Friday, October 30, 2009

What the Heck is A Spec Sheet?

The specification sheet (spec sheet) is a description of a product's parts. The spec sheet tells you exactly what you are buying. It can be a little geeky but once you understand the lingo you can save time and money buying a camcorder.

Spec sheets can sometimes be found on an online vendor's website. However, you might only see a portion of the specifications or just a feature list. Features are what the manufacturer wants you to know the camcorder can do with embellishment. The spec sheet tells you what the camcorder can actually do.

The best place to check out the spec sheet is by visiting the camcorder manufacturer's website. Find the camcorder you have an interest in, skip past the ad copy and look for the words "tech spec" or "specifications."

If you can't easily find the camcorder specifications, move on. They don't want your money.
The following is just a simple outline of a spec sheet. I'll go in to more detail in a future post:

Display - does it have a viewfinder, electronic viewfinder or and LCD?

Lens - what kind is it and does it have the ability to shoot in low light (determined by the f/stop) and the ability to focus the lens?

Video Resolution - Standard Definition (SD) is fine if you are only going to upload to the Internet, transfer to a CD or certain types of business/instructional use. You can save money and get a great camcorder.

High Definition (HD) is fine if you plan on watching your video on a high definitions television, you are creating DVDs, creating various distributions of video for different markets or you need a higher quality of video. What do you want to do with the video and how will it be displayed?

Standard definition camcorders are going to disappear. I wish that was not the case but it is hard to ignore the high definition promotion train. This would be a good time to snag one if it meets your needs.

Memory/Storage - does it have internal memory? How much? Does it have a memory card slot and what kind (SD, SDHC, Compact Flash, Sony Memory Stick,) or is it a hard drive, tape or DVD storage system?

Video Format - there are dozens of video formats, .avi, .mp4, .mjpeg, .mt2, .mov. .wmv so the question is what video format does the camcorder record? Do you want to edit? Does your video editing program support the video format? If not, are you willing to learn how to convert video formats?

Optical or Digital Zoom - Optical is always better but some inexpensive camcorders do not have optical zoom. Digital zoom is a software program that magnifies the pixels that make up the image or video. It can make your video look horrible, especially if you are recording in standard definition (SD). Don't use digital zoom and don't base buying a camcorder on the ability that it does have digital zoom.

Microphone - internal only or is there an external microphone jack? External jacks are necessary if you plan to do interviews.

Light/Flash - is there an on-board light on the camcorder? This might help when you are recording indoors but it will reduce the length of time you will be able to record (unless you are using a power cord).

Power - Understanding the camcorder power needs can save you money and frustration. Is it battery power? Is it a proprietary battery or can you replace the batteries at your local drug store? Does it draw power only from a USB cable or do you have a power cord you can plug in to re-charge the camcorder?

Size and Weight - Do you want carry the camcorder everyday or only when you need it? It the video for recording spontaneous family memories or do you want to create video for other purposes that have nothing to do with portability?

Knowing what you want and expect out of a camcorder can help you focus on models that will best serve your needs.

Well, this will get you started. There are many other items that a spec sheet can have but this is just a starter that can help you to understand the back of the package or sales copy jargon.

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