High-definition has breathed new life into the camcorder market, but confused lots of consumers who are simply trying to find a simple, affordable model with which they can record their cherished memories. If you've ever been browsing camcorders and struggled to discern the difference between a $1,500 HD camcorder and a $150 HD camcorder, you know what we're talking about. High-definition camcorders are roughly divided into two groups: the powerful yet expensive ($700 - $1,500) and the affordable yet limited ($150 - $250). For whatever reason, the vast mid-price range between $250 and $700 is a no man's land for high-definition.
Why The Disparity?
Let's think about those two example HD camcorders, the ones that cost $1,500 and $150, respectively. The $1,500 camcorder (let's say it's the Sony HDR-XR520V) and the $150 camcorder (let's use the Pure Digital Flip MinoHD in this case) are both advertised as being capable of recording HD video. Why is their price so different?
The most obvious reason is a difference in resolution; the HDR-XR520V records in 1920 x 1080 resolution while the MinoHD only handles 1280 x 720 pixels. That's not the major factor, however. The difference is in the feature set. The HDR-XR520 is loaded with goodies: a 240GB hard disk drive for endless video storage, a 12x optical zoom lens, a 3.2-inch touch screen LCD display, and much much more. In contrast, the MinoHD offers almost nothing. It's a barebones camcorder that can hold only an hour of video, has a puny LCD display, and no optical zoom whatsoever.
Now, each camcorder serves its own purpose. The HDR-XR520 is well-suited to semi-professional users looking to take lots of video, while the MinoHD is intended for short, candid clips bound for web distribution. Still, neither model serves the mid-range consumers who are willing to spend a few hundred dollars to take video of birthdays, family parties, and other special events in high-definition.
Digital Cameras Enter The Picture
Interestingly, those looking for affordable, well-featured high-definition video will find success not with traditional camcorders, but with digital cameras. A new crop of high-definition digital cameras has emerged, offering high-resolution video and fairly capable feature sets, at affordable prices.
These cameras have great video, large LCD displays, long optical zoom lenses, the ability to utilize high-capacity memory cards, and, of course, take excellent still photographs, as well. That latter bit is something no camcorder can claim. While high-end camcorders make feeble attempts at still photography, low-end ones don't even try. These cameras are still small and portable, as well. No extra bulk or bulging is necessary.
The four cameras listed in our right-hand sidebar are just a sampling of what's available. For a full list of HD digital cameras, click here. As you see, the most expensive camera on our list, the Panasonic TZ3 is still only around $400, far less than a high-end HD digital camcorder. The TZ3 uses the AVCHD Lite video recording format, a variant of the AVCHD format used in those $1,500 camcorders. It's also got a 12x optical zoom lens like those camcorders, too. Now, to say the TZ3 can exactly replicate the video quality of those camcorders would be overstepping (especially since it only does 720p, not 1080p), but for far less money it comes pretty close.
Even better are the cameras in the $250 range, which compete with the Flip MinoHD. Remember, the $150 MinoHD takes video in 720p with no optical zoom or still photo capabilities, and can hold only an hour of content. For an extra $100, the Samsung SL820 will provide 720p video with 5x optical zoom and virtually unlimited capacity through the use of removable Secure Digital HC memory cards. To top things off, you also get 12.1-megapixel still photos, too. That might just be worth the extra cost.
Conclusion: Consider the Camera
If you're in the market for a high-definition camcorder, but aren't satisfied with the models currently available, try something different. Consider the digital camera as your main video-recording device. Though HD video on digital cameras is still in its infancy, there are some extraordinary deals out there, ones that will satisfy both your aesthetic eye and your financial needs.