Camcorder Media Types / Camcorder HQ Buyer's Guide

Picking what type of camcorder you want and sticking to your budget is the easy part. Deciphering which kind of media a camcorder records to is a different beast altogether. What's flash media? Is it different than a memory card? And does anyone still use tape? Your questions, answered below.
By Admin, Last updated on: 11/27/2014

Flash Memory

If you buy a camcorder today, it will probably record to flash memory. Also known as solid-state memory, flash storage allows for quick write times, a light body, and unlimited expansion. Flash memory can be built into a camcorder or be added via memory card, most commonly an SD or SDHC card. Plenty of models have both internal memory and a card slot, so you can record for as long as your supply of memory cards can last (a good rule of thumb is that X GB records for X hours). Flash memory is used in every class of camcorder, from pocket cams to mainstream shooters and even up to 3D camcorders. Flash memory is a bit expensive to produce, so the most built-in memory you’ll find in a flash-based camcorder is 64GB, but for most folks, the convenience and ease-of-use outweighs the space limitations.

Hard Disk

Camcorders that save to hard disks are much less common than flash-based camcorders. Sony is the only manufacturer that aggressively sold these in 2010. These are bulkier and heavier than flash camcorders, and are more prone to failure (hard disks are a bit fragile because of all the moving parts inside). But some shooters like a little extra weight to keep their hands steady, not to mention that hard disks store much more video than flash -- the smallest models store 150GB, and cost roughly the same as flash counterparts. If hours and hours (and hours) of HD recording is what you need, grab a camcorder that records to a hard disk.

Tape

Oh, the memories. Tape, as I’m sure you all remember, was the only way to record home video for decades and decades (which is probably the main reason why people still own VCRs). It held on throughout the first decade of the 21st century, but none of the big commercial camcorder manufacturers announced a tape-based camcorder in 2010. A few Mini DV models, like the Canon ZR960 and Sony HC52, are still on sale at retailers like Amazon. Some hardened video-editing vets won’t have it any other way. The upside to tape is that you have a hard copy of all your video, straight off the camera. Looking back on it from a modern perspective, the downsides are numerous -- linear playback, labor-intensive editing, decks eating cassettes -- but tape camcorders have an old-school charm that flash and hard disk camcorders can’t match.

Direct-to-CD/DVD

Like tape camcorders, none of the major manufacturers announced direct-to-DVD (or CD) camcorders this past year. The convenience of recording straight to a DVD, no uploads or transfers necessary, is a big reason for this format’s existence. But for the most part, these video cameras failed to catch on, and current users sometimes run into compatibility issues with the physical discs. Unless you’re really seeking one out, it’s doubtful you’ll ever buy one of these camcorders.

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