If you haven’t given much thought to camcorders in the past few years, you’re in for some pleasant surprises. The move toward high-definition TV has been fairly smooth, but the switch to HD video cameras was a bit more rocky, thanks to divergent technical standards that made choosing a camcorder a mindbending adventure in jargon land.
Almost all of these camcorders now capture in the AVCHD file format, which offers a good compromise between data compression and image quality. With AVCHD, you can edit your video quickly and efficiently on your computer, then burn your home movies to a standard DVD for use on your HDTV’s Blu-ray player. No Blu-ray yet? Watch your videos using a home server, an inexpensive mediaplayer hard drive, or simply through your camcorder with a direct connection to your HDTV.
The cameras themselves are better, cheaper, and easier to use, too. Here are six we like-pick one that suits your shooting style.
1. THE ARTISTE
Canon Vixia HF S100
Lots of photographers love video but hate that “video” look. If you’re one of these, consider this camera: It mimics movie film’s 24-framesper- second shooting, and there’s even a Cinema setting for color that will lend your home movies a look that says more “documentary” than “reality TV.” It also shoots at 24 Mbps, which is the highest possible quality for the AVCHD format, and does progressive scan for a smoother picture. Photographers who already use SDHC memory cards will appreciate that this Canon takes them, too. When you’ve got your footage, just pop the card into your reader to edit on the computer or even directly into your HDTV, if it has a card slot and can play AVCHD files. (www.usa.canon.com)
2. THE CONSTANT SHOOTER
Want to shoot a lot? This camcorder has a built-in 120GB hard drive-that translates to up to 11 hours of 24 Mbps video, or 50 hours if you opt for lower-quality EP mode. Other cameras may have equally large hard drives, but none are as economical as this JVC’s. While an internal hard drive is great for its megastorage capabilities, those spinning plates make for a more delicate machine. So if you let your 5-year-old hold the camera, or if you have butterfingers yourself, you may want to consider another model that has either solid-state or flash memory. (www.jvc.com)
3. THE COLOR MAVEN
Serious photographers are serious about color, and this camera will appeal to them. Using what Panasonic calls the 3MOS system, this camcorder has three CMOS sensors, one for each color channel, an approach that should provide more accurate color than a single chip would. Want to shoot stills, but left your DSLR at home? You can record images of up to 10.6MP. The Leica lens opens wide for low-light shooting. Record it all on the internal 120GB hard drive, and direct all of your operations on the camera’s LCD touchscreen. (www.panasonic.com)
4. THE KLUTZ
Samsung HMX-H106 $
One of the most important decisions when selecting a camcorder is the media on which it records. Should you go for SDHC for the convenience and durability? Or should you opt for the generous space of an internal hard drive and try to be really careful when you handle it? If you don’t like either option, consider this Samsung. It’s the first to offer 64 gigabytes of internal solid-state memory. While it holds lots of video, it’s lighter and consumes less power than camcorders with internal drives. If you still run out of memory while shooting, you can pop in an SDHC card and expand your capacity. More cool features: It has a time-lapse mode that lets you record at preset intervals from 1 through 30 seconds, and it comes with a remote control for playback. (www.samsung.com)
5. THE ADVENTURER
What could be better than shooting HD video? Shooting HD video underwater! Jump in up to 10 feet deep, or let this Sanyo’s waterproofing take you where other video cameras can’t go: to the sandy beach, onto the ski slope, or out in the rain. Because this superportable camera shoots compressed MPEG- 4 video, you’ll be able to fit almost 4 hours of footage onto a 16GB SDHC card. It also has a built-in solid-state memory. While it holds lots of video, it’s lighter and consumes less power than camcorders with internal drives. If you still run out of memory while shooting, you can pop in an SDHC card and expand your capacity. More cool features: It has a time-lapse mode that lets you record at preset intervals from 1 through 30 seconds, and it comes with a remote control for playback. (www.sanyo.com)
6.THE NIGHT OWL
So many of life’s best moments happen in dim light, and it can be infuriating to try to shoot videos of them. But this Sony improves your odds of capturing the moment with its back-illuminated sensor. This super camcorder has a whopping 240GB of hard drive space, which translates to 29 hours in highest quality HD video mode. If you want to remember where you’ve been, switch on the GPS and tag your locations. Since the camera can set its time automatically, you won’t be left wondering later when and where you shot your video. Gearheads will love its 12MP still capture, but home theater junkies may rejoice most of all-this camcorder records Dolby Digital 5.1-channel surround sound. (www.sonystyle.com)