Recording videos is now easier than ever before. There are many types of camcorders and plenty of options for each budget. However, if you want to shoot high-quality videos, you'll need a camcorder with high video recording resolution and high optical zoom. If you like recording your sports adventures, you definitely need to look for an action cam which is weather sealed. To help you find the best camcorder, we compiled a list with the most important specs and features you should look for.
Since a camcorder would always be in the list of items to bring during any trip, you would want the camcorder to be as small and compact as possible without sacrificing usability, or without the disadvantage of not having the features you would want to have to capture a great moment in your life. But of course, a smaller gadget would have much less internal space in it, therefore reducing the space that additional parts could sit into, limiting the manufacturers as to what hardware dependent features they could put into their products. A display for example, would be really hard to fit into a very small and compact camcorder. Adding an optical zooming capability would prove to be an impossible challenge as well since optical zoom relies on multiple sizable lenses to act as sort of like a mini telescope. The same goes for Wi-Fi capability, which requires a WLAN module, a flash which of course would need space for the bulb and its housing, and pretty much any feature which requires an additional part to be installed. Take into consideration as well the fact that a smaller camcorder would have less space for a bigger sized battery pack, which would mean less useful running time for the device.
Simply put, a smaller sized camcorder would have less features and less impressive specifications than larger sized alternatives in a general sense. That said, find your own definition of right balance between size and specs. Have a list of all the features and the specs you would want to have, and look for the most compact camcorder out there from the brand that you trust the most.
When it comes to the materials used, most camcorders would be mostly made up of:
Plastic - mostly in the form of a polycarbonate, plastics are used in most portable devices these days because it is considerably much cheaper to produce and mold into shape much more easily than other materials and still provides great heat and shock resistance. The material is also very flexible, which is great if the internals won’t be affected by the bends when pressure is applied to the surfaces of the camcorder while it is in the baggage with all the other belongings thrown in with it. Mostly though, a flexible housing is not recommended since internal connections may be severed, even though it will provide a softer landing for the device in the case that it falls to the floor. The GoPro Hero Plus LCD’s housing is made up of plastic.
Metal - aluminum alloys are used as the housing of some camcorders. Aluminum alloys are much more durable than polycarbonates. Its flexibility would still depend on the other metals mixed with the aluminum, but most aluminum alloys are generally less flexible than polycarbonates. Metals are less likely to go back to its original form when bent, which is what happened to the infamous Apple iPhone 6 Plus’ “Bendgate”. Cases like this are rare though, and metals are still considered by many as the better material for the job. The Canon XL H1A is an example of a camcorder with metal chassis.
Since the imaging sensor is the most important part of a camcorder, it is crucial that we are very knowledgeable with the specifications related to the sensor. Buying a camcorder with a crappy sensor is like acquiring a phone which struggles with sending messages or making calls. You should therefore carefully look at these particular specifications when looking for a camcorder:
Megapixel - this is the number of pixels in the sensor. One (1) megapixel would mean the sensor has 1 million pixels. A pixel is like a digital tile of color. An image would be composed of thousands or millions of different colored pixels. Therefore, the higher the Megapixels value of a camcorder, the higher the resolution of the video it can take.
CMOS - stands for “Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor”. Compared to the more traditional CCD (Charge-Coupled Device) sensor, CMOS sensors are much more energy efficient. It also has a data throughput speed that’s multiple times higher than that of a CCD since it has much more channels in data readouts, usually 3 - 8 times more. That allows for more frames per second to be taken in Burst Mode. CMOS sensors also evolved to being the superior sensor when it comes to low light performance from being the worse in the job due to improvements being made to the technology brought about by the demand from smartphones.
BSI - a back-illuminated sensor uses the very same parts as a front-illuminated sensor would use but arranges it in such a way that the wires are behind the photocathode layer, thereby reducing the light that the wirings would have blocked if it were in the front. This in turn improves low-light performance of the sensor at the expense of a more costly manufacturing process.
Sensor Size - a larger sensor can use more light information in the production of the images, thereby dramatically increasing image quality. A larger sensor also improves the focusing of the camcorder especially in isolating a particular subject in the scene.
The lens is the part of the camcorder that helps the sensor create the image by redirecting the light that comes through the assembly, correcting optical aberrations in the process. It is also responsible for focusing tasks, and controlling the amount of light that comes through the camcorder assembly, in other words, the exposure. The lense of the camcorder can either be built-in or interchangeable in the case of System Cameras. A camcorder with interchangeable lenses allows the user to choose a lens of his choice according to his needs. Most systems would come packaged with a default lens, so it is still worth checking out just how good this lens would be.
Magnification - the lateral magnification of the lens is the ratio between the size of subject in the image produced, and the real size of the subject.
Optical Image Stabilization - OIS works by continuously adjusting the inner lenses in real-time while the camcorder is in use to adjust the direction of the light coming through the assembly in a way to stabilize the video being captured when there’s too much vibrations.
Optical Zoom - the lenses are adjusted to zoom in on the subject. This method does not sacrifice the image resolution as it doesn’t digitally zoom in by simply enlarging the image. The higher the optical zoom rating, the closer you can zoom in on the subject.
Prime Lens - a prime lens is when the lens has a fixed focal length, removing the optical zooming capability as a consequence. On the other hand, a prime lens has much fewer groups of inner lenses ,improving optical purity.
Focal Length - the focal length is related with the zooming capabilities of the camcorder. The maximum focal length determines how much the lens can zoom-in on the subject while the minimum focal length determines how much the lens can zoom-out.
Wide Aperture - the aperture size is measured in focal ratio or f-number (e.g. f/2.8). The smaller the number, the wider the aperture. A wide aperture allows more light to go through, helping in reducing blur by not requiring too much exposure.
Some camcorders would have a viewfinder in them in addition to live view in their LCD displays if they have one. A viewfinder is particularly beneficial when capturing while zoomed in. Using the viewfinder would mean the camera is against your body, therefore providing a much more stable platform than holding it to your front in order to see what you are capturing through the LCD screen.
The viewfinder can either be Electronic, or Optical. An Electronic viewfinder is basically a small LCD display that you peek in. The advantage of an EVF over OVF is that you see exactly how the image or video is going to look like after capturing. Opting for an optical viewfinder on the other hand will provide you with better clarity and dynamic range, and also eliminates the delay found in some EVF systems.
Video Capturing Capabilities
Video Recording Quality - there are two things that matter when determining the video recording quality, the maximum video resolution, and maximum frames per second (fps). Higher video resolution and FPS means the video can be much clearer and runs much smoother. The bitrate is also of value in estimating the quality of the video recording. The higher the bitrate, measured in Mbps, the higher the quality might be.
24p - a standard in cinema style video capturing, in which the video is captured in 24 frames per second with progressive scanning.
AVCHD - Advanced Video Coding High Definition is the standard and the most popular format among professional camcorders.
AF Tracking - a camcorder with autofocus tracking analyzes the image that the sensor captures and keeps track of the object that it is focused on, and stays focused on that object even if it is moving. Some camcorder can also focus on multiple objects at one time.
5.1 Surround Sound Recording System - the camcorder can record sound from all directions so that the audio has 5 full bandwidth channels, and a low-frequency effect channel.
3D - some camcorders can record videos in 3 dimensions, so that the videos can be played back in a 3D display.
Image Capturing Capabilities
Burst Mode - a mode in which multiple pictures are captured in one go. The number of pictures that the camcorder can take per time value is measured in frames per second.
HDR - another mode in which the camcorder captures multiple standard dynamic range images and merges it together to produce a High Dynamic Range image.
Panorama - a mode in which the camera is panned around to create a wide-angled image.
Connectivity - Most camcorders would have USBs as the standard in connecting with other devices. Firewire is also used among professional audio and video equipements. In addition to wired connections, a camcorder may also have Near Field Communication (NFC) for short-range communication, as well as Wi-Fi (Wlan) for longer range wireless communication with other devices.
GPS - some camcorders would have a GPS module inside so that it could track the whereabouts of the user, and integrate that information in the video.
Focus Motor - in system camcorders, the body could either have a Built-in Focus Motor. This is useful since there are lenses which don’t have their own focus motor. Attaching a lens without a focus motor on a camcorder which also doesn’t have a focus motor built-in requires the user to do the focusing manually. Almost all modern camcorders wouldn’t have a built-in focus motor in their bodies since almost all lenses in the market today have their own motors.