Camcorder Bit Rates: What Are They, and Why Are They Important?

When shopping for a camcorder, don't look at just a camcorder's resolution--bit rates are important too.
By Hillary Grigonis, Last updated on: 11/27/2014

When it comes to shopping for a camcorder, there's a whole lot more than just megapixels and HD to consider. When all other factors are equal, there's one trait with is a good indicator of the better video quality: MBPS.

The video you record is really data, called bits. The more data or bits, the camera records, the better the video quality will be. But unlike a still picture, videos have the element of time added in. Bits are measured, for camcorders anyways, in megabits per second (MBPS). The more data a camera records per second, the higher the video quality.

Very low MBPS will have a noticeable affect on video quality. The camera isn't capturing as much data as it records, which makes distortion more likely. Contrary to what you see on every crime drama on TV, you can't add add data back into a video once it's recorded—if it's pixelated, it will always be pixelated. The difference between 24 MBPS and 28 MBPS is much more subtle, but 28 MBPS will have slightly better video quality.

Camcorder bit rates
The Canon HF R500 can record in 35 MBPS in MP4 and 28 in AVCHD.

 

Say you are comparing two cameras, and both record in 1080p HD video. One records in 28 MBPS, while the other in 35 MBPS. If all other factors are equal, the camcorder with the 35 MBPS will have the best video quality out of the two.

Some say MBPS only matters when you are choosing a new camcorder. But that's not entirely the case. The more data the camcorder records, the more space the video will take up on the memory card or internal memory. While you'll get the best video quality with a high MBPS, your memory card will fill up faster. Camcorders have options to adjust the quality so you can choose whether the video quality or the memory card space is more important.

When you buy a new camcorder, you should buy a memory card large enough to handle the data your camera is capable of recording (unless of course the camera is equipped with plenty of internal memory). That way, you shouldn't need to use a low quality bit rate in order to avoid running out of room on the memory card. For HD video, it's best to purchase a Class 10 card—just like camcorders, SD cards have limits to the amount of data they can record in a certain amount of time. A Class 10 will record data the fastest and allow your camcorder to perform at it's best.

The amount of space matters too—pick up at least a 16 GB card, more if you like to record longer clips like an entire sports game or dance recital. A 25 MBPS video will fill up a 16 GB card in about an hour, so for longer recordings, opt for a bigger card. (Not sure how much will fit on your card? Lexar has a handy interactive resource).

When uploading to the web, higher bit rates will also mean longer download times for your viewers. If you use a site like YouTube, the bit rate will automatically be reduced so that viewers won't have long wait times before they can watch the video. If you want to upload to the web, it's best to still shoot at a high bit rate, then reduce the file size through an editing program or by using YouTube or a similar website. That way, if you want to view the video through another medium like the TV, you still have that high quality file. For this reason, it's not uncommon for small camcorders designed for video bloggers to have a slightly lower bit rate than the average consumer camcorder.

For a more advanced explanation of bit rate beyond just what you need to know to buy a new camcorder, take a look at this video:

 

As technology advances, high bit rates become more and more common. 15 MBPS used to be the norm, but now it's pretty easy to find consumer camcorders that record at 24 or even 28 MBPS. Most 2014 consumer cameras released this year have a 28 MBPS and that's a pretty good bit rate. Bit rate is just one thing to consider when buying a camcorder, but it's an important one and should be considered alongside the resolution and sensor size.

Confused? We love to hear from our readers—send us a comment below!

Hillary Grigonis is the Managing Editor at Digital Camera HQ and Camcorder HQ. Follow her on Facebook or Google+.

COMMENTS, QUESTIONS, & ANSWERS FORUM BY VIEWERS AND EDITORS

0 comments
Add Comment