Sunday, June 12, 2011

Should You Buy A Tape DVD Camcorder in 2011?

The MiniDV tape versus memory card camcorder dust-up is getting as heated as the perpetual Mac/PC debates. My answer is "it depends." You have to think about your technical skill level, your computer and the cost associated with owning a digital MiniDV (tape) camcorder.

I've owned tape based, hard drive and memory card camcorders. There are advantages and disadvantages. Knowing why you want and need a camcorder should be your first thought.

Canon ZR960 MiniDV CamcorderKnowing how much time and effort you want to invest is the second.

The advantages are:
Optical zoom levels are going to be larger than standard point and share camcorders; for sports and event recordings you will be able to capture much more than a current dinky point and share camcorder zoom.

Uncompressed video files can be huge. You are going to have uncompressed video on the tape. To transfer uncompressed video to the computer some type of compression has to take place. You are going to need an external hard drive for storage.

You will have an hour's worth of recording time per cassette at the standard play setting. You will always record at standard play or regret it later. Really, don't touch the LP or ELP settings.

Most modern video editing programs will recognize the camcorder when attached to the computer and import the video. However, most does not mean all. If you have a problem you will have to dive into the manufacturer's site to fix it.
The disadvantages are:
The size of the image sensor. The inexpensive camcorder have smaller sensors, and that will affect the quality. On small screens it will look great. Upload to the Internet will be fine. On a modern high definition television? Well...?

Camera noise - the on-board microphone will pick up the sound of the gears that transport the tape onto the audio sound track. If you are recording a music concert no problem. A spoken word concert? In that case, a big problem.

The added expense of tape cassettes, cables and storage media.

The older MiniDV camcorders used the 4:3 aspect ratio. You'll have to look for models that have widescreen or be willing to create crop your videos to 640x360.

You'll Need the Following for MiniDV (Tape) Camcorder:

  • Camcorder - There are still models for sale but they are disappearing fast.
  • MiniDV Recording Cassettes, still available but there are wild price swings at the retail level. If I was still using MiniDV I'd buy tapes on-line and save.
  • DVD discs for backing up copies of the videos or an external hard drive storage system.
  • A Firewire/IEEE 1394/iLink cable that you will need to connect to the computer. Some models do have a USB port but that was used to upload photos only.
  • A Firewire/IEEE 1394/iLink port on your computer. If you do not have a port then you might have to install one, purchase an adapter or get a physical converter box to transfer the video from the camera to the camcorder.
  • A video editing program that will recognize your camcorder. Most do now days but if you are missing the software driver that communicates between the camcorder and computer then you have to find it at the vendor's web site or find another way to transfer video.
If you understand what you are getting into go forth and snag a deal. But don't pay more than $350 for a new device.

This type of camcorder will work best for film/video students, event and sports recordings, studio recordings, product demonstrations, location interviews and anything shot with a tripod.

Oh, yeah, add that to the list. Especially if you use that zoom.

Bottom Line:

There are many people that can benefit from a tape based camcorder. If you have a functional camcorder that works for you then no worries. Carry on with your head held high.

If you just want to point and upload with no muss or fuss then no, a tape based camcorder isn't for you.

If your computer does not have a Firewire/IEEE 1394/iLink port and you are not the kind of person that wants to learn how to install the port (it is not hard) then no, you shouldn't get one.

In conclusion, let us not hate the other. Respect choice and diversity.

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