How to Choose a Camcorder for Your Marketing Video - dummies

How to Choose a Camcorder for Your Marketing Video

By Kevin Daum, Bettina Hein, Matt Scott, Andreas Goeldi

Shopping for a camcorder to shoot your marketing video can be a dizzying experience. You can find dozens of models with various features, and the most baffling part is their extensive price range — you may find one camcorder priced at $200 while a similar-looking model retails for $1,200, for example.

As it turns out, performance and features account for the price difference. Consider these price differentiators for camcorders:

  • Lens: The lens is the most important part of any camera because that’s how light finds its way to the sensors inside and are then converted to pictures. Lower-priced cameras have simpler, cheaper (often plastic) lenses with an automatic focus that provides a basic, slightly flat picture. Higher-end cameras have lenses (often made of high-quality optical-grade glass) with a longer focal length, manual focus, and, in some models, interchangeability with other lenses.

  • Sensor: The biggest differentiator in camera quality and price, the sensor handles light sensitivity, allowing you to shoot great-looking images at any light level and to control the vividness of colors. It’s the quality of the sensor, rather than its size, that makes the difference.

  • Optical zoom: Optical zoom refers to the physical zooming that takes place through the camera lens, whereas digital zoom refers to the process where one part of the camera image is enlarged, often leading to a blurry shaky mess. Optical zoom is what you’re looking for, and higher zooming power requires a more expensive camera.

  • Image stabilization: This function decreases the amount of shake that takes place when you hold the camera in your hand. It’s offered as either optical image stabilization, in which the lens itself physically adjusts itself to correct shake, or as digital image stabilization, where the camera sensor digitally corrects the shaky image.

  • Audio option: Does your camera have a microphone jack out and a head jack in for monitoring sound with headphones? Allowing an external microphone to plug in vastly increases audio quality. Basic-quality cameras have 1/4-inch RCA jacks, whereas certain high-end models feature XLR plug-ins, for professional-level microphones.

  • Manual exposure control: Though you may not be ready to use exposure creatively, higher-end cameras give you some control over the amount of light that enters the lens.

The more control you have over the picture and sound quality of a video camera, the higher (generally) its price tag. The good news about camcorders is that most of them produce excellent HD video. You can spend from $300 to $500 on an high-quality camera, but for $500 to $800, you can buy a first-class camera that gives you a degree of creative control over your images.

Beyond the $800 amount, you begin to move into the territory of prosumer cameras, featuring a cross of professional-grade and consumer features, range in price from about $1,000 to $5,000. This type of camera has a wealth of manual controls and advanced sensors to justify its price tag. It’s quite an expensive toy, but the beautiful images it produces are tough to beat with a lower-end camera.

Stick with a major brand name when you buy a camcorder for your marketing videos. Canon, Panasonic, and Sony — the top makers — offer the best features for decent prices.