Monday, August 11, 2008

More About Inexpensive Video Cameras

Last week we discussed the various types of video cameras based on how they actually store the video, i.e. tape, hard drive, DVD, etc. This week we will look at some features that you might wish to consider when choosing a new camera.

One of the most important parts of any camera is the lens. After all, this is the eye of the camera. The better it can “see” the better the final video will be. There have been some great advances in optics and as a result, even a low end camera costing around $200 can have a very good lens. For sure you will want a lens that can zoom in on objects from a distance. This is where marketing hype can be confusing. There are two types of zoom lenses, optical zoom and digital zoom.

My advice, forget about digital zoom and concentrate only on the optical zoom. Digital zoom is a digital “slight of hand” trick. The results are most often grainy since it just makes the picture larger. Optical zoom provides the best results in most situations. So when comparing zoom ratios, discount the digital zoom numbers which are very often over stated.

The view finder is another feature to compare. I suggest that while the fold-out LCD screen is a great, there are sometimes when a regular view finder is better. In bright light situations, you can often see better by looking though a traditional viewfinder than trying to frame the shot with the LCD screen. Also, it is easier to hold the camera steady if it is held close to your body. Using the fold out LCD screen does not allow that.

Be sure to ask about battery life. Nothing is more frustrating than running low on battery power just when you are ready to get that perfect shot. Most new cameras will give about one hour of use. Indoors, you can often use regular AC power. Make sure the camera is set up to run on regular AC power. If you are going to be out in the field, it is good to have one or two spare batteries all charged up and ready to go. The good news is that modern rechargeable batteries hold their charge for long periods of time and can be recharged anytime. They don’t have to be completely drained to recharge properly.

Simple is often better. Engineers continue to build into cameras features that many of us mere mortals will never use. These features make the controls harder to use and often make using the camera a chore. Spend some time with the camera before you buy it to be sure that you are comfortable with the controls. When you are trying to get that perfect shot you don’t want to wade through a 100 page manual looking for directions. Sometimes simple is better.

I recently purchase a small video “Flip” camera to take on a long distance bike ride. Next week I will review the “Flip” camera. It is an impressively easy to use device.

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