Before you buy a camcorder you need to look at the specifications. Ok, yes I've written that before. But it is true! You shouldn't buy a camcorder because it has a great color or it is encased in bubble wrap for $69.99.
You should know what you are buying. Part of the buying process is planning for future needs. You might need the ability to zoom in and out of an image or recording.
Here is a situation. You are in row 15. You can't physically move closer. You have the camcorder in your hand and two sets of grandparents breathing down your neck wanting to see the recital. Does your camcorder have the ability to magnify the image without a loss of video quality?
Zoom, or the ability to move an image visually closer is one of those things you have to consider before you are making a purchase. There are two kinds of zoom, optical and digital.
Optical zoom uses in-camera lens to bring a distant image closer. There is mechanical movement inside the lens to magnify the image. This is what you want.
There are two ways to get optical zoom. One is with your feet, i.e. moving you and the camcorder forward to get the shot. The other way is that the camcorder has the ability to perform optical zoom.
This is usually designated by X, for example a 3x optical zoom, 10x optical zoom and so on. The higher the number in front of the x the greater the magnification of the image.
This is a short video by James who is giving his take on the optical and digital zoom.
Digital zoom is a software program that looks at a segment of the image and magnifiers that one section. It doesn't maintain the original quality. In fact, the more you use it the worse the recording can get.
To the extent possible never, ever use digital zoom. Really. It will jack your image or video up. And if you see the word "interpolation" under no circumstances should you invoke the interpolation feature.
Interpolation is another software program that tries to increase the image or video detail. The image itself has a finite amount of detail that no current software program can add or enhance.
Think of it this way: you have eight ounces of juice. You pour in 16 ounces of water. How much juice do you have? Right, eight ounces but with the added dilution of water you may or may not want to drink what is before you. It has been distorted. Your recording will be the same way.
There are some people will defend the use of digital zoom stating it doesn't look bad at all. There are others that will claim if they didn't use the digital zoom they would have missed the shot.
Bless and be blessed. Or get your eyes checked. My point is for normal recording i.e. 99.99% of the stuff you do with a camcorder you should use optical zoom, if you have it on your camcorder.
If you are in that .1% situation where you feel that you must zoom in and you understand that the video quality might suffer or be potentially unusable, go for it and use digital zoom.
Technology has kicked me in the shins about this one so I have to revise my original manta which was: No optical zoom, no purchase.
I can't say that any more because of the web camcorders. Most do not have any optical zoom and many have digital zoom. I still implore you not to use the digital zoom but if you are buying a budget camcorder there might not be a choice of optical zoom.
What about using digital zoom with a high definition camcorder?
If you are recording in high definition I'd still say leave it alone. Yes, you are magnifying an area that has a lot more detail but you still can't add more detail than what existed at the time of recording.
Optical zoom camcorders have really come down in price. If you tend to record events at a distance, purchase an optical zoom camcorder.