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What recording formats are available for camcorders?
When choosing a camcorder, all the available formats can be very confusing. Some are digital and some are analog. Some use disks or cards while others use tape. Here's a breakdown on your choices:


Right now, MiniDV is the king of the digital marketplace. It's small size, relatively inexpensive price and easy availability make it a popular choice. In addition, these units can be easily connected to a computer in order to edit footage. Most models also take digital still pictures. Most MiniDV cameras also have analog connections for copying to or from an analog VCR.

MiniDV is a close, but smaller, relative to the professional format known as DVC Pro. In fact, most DVC Pro decks will play MiniDV tapes, but not the other way around.

MiniDV uses a small cassette that is about halfway between the size of a standard audio cassette and a compact audio cassette.

MiniDV's price and availability mean this format won't disappear any time soon. However, HDTV versions of the format are slowly coming into the marketplace (known as HDV). The HD version uses the same tape, but records at a much higher resolution. The camcorders may be changing, but the tapes are staying the same.


This format actually records onto smaller recordable DVDs. The discs come in two formats: Mini DVD-R and Mini DVD-RW. The latter can be recorded on multiple times.

This format can be played in a standard DVD player, making it easy to share. However, unless you have a newer player that can play unfinished recordable discs, you'll need to "close" the disc before you can use it in your player. This means you won't be able to record any more footage onto the disc without formating the whole thing. Also, unless you duplicate the disc, you would be giving away your only copy of your home movies. However, for those who don't wish to edit their videos or hook their camcorder to their TV, this can be a handy format.

MiniDVD records at a slightly lower resolution than MiniDV, but since it's not a magnetic medium, it's more likely to last longer.

Digital 8

First came 8mm video tape, then Hi-8 and now Digital 8. Digital 8 uses standard Hi-8 video tapes to record on, so media is easy to come by. In addition, if you have a lot of Hi-8 tapes laying around that you don't need anymore, a Digital 8 camera can put them to good use.

Digital 8 cameras tend to be a bit larger than the other digital formats (mostly due to the size of the tapes), but they also often have larger lenses that can produce sharper images. However, you may not want to carry something that large around a theme park or resort. In addition, these cameras aren't as popular or plentiful as MiniDV.

Digital 8 cameras tend to run about the same price (or cheaper) as MiniDV cameras. They also offer the same connectivity to a PC as well as analog connections.

Solid State Media Camcorders

These cameras tend to be quite small due to the small size of the media they record onto. Most of these devices use Secure Digital (SD) or Multi Media (MM) cards. These cards are about the size of a postage stamp, yet hold a lot of data.

The major drawback of these devices is the size and speed of the media you're recording onto. Cheaper solid state memory is still relatively slow and doesn't hold much data. As a result, these cameras use MPEG4 instead of MPEG2 as its video format. MPEG4 produces better images in a smaller file size, but in this case the resolution used still makes it look more compressed than other digital media devices.

Another problem is the cards cost quite a bit more than tapes or MiniDVD discs. On the other hand, it's very easy to transfer footage into your computer using a standard card reader or via the camera itself. Just remember to back up those files in case something happens to your computer. Otherwise, you'll lose your only copy of your memories.

On the good side, the memory cards are available just about anywhere (even supermarkets) and are coming down in price. The video quality is also getting better, too. A few higher end units even shoot HD video. Finally, if the format doesn't last, you'll still be able to use those cards in other devices.


This tape format really never took off. In the usual fashion of creating new formats instead of embracing and developing current ones, Sony created one really tiny video tape. This format is actually smaller than the mini audio cassettes used in micro cassette audio tape recorders.

The cassettes aren't the only small part. The cameras actually rival the solid state media cameras for small size.

Sony scores points for the size of the units and the media, but loses more for a format no one really wanted. While people are often willing to upgrade to a totally new format, this tape format got a lukewarm reception with consumers.


This format has been around for quite a while. It's also a format that is readily available in almost any store. In fact, the digital 8 cameras described above use the exact same tapes. Because the cameras have gotten so inexpensive (OK, they're downright cheap), they make a good first camera for adults and kids alike. If you don't have immediate plans to edit your footage on a computer, these cameras offer excellent value. The bonus of these cameras is you can upgrade to a digital 8 camera later and use your remaining supply of Hi-8 tapes.

The cameras are a bit chunky and you won't get the latest features, but they get the job done. You can always upgrade to a digital model later if you choose to. In addition, there are plenty of analog capture devices for computers out there.

The major down side of these cameras is the quality won't be quite as good as well-lit digital footage. On the other hand, some analog cameras tend to produce better video in low light conditions than some cheaper digital models.


This is the only camcorder format than can be adapted to play in a standard VCR. As a result, it offers the easiest method of sharing if the recipients have the proper adapter.

Even with the compatability of the format, the image quality is quite poor. It's a VHS tape in a smaller cassette. As a result it has all the drawbacks of the format and adds a much shorter record time.

These cameras are dirt cheap for a reason. They offer little in the way of quality images, they are quite large for a compact camcorder and tapes are getting harder to find.

If you want an analog camcorder, look at Hi-8 instead.

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