Guide to Camcorder Features

A look at the key features you'll find in a digital camcorder

Photo courtesy of HP.

When shopping for a camcorder, you're confronted with a laundry list of features. Some are relatively straightforward to understand, others, not so much. To help you navigate the complexities, here's a guide to the key features available in most digital camcorders with links to let you dive deeper into a particular topic.

Video Resolution: You can find camcorders that record video in either standard or high definition resolution. As a general rule, HD camcorders will be more expensive, but they will deliver higher quality video. Even if you don't own a high definition television, it's worth considering a high definition camcorder to "future proof" your videos for the time when you get around to trading in your standard definition television.

See Guide to HD Camcorders for more details.

Image Sensor: The image sensor is the device inside your camcorder that transforms the light coming through the lens into a digital signal that gets recorded by your camcorder. There are two basic types of sensors - CMOS and CCD. When it comes to sensors, larger ones are better. More on image sensors.

Zoom lens: The kind of lens your camcorder has is crucial: long zooms allow you to magnify far away objects. But not all zooms are created equal. You need to look for the "optical" zoom rating of your camcorder, not the digital zoom. The higher the zoom number (given as a factor of "x" - as in 10x, 12x, etc.) the better the magnification. More on digital vs. optical zoom lenses.

Image Stabilization: If your camcorder has a long zoom lens (and even if it doesn't), it should also offer a form of image stabilization to ensure your videos are steady. Like a zoom lens, the better form of image stabilization is optical image stabilization, not digital. More on optical vs. digital image stabilization.

Media Format: This refers to the type of media that stores your digital videos. Popular media formats include flash memory (either internal or in a flash memory card) and hard disk drive. The type of media your camcorder records to has a huge impact on camcorder design and functionality. More on camcorder media formats.

Video Format: A camcorder's video format refers to the kind of digital file your camcorder will create. The type of file format a camcorder uses typically impacts the quality of the video and how easy it is to work with on a computer. Common video files include MPEG-2, H.264 and AVCHD. More on video file formats.

Face Detection: The ability to find and focus on faces in front of a camcorder is called face detection. It's increasingly popular now and many camcorders have built off the technology to offer even more sophisticated features such as facial recognition or the ability to snap still photographs whenever a person smiles. More about face detection.

Bit Rates: A bit rate refers to the amount of digital data your camcorder can record at any given second. The higher the bit rate, the more data your camcorder is capturing, which translates into higher quality video. More about bit rates.

Frame Rates: Video is really just a series of still photographs taken one after another, instantaneously. The speed at which a camcorder captures still frames during recording is called the frame rate. Faster frame rates are useful for recording sports or for recording in slow motion. More about frame rates.

Exposure Control: One of the most common features available on a camcorder, exposure control lets you adjust how light, or dark, your video appears. More about exposure control.

Photo features: Nearly every camcorder on the market can snap a digital still photograph, but the performance here varies widely. Generally, camcorders that offer a built-in flash, dedicated photo shutter button and photo scene modes will be superior performers in the still photo department. More about the differences between cameras and camcorders.