Regular visitors to our site will have noticed the introduction of a brand new category. Whether you fancy yourself as a budding Scorcese or you're just looking to record those precious family moments, our delicious new digital camcorder section is positively bulging with some of the best camcorders around. For those that are less familiar with these useful devices, read on for our informative guide to the camcorder world and a review of one of Panasonic's top digital camcorders, the Panasonic HDC SD100.
There is a lot to consider when buying a digital camcorder; indeed, the whole process can be a little overwhelming to those looking to make their first purchase. Let's break things down into the main features you should look at when aiming to spend your hard-earned cash on one of these amazingly portable gadgets.
HD or SD?
One of the first choices you'll be faced with is whether to go for a high definition or standard definition model. The obvious advantage of having a high definition camcorder is being able to record footage at a much better quality (up to 1920x1080 resolution, in fact), but as with most things in life this benefit means that you'll need to dig deeper for extra cash to cover the bigger price tag. HD recording will also require more storage space and not all video editing software will be able to cope with certain HD compression formats - in order to get more onto your storage medium, compression is a crucial means of "compacting" the information so take it takes up less space. However, for those with a snazzy HD LCD TV it would be worth the extra expenditure, and if you're a lottery winner or some long-lost, recently deceased Auntie has left you a tidy nest-egg, go for HD...as long as you have the means to view it in its sharp-edged splendour.
Types of storage
There are a mind-boggling variety of storage methods available, each with their pros and cons. Mini DV (digital video) tapes are cheaper to buy and easy to come by but don't have a particularly impressive recording duration (80 to 100 minutes). They're also more fragile - imagine the horror of some unrepeatable experience being lost through an eaten tape - and more awkward to transfer and copy. Mini DVD/DVD storage by way of writable DVD (DVD -R/+R) or rewritable DVD (DVD -RW/+RW)makes it easy to view your footage by simply popping it straight into your DVD player, but the compression format used on these DVDs makes complex editing and aadjustment tricky; nevertheless, in terms of simplicity and cost, DVD storage is a very attractive prospect especially since blank DVD storage can be easily purchased in computer stores. Some of the best camcorders will have a built-in hard drive which provides a large amount of storage space, but compression issues again need to be considered for advanced editors. However, it is incredibly easy to transfer your videos onto computer from hard drive camcorders, and the latest software makes editing a less arduous process. Removable memory cards such as Secure Digital can also be used as a storage method in some camcorders although this is usually as an additional storage facility in a hard drive camcorder. Many of the best digital camcorders will actually offer some form of dual storage.
Zooming in on the lenses
Most camcorders come with lenses that offer x10 optical zoom, which basically means that you can capture action at a distance; optical zoom effectively draws the image closer to you, much like a magnifying glass. If you're looking for something extra in that department - nature documentary makers take note - you'll need to pay more. You may also be provided with a digital zoom function, but this has a negative impact on the recording quality by actually making the selected area of the shot bigger rather than pulling it closer, resulting in a more pixelated or "blocky" appearance. Take it from a purist: stick with optical zoom.
OK, so the giant shoulder-crushing camcorders of the 1980s and 1990s are long gone, but you don't what to be stuck with something bulky and weighty if you're likely to be freqently on the move. This is when you need to consider the size of the camcorder you want. Smaller usually means dearer, but if your new baby is only going to make appearances at family gatherings you'll be able to get away with something a bit bigger.
Shaky hands? You'll need image stabilisation, a function that compensates for camcorder unsteadiness. Want to use your new toy as a digital still camera too? You'd better buy a digital camcorder with this feature built-in. The quality of still images taken by camcorders varies from model to model, but most will probably be adequate for the average user.
Well, that rounds off our useful guide about digital camcorders and the features to look for when buying one. But rather than leave you dangling like a fruit bat on an icy branch, we'll finish things off by taking a brief look at one of the best high definition digital camcordersoffered on the liGo website, the tasty Panasonic HDC SD100.
The Panasonic HDC SD100 digital camcorder has to be one of the top high definition camcorders around at the moment. This neat little package is small enough to carry around and allows for easy manipulation for those trickier shots. The unit has a solid feel to it, indicating that it has the top build quality usually associated with Panasonic products. Now, let's take a peek at what we're really interested in: all those fancy bits of digital magic that make your recordings come alive!
To start with, the HDC SD100 has a rather impressive Leica Dicomer lens system that offers a magnificent x12 optical zoom. Suffice to say that we don't want to get bogged down in the technical aspects of this lens system, but it should be highlighted that this arrangement of 12 coated lenses in 9 groups results in video recordings of better resolution, improved contrast and with no colour bleeding. Specific lenses also mean that your images will be sharp, clear and free from ghosting and flaring. Sounds good, eh? Be patient, eager reader - there's more to come!
At the core of the Panasonic HDC SD100 is one of Panasonic's best offerings, the 3MOS sensor. This mysterious wee sensor captures recordings with better detail and more vivid colours than ever before, and its larger light capturing surface allows for increased sensitivity, which in turn means better low light perfomance. This fantastic digital camcorder also comes with the usual plethora of amazing Panasonic features. Panasonic's trademark iA wizardry provides Advanced OIS to compensate for hand shake, Face Detectionto keep everyone's face firmly in focus, Intelligent Contrast Control that cleverly adjusts the contrast settings to suit the environment and Intelligent Scene Selector, which as the name suggests detects the shooting conditions and switches the camcorder to the best settings for your locality. For those who shun the world of automation and prefer to make their own adjustments, the Manual Ring is available to allow filmmakers of the future full creative control over their production.
This brilliant beastie has one more trick up its sleeve: it has no mechanical moving parts! This is made possible by using Secure Digital cards (in both regular and high capacity varieties) as its storage medium, which makes it easy to replace your SD card with another once it's full. SD cards are also ludicrously cheap too, so it's possible to have a healthy supply of storage media at your fingertips.
To finish off, the Panasonic HDC SD100 digital camcorder provides the user with a healthy range of connection and auxilary options. You can use AV out, HDMI, USB or the video component connectionto view and transfer your filmatic or photographic works of art. A microphone portmeans that you can provide your own commentary on your recordings...although this may not be appreciated by everyone, especially if it's used to point out someone's excessive weight gain. The headphone port gives you the opportunity to privately listen in whilst filming. You never know that you could hear!
Considering that this is one of the best high definition digital camcorders on the market, the Panasonic HDC SD100 has a very reasonable price tag of £649.99. So if you're feeling creative or just want to have some films for future grandchildren to laugh at, the Panasonic HDC SD100 is a top buy, particularly when you consider its excellent specifications.