Tara W. has worked for Crutchfield since 2004. She writes about whole-house music and video gear, and works on Crutchfield's video team.
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Heads up!Welcome to this article from the Crutchfield archives. Have fun reading it, but be aware that the information may be outdated and links may be broken.
This class of connections includes RCA jacks that carry composite video and stereo audio (and sometimes analog component video) and S-Video connectors that carry only video. They allow you to transfer analog materials, like older home movies or VHS tapes, to your camcorder, for re-recording in a digital format. They can also carry analog signals from your camcorder to a TV monitor or another analog recording device.
A camcorder's aperture works like the iris of your eye, expanding and contracting to adjust the amount of light that passes through the lens. Aperture is measured in "f-stops." A higher f-stop number corresponds to a smaller opening, which admits less light. Aperture settings are directly related to the exposure modes, permitting you to control the amount of light that reaches your camcorder's image sensor.
- Stereo sound. Most camcorders offer two-channel sound recording. The 16-bit format gives you superb, CD-quality stereo sound, while the 12-bit format gives you one basic stereo soundtrack while filming and lets you add another stereo track later. This option is great for adding voiceovers or music. Many DVD and hard drive camcorders record digital audio in the form of stereo Dolby Digital®.
- Surround sound. Some DVD, hard drive, and flash memory cams offer a surround mode for recording audio. Like the surround sound of DVD movies, this mode records five discrete channels — perfect for playback with a home theater system. However, keep in mind that you'll only be able to enjoy it with DVD or Blu-ray Disc™ copies of your video, certain types of files from your computer, or via an HDMI output on your camcorder.
Auto Exposure modes
Designed to simplify operation, Auto Exposure modes handle more than just exposure. Choosing one of these pre-set modes automatically adjusts the aperture and shutter speed. These modes cover a wide variety of shooting situations from fast-action sports to nighttime shots.
See video format.
Ensures that your subject will be properly exposed, even under difficult lighting conditions. When the subject is in front of a bright background, like the sun or bright lights, the gain or aperture setting is increased to allow more light, which brightens the picture and reveals more detail. This is typically done automatically, but some camcorders let you adjust the backlight setting manually.
CCD (charge coupled device)
The most popular type of image sensor, CCD has been around for longer than the other most common type, CMOS. CCDs can produce high-quality images with very little noise and excellent light sensitivity. However, they use about a hundred times the power of CMOS sensors and cost more to manufacture.
CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor)
Another type of image sensor, CMOS is much newer than the other, more common type, CCD. CMOS sensors can produce images approaching the quality of CCD sensors, but they are slightly more susceptible to noise. They have the advantages of being superior for high-volume applications, they're cheaper to manufacture, and they consume less power, meaning a longer battery life on your camcorder.
Component video output
Most high-definition camcorders come with either an HDMI or a component video output. Unlike HDMI, a component video cable can only carry a digital video signal with resolutions up to 1080i to your compatible HDTV — you'll need to make a separate audio connection for sound.
Digital image stabilization
See image stabilization.
Digital photo mode
Most digital camcorders also let you snap digital still photos, just like a digital camera. However, photos taken with digital camcorders are generally less detailed than the photos digital cameras can produce. Camcorders with digital photo mode usually store images on removable memory. The more gigabytes (GB) of memory, the greater the number of images that can be stored.
Camcorder format that allows you to record digital-quality video onto standard Hi8 or 8mm tapes. These cams tend to be larger than their Mini DV counterparts. And like Mini DV cams, Digital8 models record digital video that is crisp and can be easily edited, frame by frame, on a PC.
DVD VR mode
DVD video recording (VR) mode is a feature that allows video recording and editing directly onto a rewritable DVD without transferring the content to your computer. Most DVD camcorders will prompt you to choose whether or not you want to record in standard Video mode or VR mode when you format your DVD. There are two different formats in DVD VR mode that each have different editing features.
- lets you immediately re-use deleted space by filling in the gaps with new footage
- uses playlists instead of standard navigation menus
- records to DVD-RW and DVD-RAM discs
- compatible with DVD players that can play mini DVD-RW or DVD-RAM discs
- closes in the gaps when you delete footage so that your video remains complete without any "holes"
- uses standard navigation menus
- records to DVD+RW discs
- compatible with DVD players that can play mini DVD+RW discs
For more detail on how your camcorder uses this function, see the owner's manual that came with your camcorder or check out the owner's manual on our site for a specific camcorder before you buy.
Effective pixel count
Unlike the total pixel count, this is the actual number of pixels used to capture an image.
Face detection technology recognizes one or more human faces in your frame, and sets focus priority on the people in your shot. Let's say you want a video of your child peeking between two fence posts. Instead of focusing on the more obvious posts, face detection tells the camcorder to zero in on the child instead, giving you a clear, precisely focused video. Face detection can also trigger the camcorder to select optimal exposure and white balance to best suit your subject.
(see IEEE 1394)
Flash memory, sometimes also known as a "solid state drive" (SSD), gets its name because sections of memory cells within the microchip are erased in one simultaneous action, or "flash." Flash memory doesn't have any moving parts, so it's more durable than hard drive memory, and can record and access media faster. Given the small size of the microchips, flash memory camcorders can be built smaller and lighter than other cams. Today, flash memory is commonly used with portable digital music players, handhelds/PDAs, some computers, digital camcorders, and digital cameras.
|Hard drive camcorders have the potential for large capacities, so you can store even more hours of video on the cam.|
A hard drive (or "hard disk drive") is the large sealed drive built right into a hard drive camcorder that consists of a spinning disk on which data is written, erased, and rewritten over and over again. It stores the footage you record, much like a computer's built-in hard drive stores data on your computer. A larger hard drive means that you can record more hours of video.
HD or high-definition refers to any resolution that equals or exceeds 720 horizontal lines, and has a 16:9 aspect ratio. In consumer camcorders the most common recording pixel ratios are 1920 x 1080 pixels, 1440 x 1080 pixels, or 1280 x 720 pixels. The difference between the resolutions lies in the number of the pixels, with 1280 x 720 recording in the fewest number and 1920 x 1080 recording in the highest number. All three resolutions will give you a high-definition picture, but the greater the number of pixels, the more detailed the image. Also, while 1920 x 1080 and 1440 x 1080 both use 1,080 lines of resolution, 1920 x 1080 captures a widescreen 16:9 image, and 1440 x 1080 can deliver a conventional 4:3 one OR a 16:9 anamorphic (squeezed) image, depending on the camera and how its footage is dealt with downstream. A variety of frame rates are supported, and availability of certain rates can vary by the region where the camcorder is sold. Common frame rates are 24, 25, 30, 50 and 60 fps. The 25, 30, 50 and 60 fps versions can be either interlaced or progressive. 50p and 60p can often be played back at slower rates for high quality slow motion.
All three pixel resolutions will give you a high-definition picture. You'll want to record in 1920 x 1080 if you plan to do a lot of video editing, or if you have a 1080p HDTV. Just be aware that you'll get less space on your built-in or removable memory. That's why most HD camcorders also have an "LP" or long-play mode that records in 1440 x 1080 or 1280 x 720 — you'll still capture beautiful, high-def footage, but it won't take up as much space on your memory. Also, note that 720p/60fps (1280 x 720 at 60 frames per second) can be a better choice for capturing fast-moving sports.
|High-def camcorders use a mini HDMI output to transfer high-def video from the camcorder to your HDTV.|
Most high-definition camcorders come with either a mini HDMI or a full-sized HDMI output. Both types carry both digital audio and digital video, so you can watch your high-def footage on a compatible HDTV with just one cable. While Mini DV camcorders continue to use full-sized HDMI outputs, most DVD, flash, and hard drive camcorders have switched over to the smaller mini HDMI output. Keep in mind that for high-def camcorders, an HDMI connection is the only way to watch your videos with x.v.Color at full 1080i resolution, and with surround sound on your home theater system. You can learn more about HDMI in our article on the ins and outs of HDMI.
|Older Digital8 and Mini DV camcorders use IEEE 1394 ports to transfer video to computers.|
Also known as "FireWire" or i.LINK, this all-in-one, high-speed digital interface was an industry standard for the transmission of digital audio/video data before USB technology was introduced. IEEE 1394 permits data transfer between compatible digital components (camcorders, computers, editing decks, etc.) with virtually zero loss in video or audio quality. It is still commonly used with Digital8 and Mini DV camcorders. Most consumer video equipment uses 4-pin IEEE 1394 ports and connectors, but some peripherals employ a 6-pin configuration.
You can learn more about this type of connection in our A/V connections glossary.
(see IEEE 1394)
A camcorder's image sensing element. The image sensor's job is to convert light to electrical energy, which can then be stored in digital form in the camcorder's memory. An image sensor's detail-capturing power is measured in pixels, and will usually be seen expressed in megapixels. Sometimes, you may see two slightly different pixel counts listed for the same camcorder's sensor. These numbers represent effective pixel count and actual pixel count.
The two most commonly found technologies used to capture digital images in today's cameras are CCD (charge coupled device) and CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) image sensors. Although both types have their unique strengths and weaknesses, neither one is inherently superior to the other. You can expect high-quality images from camcorders using either technology.
|The image on the right was shot with Sony's acclaimed SteadyShot® picture stabilization technology; the image on the left, without.|
A feature that eliminates the shakiness of hand-held shots. There are two types of image stabilization. Optical image stabilization involves actual movement of the lens elements; digital image stabilization uses built-in processing to reduce shakiness and blur after the image has been captured. Similar to digital zoom, digital image stabilization reduces image quality by producing a pixelated, grainy-looking image.
Level and grid markers
Lines that appear on the LCD screen to help you capture images steady with the horizon or within vertical parameters. This feature can usually be found in the camcorder's menu, and can be turned on or off.
Stands for "lumens per square meter." This specification measures a camcorder's low-light sensitivity, indicating the minimum amount of illumination required to record an acceptable image. A lower lux rating indicates greater low-light capability. (See also "Night Mode" recording.)
Lets you adjust the focus. Some camcorders come with focus settings, which let you choose from discrete, predetermined values. Others come with a focus ring, which gives you much greater control and a smooth, hands-on feel that's similar to using a 35mm camera.
Memory card slot
Many camcorders record photos and/or videos onto tiny, removable, reusable memory cards. They're light, compact, and offer much higher recording times than previous blank media types.
3" DVDs that are commonly used in DVD camcorders. They come in a variety of types, including "write-once" formats, like DVD-R and DVD+R, and rewritable formats like DVD-RW and DVD+RW. For longer recording times, choose either double-sided mini DVDs or dual-layered DVDs.
MPEG/M-JPEG movie mode
See video format.
See video format.
Optical image stabilization
See image stabilization.
Short for "picture element." A camcorder's image sensor consists of a great many pixels, each one building up a tiny charge of electricity in response to the light it "sees." The more pixels an image sensor has, the higher its ability to resolve detail, which may improve the resulting picture.
Keep in mind that the image sensor's actual pixel count is often greater than the effective pixel count — the number of pixels used to capture the image.
Camcorders have different recording modes which capture video at different standard-definition and high-definition resolutions and numbers of frames per second. A higher resolution at more frames per second may result in higher-quality footage, but will take up more space on your tape, disc, hard drive, or flash memory. Camcorders that can also take digital photos almost always offer separate video and photo modes with various levels of quality in each. Some camcorders also offer a "simultaneous" mode that lets you take digital photos while you record video.
SD™ and SDHC™ memory cards are currently the most popular type of removable memory.
Most camcorders take some form of removable memory, usually memory cards. See our blank media glossary to learn about some of the different types of removable memory that's available.
There are two kinds of resolution when it comes to video: Spatial resolution, where the pixel amount and ratio is important and adds detail as pixels increase, and temporal resolution, where increased frame rates can make for a better visual experience with fast moving items.
Spatial resolution can be defined as the number of pixels used to capture an image. The higher the resolution, the sharper the video or photos; for example, a resolution of 640 x 480 gives you more detail than 320 x 240. The first number specifies the horizontal pixel count, while the second is the vertical pixel count.
Temporal resolution can also be referred to as frame rate, and also to the manner in which frames are displayed. A faster frame rate means more action can be crisply captured, and can also be played back at slower rates for dynamic slow motion. Frames can be processed as "progressive frames", where the frame is scanned line-by-line from top to bottom by the camera's sensor, or as "interlaced frames", where a frame is split into two succesive fields: All the odd numbered lines will be in field 1, and all the even-numbered lines will be in field 2. These two fields make a frame. Most commercial broadcasting in North America is interlaced, regardless of whether the original source was progressive.
So, a stat like 1080/60i would mean "1080 horizontal lines, 60 interlaced fields per second."
The speed at which a digital camera's shutter exposes the image sensor to light. A shutter speed of 1/60 means that the sensor is exposed to light for 1/60th of a second. Faster shutter speeds are good for "freezing" fast-moving action; slow ones allow you to intentionally blur the movement of your subject to emphasize motion, such as water traveling over a set of falls (these types of shots may require a tripod, since the human hand cannot hold a camera steady for very long). Simple camcorders may have very little shutter speed adjustment; more sophisticated cams often have between 9 and 15 shutter speeds.
Included on all digital camcorders, an automatic and very accurate method of recording the frame reference on the tape in hours, minutes, seconds, and frames. Time Code comes in several standards, and makes precision editing easy.
On-screen text in the form of captions or comments. Many camcorders let you create your own titles, and some also include several preset titles to cover typical camcorder occasions like weddings, birthdays, and vacations.
|Most newer camcorders use mini USB ports to send video and photos to a computer, and come with this cable in the box.|
USB (Universal Serial Bus) is an interface found on many digital camcorders, especially DVD, hard drive, and flash memory models, and those with digital photo modes. USB allows for quick, easy transfer of digital photos between a camcorder and a computer. It will also permit transfer of video from a DVD, hard drive, or flash memory camcorder to a computer.
|Format||Where you'll see it||Most common video resolutions||Types of camcorder |
that use it
|AVCHD (MPEG-4 Part 10)|| ||1440 x 1080 |
1920 x 1080
|high-def hard drive or flash memory cams, and some high-def digital cameras|
|MPEG-4 Part 2|| ||720 x 480||some standard-def hard drive or flash memory camcorders|
|MPEG-2 Part 2|| ||720 x 480||most DVD camcorders, newer Mini DV camcorders, and standard-def hard drive or flash memory camcorders|
|MPEG-1 Part 2|| ||352 x 240 |
352 x 288
320 x 240
|some memory card camcorders|
|Motion JPEG |
| ||160 x 120 |
320 x 240
|digital cameras and older Mini DV camcorders|
The piece that you hold up to your eye to watch the scene you're recording (or playing back). Although a viewfinder doesn't provide as big an image as a flip-out viewscreen, it may be preferable when shooting outdoors in direct sunlight, which may wash out the image on a viewscreen.
Flip-out color LCD viewscreens are now commonly featured instead of traditional viewfinders. With screens typically in the 2-4" range, images are larger and easier to see, during both recording and playback. Another advantage of a viewscreen is that you can shoot videos without holding the camcorder up to your eye, leaving you the option of using touchscreen controls to make changes to your camcorder's settings while recording, or of rotating the LCD to more comfortably shoot video from odd angles.
x.v.Color™ (xvYCC color space)
A high-definition video color space that is supported by many HDTVs beginning in 2007 (generally models with HDMI v1.3 inputs). The x.v.Color standard supports 1.8 times as many colors as the older standards. Many high-def camcorders now offer recording in x.v.Color, although it's only available via the HDMI output or on Blu-ray copies of your video using a compatible video player and HDTV.
The ability to magnify your subject for close-ups, or pull back for wide shots. Most camcorders include a variable optical zoom lens, as well as electronic digital zoom. Digital zoom can provide greater magnification, but the more you zoom in, the more the image degrades.