Shoot To Capture!

Published Date
01 - Nov - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Nov - 2005
Shoot To Capture!
For a long time now, I have been getting mails requesting information and buying advice on camcorders a.k.a. handycams. Camcorders are certainly not my cup of tea. Although I have used them occasionally, they've never appealed to me. But with the festive season almost here, I knew there would be an increase in interest in buying camcorders. And I wasn't going to let my lack of knowledge stand in the way!

To get going, I tracked down my Steven Spielberg wannabe friend, Vinod, who'd just retuned from northeastern India after shooting a documentary. The camcorder thing was long overdue, so I headed over to his place.   

A long chat and some chai later, I felt empowered thanks to the gyan Vinod shared with me. According to him, before you choose a camcorder, there are some questions you need to answer and some stuff you need to know. You should be aware of things like the recording format, types of sensors, multipurpose capability, etc. Don't be intimidated-I'm here to help!

The consumer camcorder world offers several recording formats, which often breeds confusion when a consumer is making a buying decision

The consumer camcorder world offers several recording formats, which often breeds confusion when a consumer is making a buying decision.

Mini DV format is the format of choice for most consumer camcorders. Any camcorder supporting this format requires a small cassette called the MiniDV for recording. Being widely used, the MiniDV format is well supported by most video-editing software, and specialised DV cassette players, too, are available. Moreover, even semi-professional camcorders use this format to record high-quality HDV content. According to Vinod, this is the format you should opt for.

On the other hand, entry-level camcorders use the Digital8 format for recording high-quality video and they do this on Hi8 cassettes. The problem here is the cassette is bigger in size and hence, the recorder itself tends to be a touch bulky. The good news is that they are on their way out, so as far as possible, avoid such recorders. MiniMV is the new format used by ultra-compact camcorders since they require a smaller cassette.

But again, these formats cannot be directly played on a consumer DVD player. This led to the introduction of Mini DVD-R and DVD-RAMs to be used directly for recording content in MPEG2 format.

Vinod's advice-avoid these, since there are compatibility issues, and also, if one chunk of data gets corrupted, the whole DVD ends up as a nice coaster.

There are two types of camcorders based on sensors: those with a single CCD, and those that have three. In a three-CCD camera, there's one sensor for each of the primary colours. Advantages? Well, three-CCD cameras have better colour reproduction, and are a must-have for professional work. Strictly speaking, single-CCD models are good enough for typical home or vacation use. But the good news is, three-CCD technology is now available in models that cost less than Rs 50K, which is a boon for amateurs.

Professionals should pay some attention to the resolution a recorder supports; for high-resolution video, opt for a camcorder that supports the HDV format.   

Can camcorders shoot stills? Well, according to our expert, they can, but take this with a pinch of salt. Most camcorders have fast enough sensors to deliver jerk-free video; however, the sensors are noisy and have low resolution since the display unit is generally a TV, which does not require higher resolution. Such sensors are bad at still images and don't deliver. In fact, they are pathetic when compared to even an entry-level digital camera that retails for Rs 9K to 10K. Expert advice: you can use the still images for Web-related activities, but not for printing.

Finally, what about transferring those home videos to a PC? You'll need a FireWire port or a USB port, depending on what your camcorder supports. A FireWire capture card is suggested.

Decent enough video-editing software is usually bundled with camcorders, but if you are a professional, it's better to get one of the better software such as Adobe Premiere, or Pinnacle's Liquid Edition Pro for Windows and Final Cut Pro for Mac.

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