So you don’t have a camera yet, or you have one and want to buy a new one, or you’re trying to figure out if your camera will even work with your computer. Have no fear. Here’s a breakdown of the different formats.
I’m starting with the hardest one to get into your computer. If you have one of these, you can either try to do all your editing on the tape by shooting everything in order, or you can buy an analog to digital converter for your computer. Unfortunately, both methods have cons. Editing on tape by recording everything in order requires just that. This method doesn’t work too well, especially if your film needs multiple scenes to happen in one location. Analog to digital converters are expensive to the point that you might be better off spending a little more and getting a new digital camera. That’s not to say that you can’t make a movie with an analog camcorder, just that it’s more difficult.
Just like analog camcorders, you record your video onto tapes. But since the video is already digital, getting the video into the computer is as simple as connecting a cable from camera to computer and figuring out how your software works. Some camera manufacturers put the tape loading mechanism in an awkward place.
These digital camcorders record onto DVDs. The advantages of this format is that you can easily pop a freshly recorded disc into your DVD player and watch it. Unfortunately, there are three different kinds of DVDs, and one does not allow you to reuse a DVD that already has media on it. Depending on who you buy from, DVDs for camcorders cost about the same as or more than Mini-DV tapes.
Hard Drive Camcorders
Unlike the other formats discussed above, hard drive camcorders have an on-board hard drive. Advantages here are that the recording space on these cameras is huge, so this camera might be good if you plan to use it on a vacation. Plus, some software, like Apple’s iMovie (version 7, in iLife ’08), are built to recognize these cameras and let you grab clips right off of them, without searching a whole tape. However, using a hard drive camera also has its cons. Once you dump the video to the computer, it gets erased from the camera’s drive.
This means that you don’t get a backup of your video, which I always like to have.
Edit: After discussing hard drive cameras with my dad, I realized that if you kept backups on another hard drive (perhaps with auto backup software), one of these cameras would be a great choice for anybody. The only thing that would keep me from a hard drive camera now is the price tag.
So, which camera is the best? It all depends on what you want. My pick out of these four formats would be Mini-DV or Hard Drive. You may want something different. Just make sure you read reviews on cameras before you pick one.