Thu, Nov 10, 2005 - Page 15 News List

Tech Review

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Canon's Elura 90 is an example of a worthwhile entry-level camcorder.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE MANUFACTURER

A number of things have happened in recent years to make recording digital video an easier and more affordable prospect. Not only have camcorders become less expensive, increased bandwidth and larger computer memory space have made it possible to include digital video in business presentations, on a Web site, and even in e-mails to the family.

Additionally, the range of recorders has evolved in step with the increased number of applications for video. Where once only a small range of suitcase-sized recorders were available, and only for those with suitcases of cash, today's buyer can get a near pocket-sized recorder for... well, a pocket full of cash.

With several good to great models from which to choose, finding which video recorder is right for you is more a matter of knowing what you want to do with it. So rather than look at specific models, we'll look here at some of the things to keep in mind when you start shopping.

Bells and whistles aside, a camcorder's ability to produce a great image is based in large part on the size and quantity of the charge-coupled devices, or CCDs it employs. CCDs work like the retina of your eye by converting light into information. In the case of a CCD, that information is a digitized image. Budget camcorders will more than likely have a single CCD maybe a quarter inch in size. Professional or so-called prosumer models might have three CCDs of up to one-third inch each.

Just because a recorder has only one CCD doesn't mean it's of poor quality; there are plenty of good machines on the market that have a single, albeit large, CCD.

Though this information usually isn't written on the package nor on the camera case itself, it is singularly important to the machine's ability to produce a good image. If the sales representative you ask doesn't know, he or she isn't going to be of real help to you. Shop elsewhere or, better yet, do your initial research on the Internet before ever heading to the store.

The quantity and size of a camera's CCD(s) will directly effect something else you may have never heard of that is nonetheless crucial to image quality: lux.

Lux is the international standard of luminance and is equal to one lumen per square meter. To which you say, "Right. What's a lumen?" As the answer involves things like steradians, candelas, and a lot of physics flimflam, best to suffice with the rule of thumb: the lower the lux rating, the better the camera can see in the dark.

Filming in dim light may not sound so important but bear in mind that admittedly unscientific studies suggest camcorders are more likely to come out in the evening and after a few drinks than any other time of the day. Recording in these conditions with a camera that has a lux rating of, say, eight, will result in colors that streak and images that ghost -- much the same as you saw it after your few drinks. A camera with a lux rating of two will produce much clearer images and have your friends thinking you're a sober and serious videographer.

Light sensitivity can also be determined, in part, by looking at the lens' aperture. A maximum aperture of f1.4 or f1.6 is best for low-light conditions.

Another aspect of camcorder technology that is often overlooked by buyers is sound. Often, machines can produce crystal clear images that make people look great but they're incomprehensible when they open their mouth. Background noise, a poor microphone or even motor hum from the camera itself can detract from sound quality. A couple of things to look for are a front-mounted microphone that will pick up the person in the frame, not the mumblings of the person holding the camera, or worse, the sound of them holding it! Also, if a camera has a zoom lens make sure it also has a "zoom" microphone, a common feature on many models -- but not all.

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