I do go on about knowing the specs of a camcorder before purchasing; it can save you money and lost memories. The specs are the performance specifications of a device. This is my attempt to make reading the specifications easier.
For the newbies I'll try to point out items in the specification that can help you to understand if this is a good purchase.
Part 1 - Who Made the Camcorder?
This seems like a no-brainer but it can be tricky. These are the known players that have a strong photography heritage and still put out great products:
You are going to get a certain level of quality from these vendors. They make an effort to provide a range of products for newbies and for professionals. These companies view their customers as a potential long term relationships which will generate brand loyalty.
Manufactures that have an extensive electronics history:
These companies make a wide variety of products. They get electronics first and photography second. The vendors make good camcorders but the company sees their consumers as a purchase opportunity: a hit it and quit if you catch my drift.
These are the folks that figured out how to give consumers what they wanted. In this group:
Pure Digital/Cisco's The Flip
The innovators bring excitement and force the establish companies to get off their butts and follow their lead. The innovators are pathfinders but they can become established leaders.
The Faded Glory Licensed to Other Vendors:
Sadly there are three that come to mind:
These companies no longer manufacture products. The vendors rent or license their names to other companies to make products under the legacy brand names. You have to examine the package carefully to find out who actually makes the device.
The Clones, Knock-Off, Copy Cats
I'm not totally hating on these type of manufactures. If the legal knock-off is good you can save money. But there are sharks in the water. I'm not going to mention them just yet. You need a little more information to help identify them.
Knowing who you are dealing with can really help you avoid buying a substandard camcorder. There is no guarantee that you won't get a lemon but you can reduce the chances by sticking with the kind of vendor that is compatible with your needs.