make sure the seller will insure the item when they post it.

Read the item description carefully: Good sellers include as much information about the product as possible. This is especially important when you're buying expensive items like camcorders and lenses.

Make sure that instructions manuals are included with the item; if they are not, find out whether you can get them from the manufacturer or their website. Is it under guarantee? If so, what are the terms? If you want more information about guarantees or warranties, ask by clicking the seller's "Ask seller a question" link under a seller's profile on the item listing.

Check the return policy: Most top eBay sellers act just like high-street shops and let you return an item for a refund within a certain time period. Check the item description for terms and conditions, and email the seller for clarification if you need it.

If in doubt, ask. By bidding on an item, you're making a commitment to buy it if you you're the high bidder - so you'll want to know that you're getting a good deal. If you're unsure about anything, email the seller for details before you bid.

Don't be embarrassed about asking questions. Questions such as the age of the camcorder and how much it has been used are common things that every buyer will need to know, and the seller may just have forgotten to include the information. If this is the case, the seller will add the question and answer to the bottom of the item description.


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