Camcorder buying

Advice on buying a camcorder

Why buy a new camcorder?

Which brands of camcorder to consider?

Where to look for advice?

Which camcorder did I choose?

Where to buy it from?

Am I happy?

Why buy a new camcorder?

I have two small children and the issue is that they grow up so fast. You think to yourself that you will remember all the little moments like them playing together quietly or sat there totally engrossed in something on TV or a DVD, but most of the memories will fade fast. Even now I look back on pictures of my now 3 year old when she was 1-2 and am staggered at how different she looked and behaved. Anyway, before I start sobbing, I originally got a new camcorder before our first was born, had it there at the birth click here for some videos. I read a few magazine reviews and looked on some websites and eventually went for a Panasonic NV-DS30B. Ooh what's that then? Well its a mini DV camcorder, that is it records the video footage digitally and saves it onto a miniature cassette. To view the footage later you can either play it back through your TV usually via the front panel S-video or composite inputs and the leads that come with the camcorder. Or download the video onto a suitable PC and mess around with the footage (adding titles, fades, backing tracks etc) and then either put it onto a new mini DV tape or burn it to video CD or DVD. Personally I found video editing a real bore and so was pleased when HDD and DVD recorders came out that would let me download pretty much straight to DVD on something that sits on top of my TV.

So why get a new one? Well as with many consumer products it packed up after 2.5 years. The problem seems to be that two fold. It can't read the battery level correctly. One minute its full next the power is flashing on and off. I've had the battery checked out at work (we have that equipment) and its still OK. The other symptom is that is starts recording and then will suddenly stop like the tape has run out. Yet its an almost new tape. I've tried several new tapes and all have the same effect. Fixable? Maybe, but I don't want to risk losing video footage of my kids growing up on a dodgy camcorder. I can afford a new one, so I'll buy one. (I may think about trying to fix the old one later as well)

Which brands of camcorder to consider?

Well looking around a bit and with some experience of good consumer brands I thought of either a Sony, Canon or another Panasonic.

Sony - Buying a Sony is really like buying an IBM in the early days of computers or a Yamaha AV receiver. They may or may not be the best for their price but they are unlikely to be rubbish.

Canon - Produce very good cameras and camcorders. I already own an A95 powershot and am very pleased with it. Only wish I had spent a little more and got the smaller Ixus version!

Panasonic - Despite my last one going wrong Panasonic produce excellent TV's, DVD players and recorders and camcorders. Along with Canon they historically share many of the yearly awards for best Camcorder in a price range

Where to look for advice?

As always for me I started off in Google. I searched for something like 'camcorder advice'. Ignoring all the sites that were obviously just trying to sell me camcorders I looked through:

Its a US site, so some of the product names are wrong and may not be available in the UK yet, but its informative and has lots of reviews. What was really helpful was that at the time they had a round up of their buying guide for the year on the home page. This listed the Best buy camcorder for different prices brackets. Useful if only for giving me spec creep and pushing the amount I thought I had to spend on a camcorder up.

Another US site so the same applies as above wrt model names. This site is great as it often has actual footage available for download to view from the camcorder being reviewed. Also you can listen to what the camera sounds like. Why? Because the tape mechanism on a camcorder will make some noise that the will be heard when recording. It is possible to for the camcorder to filter it out, but if its not there in the first place all the better. The footage taken used to be of scenes in San Francisco and in the guys home at different light levels (back to the dodgy home movies again). This is useful because one of things to look for in a camcorder is how good it is at filming under artificial light or low light levels. My old Panasonic was good in natural day light but gave everything a slightly orange tint under incandescent bulbs. This could be corrected by manually saying what the light conditions are, but not automatically.

Beginners Guide

This is linked off the camcorderinfo site and one of many guides on the web that summarises the issues to consider when buying a camcorder.

Which camcorder did I choose?

I read somewhere people complaining about the touch screen controls on all Sony consumer models being fiddly and that the Hc90 model that I was looking at was under specified for the price it was selling at. I also considered briefly the HDR-HC1 which records in high definition. This is a fantastic camcorder, but i couldn't justify it price wise. I also worried about editing the video and what would I view it on?

The Canon Optura 600 really caught my eye, very stylish, good price (just available in the UK when I looked) and small. However, that seemed to be the problem it is too small. I have large quite hands and some of the reviewers had difficulties operating the camcorder with one hand.

Panasonic GS400. I had originally looked at the GS150 and GS250 (lower price models) but in the end plumped for the GS400. Why? Well although its been around for more than a year it consistently gets good reviews (and you need to read more than one review and much is down to personal preference). The fact that its been out for a year means that it shouldn't have to many problems that people haven't seen. It has excellent optics, 3 CCD's for colour reproduction, a 4 mega-pixel still camera and optical image stabilisation. The last is great as it stops the image wobbling so much (and it does a really great job of it) when filming the family whilst moving around the room. Cheaper camcorders often have digital image stabilisation which is OK, but not as good. have found that indoors at night in automatic mode it films the scene in excellent colour reproduction without changing anything. Its easy to handle, if a little large compared to some of the cheaper, smaller models available.

Where to buy from?

I did the usual of searching in and I found that ebuyer sold what appeared to be a grey import version with foreign manuals and no accessories. I then found Purely Gadgets had it for the same price for the full UK retail package. Wow! The ebuyer price had been £100 cheaper than anywhere else and much cheaper than the £1000 quoted in most reviews. I also bought an accessory pack of a case another long lifetime battery, a 512MB SD card and some mini dv tapes. It was delivered a few days later, just before Christmas, ready for the kids to undo their presents.

Am I happy with my camcorder?

Yes! The picture quality is superb and the camera is a joy to use. It oozes quality partly due to its substantial feel (although I don't find it heavy). The built in 4 mega pixel camera isn't as good as my powershot, but its convenient to have it all in one unit and you can take photo's whilst recording video. These are saved onto a separate memory card. Overall, its £300 more than I originally intended, but I don't regret a penny of it.

Videos: You have got to be joking! I like living, besides all that stuff is on our pay-per-view site :)

"I certainly hope it doesnt break down if you bought it through Purely Gadgets. I wouldn't touch that company with a barge pole. Bought a camera through them which broke, sent it back and never saw it again. Wrote several letters, kept phoning, no-one picked up phone, everything ignored. Could not get my camera back."

F Southorn