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MiniDV video camera help and recommendation

January 1, 2006

in All Articles,Photo and Video

The world of sub-$1000 dollar video cameras is pretty intimidating. Particularly frustrating is when returns over 6 million results for the term “video camera”. We’re not trying to be the next M. Night Shyamalan, all we want is a quality unit to tape adventures with family and friends. So what are a video camera’s most important features?


An advantage of CD over cassette tape is the CD’s digital format. Digital recording decreases data loss and simplifies transfer to other devices. Following in the CD’s round footsteps, MiniDV has become a popular video camera standard. Look for cameras that record directly to MiniDV tapes. Other digital formats like DVD and Digital8 are available, but MiniDV is widely recognized as having the best quality, size and price for cameras in this price range.


Most cameras advertise two types of zooms, optical and digital. Ignore the digital rating and focus on the optical. Get a camera with at least a 10x optical zoom. If you’ll be taking a lot of long-distance videos, get at least a 20x optical zoom.

Image stabilization

If your viewers can do jumping jacks while watching the Blair Witch Project and not get motion sickness, then you can ignore image stabilization. Reducing camera shakes and jitters is important. Image stabilization uses the camera’s electronics to compensate for that bumpy car ride and caffeine-induced hand shakes.


To save money, the battery that comes with a camera is usually lower capacity. Prevent annoying interruptions to your filming with an extended-life second battery. The extra cost is worth the increased convenience.

Data transfer

Make sure your camera can talk with your other video equipment. This allows you to move videos from your camera to other devices for archiving, editing and playing. While your own setup will dictate the specifics, your video camera should have USB or FireWire for computer communication, and S-Video or composite ports for communication with TVs, VCRs and DVD recorders.

Automatic and manual controls

My car’s cruise control on US-131 is great, until I hit the twisty downtown S-Curve. Similarly, there are situations where manual video tweaking gives better quality than automatic recording. Look for cameras with full automatic operation as well as manual controls for lighting and focusing.


A camera matching these features is the Panasonic PV-GS150. Hovering near $650, an extended-life battery and a few blank MiniDV tapes are an additional $150. See the camera here:

Note that some video cameras advertise the ability to take digital photos. Ignore this as a factor when purchasing, as the picture quality is usually poor.

Video cameras at the store don’t always meet our needs. Expert recommendations, including those from know-it-all columnists, may not apply to your situation. But using the above features as guidelines, the decision-making process won’t be so daunting.

For video camera reviews and extended technical information, see

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