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How to Choose a Camcorder –– page 3 of 9

Digital Camcorders - MiniDV 


The most popular camcorder format is very impressive with sharp, life-like video and CD quality sound. MiniDV camcorders use a cassette smaller than any analog size. A major advantage of the MiniDV format is that since the tapes are very small - 1/12th the size of a standard VHS tape - at 66x48x12.2mm - the cameras that use it can be incredibly small too.

MiniDV can record an hour in standard format or up to 90 minutes of lower quality output in LP (long play) mode at horizontal resolutions of up to 500 lines. The main controls of many MiniDV camcorders are accessed not by the traditional menu thumbwheel, but by a touch-screen LCD, which displays text icons which are selected by literally touching them with fingers. You can get a new MiniDV camcorder for as little as $379.99 in Aug. 2006 (Sony DCR-HC36).

Compare the size of MiniDV with other formats.

Format Cassette L x W x H Tape Width
MiniDV 2.6 x 1.9 x 0.5 inches
(66 x 48 x 12.2 mm)
(6.35 mm)
8mm & HI8 3.7 x 2.5 x 0.6 inches
(95 x 62.5 x 15 mm)
Slightly less than 1/3-inch
(8 mm)
VHS & S-VHS 7.4 x 4.1 x .98 inches
(188 x 104 x 25 mm)
(12.7 mm)

The MiniDV cassette tape is just a fraction of the size of a VHS tape and is also smaller than the 8mm, HI8, Digital8 cassette tape.

For digital still pictures, a memory chip can be used to store hundreds of images until downloaded. Memory Stick is a format for removable flash memory data storage devices, created by Sony as an alternative to CompactFlash and SmartMedia for use in their own devices. The original Memory Stick interface can only address 128MB of memory physically. This led to the introduction of Memory Stick PRO with faster transfer speeds and a capacity of 256MB and higher. There's also a Memory Stick Duo PRO with the faster speed and higher capacity but the same smaller form factor as Memory Stick Duo.

SD/MMC and Memory Stick

Many cassette-based camcorders incorporate an SD/MMC or Memory Stick slot for the purpose of storing digital still images and MPEG-1 or MPEG-4 video clips. Camcorders save photographs in the compressed JPEG format. For emailing and posting on the Web, MPEG-1 and MPEG-4 formats are best. Like Webcams, some camcorders can stream video in these formats directly to the Web.

A few video cameras use these types of memory exclusively to achieve an ultra compact design. Because they record MPEG-1, MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 video only, they're best suited for gadget lovers who want to use their footage mainly on Web sites and in email. Camcorders that record MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 to memory cards may be picky about the cards you use, since those encoding schemes require the ability to write to the card more quickly than most standard cards can handle.

MiniDV Features

The on-screen user interfaces offer great flexibility for setup and control. The camcorders typically come with a charger for the battery and AC adapter, software for video transfers to a computer, large color LCD view screens, powerful zoom, quality imaging devices and cables to hookup to TV, VCR or DVD recorder. Using a IEEE-1394 cable or USB cable, video transfers to computer or DVD are easily done. Today's camcorders come loaded with features. Some are basic, like zoom, picture stabilization, and titling. Others are more sophisticated, like infrared video ability for night shooting, and in-camera picture effects. 

MiniDV digital recording delivers 3 times the color bandwidth of VHS and a lower signal to noise ratio compared to analog formats, providing stunning video performance comparable to DVD. Lenses have an advanced optical multi-layer coating offering less glare and flare with increased contrast. This results in vivid image brilliance, true-to-life color saturation and perfect renditions of subtle tones. Picture Stabilization controls a high range of shake and vibration frequencies to achieve a higher level of smoothness without degradation of video.
The MPEG movie mode lets you capture MPEG encoded video and store it on memory chip media. Digital Still memory mode allows you to capture 640 x 480 resolution or higher digital still images directly onto memory chip media. Images are stored in the JPEG format providing easy transfer to PCs for emailing, printing, or sharing with family and friends. This feature provides the dual function of having one camera for video and still images.
A USB interface provides an easy way to connect your Digital camcorder to your computer for fast and easy transfer of your still images and MPEG movies. The USB interface provides even bigger benefits since it also allows USB streaming. This feature allows you to stay connected with family and friends by broadcasting live video with audio via the Internet. You can even play back your favorite recorded scene stored on tape. It's like having a web camera and video conferencing system built into your camcorder. With analog inputs and Analog-to-Digital conversion you can convert and/or record any analog NTSC video source to digital video via the analog inputs. Analog NTSC video can also be passed-through the digital camcorder directly into a PC via the IEEE-1394 interface in real time for easy PC editing of your analog footage.
With some MiniDV camcorders you can capture video in total darkness up to 10-20 feet away. The Intelligent Accessory Shoe enables you to add video lights and other intelligent accessories to add even more performance.
The swivel-screen LCD display provides excellent viewing clarity. To give you a great view from almost any angle, the LCD screen rotates up to 270 degrees. You can actually step away from the camcorder and still monitor the recording, even get in on the action yourself. The "On-Screen" touch panel system allows you to navigate through the camera's menu system quickly and easily at the touch of the LCD screen. Color viewfinder is typical and can be used in bright sunlight if required.
Typically included extras: Power adapter/in camera charger, rechargeable battery, wireless Remote control, 2 AA batteries, A/V cable, lens cap, shoulder strap, USB cable, LCD cleaning cloth, CD-ROM with USB driver.

MemoryStick PRO, 
1/4 in. 680K pixel Advanced HAD™ CCD with a Carl Zeiss™ lens, Firewire, USB and A/V in out ports


2003 Sony DCR-TRV22 MiniDV cassette 60 min. (SP) 90 min. (LP)
2003 Canon Elura 50 2006 Sony DCR-HC96

2005 Sony MiniDV DCR-PC55 and DCR-PC53 Camcorders

The world’s smallest and lightest Handycam. The tiny Sony DCR-PC55 camcorder and its sibling DCR-PC53 camcorder are scarcely larger than the mini DV cassettes they use. Fully featured, they are packed with innovative technology such as a 3.0-inch Hybrid LCD monitor.  Both launched in February 2005. The 3.0-inch LCD display also has a Touch Screen, which can be used in conjunction with Sony’s Active Menu, a logically structured graphical user interface for camcorder control. With Memory Stick DUO you can also easily shoot and store digital still images. Sony’s Easy Handycam menu gives one-button access to basic camera operation and recording settings. Both camcorders feature a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, with a 10X Optical Zoom capability.

Panasonic PV-GS200 3CCD MiniDV Camcorder

Release Date: March 2004

A 3CCD system uses an imaging system where the incoming light is split into its red, green, and blue parts (RGB) and captured on three separate CCD arrays. Each R/G/B signal has a full pixel resolution, resulting in a horizontal resolution three times higher than a typical camcorder's single CCD.

  • MiniDV camcorder with 3CCD optical system for 2.3MP resolution
  • 10x optical zoom, 700x digital zoom
  • 2.5-inch LCD
  • Snap digital still photos and save to included Secure Digital memory card
  • Manual focusing ring, pop-up flash
  • SanDisk 256 MB Secure Digital Card

2006 Panasonic PV-GS500 3CCD MiniDV Camcorder

Introduced in April 2006: 

The Panasonic PV-GS500 3CCD Digital Palmcorder MultiCam Camcorder with 4.0 MP Still Picture Recording offers superior images and features. This small digital camcorder uses the same type of 3CCD imaging system used in professional broadcast equipment, giving you 540 lines of breathtaking resolution in a more affordable package. The 4.0-megapixel still image recording lets you record vivid, true-to-life pictures with remarkable colors. And featuring a 12x optical Leica lens with 700x digital zoom. Record to a miniDV tape or directly to a PC through DV (FireWire) or high-speed USB 2.0 interfaces, for high quality full-motion video transfer. The color viewfinder and 2.7-inch LCD display make it easy to preview photos, and feature navigation is a breeze with the easy, one-finger joystick control. 

Most professional broadcasting cameras use the 3-CCD system. In a 1-CCD system, all of the incoming light information is processed by the same CCD. The more advanced 3CCD system uses three distinct CCDs for processing, so there is absolutely no light loss. You can see the results in beautifully rendered images with vivid color, fine detail, and rich gradation. 

Video image quality - Superior 
Battery life - Superior (132 minutes)
Video recording media type - MiniDV
Still image recoding media type - SD Card
Still-image maximum resolution (megapixels) - 4.0
Image stabilization type - Optical
Viewfinder type - Color
Inputs/outputs - FireWire, USB 2.0, composite, S-Video, microphone
Weight (ounces) - 51
Dimensions (inches) - 2.9 by 3.6 by 6.0


2006 SONY DCR-HC36 MiniDV camcorder - Description

Image device: 1/6-inch CCD
Total pixels: 680K pixels
Effective pixels: 340K pixels (still), 340K pixels (video)
Recording media: MiniDV cassette, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo
Memory Stick PRO compatibility: Up to 2 GB media capacity (high speed transfer function/access control security function not supported)
Recording/playback time: 60 minutes (SP), 90 minutes (LP)
Video recording system: 2 rotary heads, helical scanning system
Video signal: NTSC color, EIA standards
Still file format: JPEG
USB streaming: Yes
image stabilization: Yes (super, electronic)
Minimum illumination: 5 Lux (0 Lux with Super NightShot Plus infrared system)
Lens type: Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar
Focal length: 2.3 to 46 millimeters, 390 millimeters (tele macro), equivalent to 48 to 960 millimeters (16:9 camera mode), 44 to 880 millimeters (4:3 camera mode), 44 to 880 millimeters (4:3 memory mode) on 35-millimeter camera
Exposure: Touch panel (24 steps)
Filter diameter: 25 millimeters
Focus: Full range auto, manual (touch panel)
Shutter speed: Auto, 1/2 to 1/4000 second (AE mode)
Zoom: 20x optical zoom, 800x digital zoom
Interface: Analog AV output (multi AV), digital AV input (via i.LINK), digital AV output (via i.LINK), USB (1.1 compliant), i.LINK interface, S-video output (optional accessory)
LCD: 2.5-inch SwivelScreen LCD display, resolution 123K pixels
Viewfinder: Color (123K pixels)
Microphone: Built-in
Power supply: NP-FP30 battery pack (included), AC adapter (included)
Software: Picture Package ver. 1.5
OS compatibility: Windows Me, 2000 Professional, XP Home/Professional
Dimensions (W x H x D): 2.56 x 3.11 x 4.45 inches / 65 x 79 x 113 millimeters
Weight: 15 ounces / 430 grams with tape and battery
What's in the Box: DCR-HC36 MiniDV camcorder, AC-L25 power adapter/in-camera charger, NP-FP30 rechargeable battery, RMT-831 remote control, stereo AV cable, lens cap, USB cable, CD-ROM (Picture Package Software ver. 1.5, USB driver)
First released: 2006

Canon ZR500 MiniDV Camcorder - $399

Good, basic miniDV camera with 2.7" LCD, Firewire 4 pin out. RCA out. Tapes load from the bottom of the camera.

Canon ZR700 MiniDV Camcorder - $499 

Same as the ZR500 except adds analog pass-through, a USB port, SD card slot and still picture capability, plus a remote control.

What's In the Box:
Camera, battery, Power Adapter, AV mini-jack to 3 RCA (video & audio) cable, remote control, USB cable, and Mac/Windows software.

MiniDV camcorders

  • Are available in compact or standard-sized models — both are smaller than Digital8
  • Offer top-of-the-line quality lenses 
  • Can give you the benefits of digital video — like easy editing, digital audio, and digital photo mode
  • Offer a maximum record time of 90 minutes in LP mode

NEXT >> MicroMV, solid state

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Which Camcorder Should I Buy?
Digital Camcorders - Digital8
Digital Camcorders - MiniDV
MicroMV, solid state memory cards
Digital Camcorders - DVD
High-Definition Camcorders
Digital Camcorders - Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
Camcorder Connections and Accessories