Camcorder Buying Guide – Recording Media

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Recording Media

One significant way to categorize camcorders is by the way they capture images. Not long ago, video was available in “analogue” or “linear” format only. You captured images on tape, and then in the process of editing, copied selected scenes on to more tape. Image resolution went down with each generation – one reason why many old home videos seem to suffer in quality when viewed today.

Digital has changed it all. Today almost all formats are digital, meaning even the most basic camcorder delivers good quality. From MiniDV tape to DVD to tapeless Hard Disk Drive, the choices are all digital – and all very good.


This is still the most popular format. Entry level as well as many prosumer HD camcorders write their digitized information to MiniDV tapes. MiniDV tapes are readily available at Vistek, but if you’re away from home, you can usually rely on the corner store to have some in stock. Most standard definition camcorders get 60 minutes of high quality footage recorded on each tape. (Note: tapes can be reused, but there is a slight drop in quality, so re-recording is generally not recommended).


Camcorders that burn straight to 3” mini DVD disks allow you to pop the disk out of the camcorder and place it directly into any home DVD player for playback. DVD Camcorders tend to be reasonably priced, and the random access of the DVD format means there’s no need to fast forward or rewind. However, the recording times are less than MiniDVD format, and there are limits to the editing capability. DVD’s main benefit is instant playback gratification.

HDD (Hard Disk Drive)

A camcorder that records straight to an internal hard drive requires no consumables like MiniDV tapes, so there’s no risk of damaged or lost tapes or DVDs. How much you can shoot before transferring the recorded information to some sort of external media varies from camcorder to camcorder. If you only shoot a few memories here and there, you can spend less and purchase a camera with fewer gigabytes (GB). For example, a 4GB camcorder can hold about one hour of recording time, while a 30GB model holds seven hours. Image quality is excellent, particularly for camcorders with such small bodies. Just be aware that HDD is a new, evolving format and there may be compatibility issues if you plan to edit your footage.

P2 Memory Card Reading

With a massive 16GBs, and with no drive mechanism, maintenance costs are much lower. The P2 memory card boasts excellent endurance against impact, vibration, temperature change, and dust. It’s an important benefit when you’re capturing important footage.

Removable Media

A recent trend in media for video makes use of Secure Digital (SD) or Memory Stick cards, the same kind of media used in digital still cameras. The tiny size of these cards allows for extremely compact camcorders. If small size is a priority, these pocket-sized camcorders may be a good alternative. Like DVD and HDD systems, camcorders using this type of media allow random access. You can expect to see this format grow in popularity.