The mug's guide to buying a high-def camcorder

Essential tips for buying the ultimate HD camcorder

Choosing the right format:

The first step is to narrow down a suitable recording format. There are currently four major formats on the market: HDV tape, hard disk drive/HDD, flash memory and Blu-ray. Below we'll take a look at each in turn and direct you to reviews of our favourite models.

HDV/Tape: old but reliable

If you care most about image quality, then HDV/tape is probably the way to go. These camcorders record high-def video in the MiniDV format, which has been around for over a decade. If you own an old MiniDV camcorder, you can even reuse your old tapes. Although HDV camcorders are on the way out, MiniDVs will continue to be manufactured for many years to come. In other words, you don't have to worry about the format disappearing overnight.

Two of the best tape-based models on the market are the Canon HV30 (RRP: $1149) and — for serious users — the Sony HDR-FX7 (RRP: $5299).

HDD: the video hoarder's choice

HDD models are best if you plan to shoot lots of footage and want an easy storage solution. These camcorders record video onto inbuilt hard drives, which can be anywhere between 30GB and 120GB in size. HDD camcorders use the AVCHD codec, which compresses video footage more efficiently than HDV. This means you can fit more video on the hard drive, but it also means you'll need compatible software to edit your video.

Two of the best HDD-based camcorders are the Sony HDR-SR12 E (RRP: $2199) and the JVC [[prodid:6710] (RRP: $1649).

Flash memory: small and sexy

Flash memory camcorders are the new kids on the block (though they're thankfully more stylish than Donnie Wahlberg). Their main claim to fame is probably their astonishingly small size. Because the flash memory format requires no moving parts, manufacturers have been able to shrink down the size of these models. This makes them ideal for social outings, as the camcorder can be carried around in a jacket pocket or handbag with ease. Other benefits include longer battery life, sound-free operation and the ability to transfer data seamlessly to your computer with a card reader. Like hard disk–based models, flash memory camcorders record video in the AVCHD format.

Flash memory cards come in a range of different formats, including Memory Stick (used by Sony camcorders), SD/SDHC (Panasonic and Canon) and MicroSD (JVC). They all do the same thing, although SD/SDHC is more widely supported and offers higher capacities (up to 64GB).

Two of the best flash memory camcorders are the Samsung VP-HMX20C (RRP: $1199) and the Panasonic HDC-SD9 (RRP: $1869).

Blu-ray/DVD: the instant DVD

Blu-ray camcorders are best suited to novice users who want fast and convent results. Unlike the other models on this list, they record video directly to 8cm discs, which can then be watched on your Blu-ray player (i.e. you don't have to muck around with cables or computers).

Two of our favourite Blu-ray camcorders are the Sony Omnia i900 (RRP: $1599) and the Panasonic HR10 (RRP: $1099).

Okay, so by now you've hopefully narrowed down which camcorder format best suits your tastes. The next step is simple: print out the shopping checklist on the following page, adopt a world-weary 'expert' expression and blow your wad of cash.

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Chris Jager

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