Let's Get Digital
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Video is all the rage, and YouTube isn't just for reruns of Super Bowl commercials--entrepreneurs are using video as a medium to get their marketing messages online, introduce products and services, grab repeat web visitors with video podcasts and even create employee training videos. To get onboard, you'll need to select a digital camcorder that works for your business. Some features to consider include body design, recording format, lens and sensor. Expect most camcorders to also take still pictures and have a roughly 2.7-inch LCD display.
As with many tech gadgets, some companies figure more is better when it comes to features. At just $300, the Mustek DV700TZ includes a digital voice recorder, an MP3 player and web-cam capabilities in a palm-size device that records to the internal 64MB hard drive or to SD cards. And the MPEG-4 recording format is suitable for web use.
When checking out cameras, pay attention to optical zoom. Digital zoom tends to degrade video quality, so higher optical zooms are preferable. Inexpensive cameras like the Mustek usually have a 3x optical zoom. Expect to climb farther up the price ladder to get a 10x optical zoom. The $800 Panasonic SDR-H200 comes with a 10x optical zoom, a 30GB hard drive and an optical image stabilizer to minimize the effects of camera shake.
The $900 JVC Everio GZ-MG555 takes a no-fuss approach with its 30GB hard- drive recording capability, and the included docking station is a convenient way to recharge and transfer video to your computer. Even though this camcorder has lots of functionality, buttons and settings, we were able to shoot a basic video in just a few minutes. Video transfer and clip management software worked well, but the editing software was buggy on our Windows XP test machine. Still, the advanced features and manual settings options will appeal to users who want to go beyond a basic point-and-shoot camcorder.
On the other end of the budget spectrum, check out the $279 Canon ZR800. MiniDV camcorders that record to small tapes have become the affordable mainstays of digital video. The ZR800 manages to squeeze in a microphone input and impressive 35x optical zoom, both nice extras at this price level. Using the camera is an intuitive process, helped by the simple design. Just keep in mind that the ZR800 doesn't do still images.
The $450 Samsung SC-DC575 with a 1-megapixel CCD records to DVD and supports dual-layer discs. This type of camcorder is for users who want to go straight from the camcorder to a DVD player. But with a battery life of just 60 minutes, you might want to get a spare to keep on hand. The $500 Sony DCR-DVD308 also records to DVD. It can capture sound in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and features an infrared system for low-light recording.
From a sub-$300 shoot-and-go MiniDV camcorder up to a $900 hard disk recorder, you have plenty of options to keep you busy.
Shop before you shoot. Compare these 6 camcorders and zoom-in on the features that best fit your needs.