Tips On Buying HD Digital Cameras, What To Look For

Author Chinavasion Marketing 7.10.2009. | 18:03


By Francisco Pupo

Choosing the right high definition camcorder is a challenging task.

Intimating technical jargon and various media recording options quickly turn the dream of capturing beautiful HD video into the nightmare of information overload.

Thankfully, there is help out there.

Here is a list of the most important features on HD video cameras with a guide to how it will affect your or your customer’s use of it.

By the end of this guide you should be well on your way to purchasing the right HD camcorder, and capturing that stunningly beautiful HD video you have always dreamed about.

Recording media


The recording media is how the pictures, movies and sound are stored on your camera.

The three most popular options available are:

  • tape (MiniDV)
  • hard disk drive (HDD)
  • flash memory (aka solid state, memory card).

The recording media is the first thing you need to decide on when looking for a HD camcorder.

This will help to ensure you have a full understanding of what kind of flexibility and editing options are available to you in the future.

Tape (MiniDV)


Many HD camcorders still use MiniDV tapes.

These are the same tapes found in the older digital standard definition camcorders.

These tapes can deliver beautiful 1080i videos and have been around long enough to stand the test of time. They are also cheap and readily available.

However, tape based systems are getting a little old school, take up more space, and still require you to fast forward and rewind like that old VCR at grandmothers house.

They are also less convenient than flash memory cards and take much longer to transfer into a computer for editing.

Hard Disk Drive (HDD)


The main advantage of HDD camcorders is their relatively high storage capacity.

Long recording times are great.

The downside is you must routinely backup video to a separate hard drive or DVD.

Another disadvantage that could become a potential headache is their susceptibility to failure due to shock or impact, which if you think about it is highly likely with a video camera.

HDD have fast moving parts inside, so the chances of failure become higher.

Flash memory (aka solid state, memory card)


Flash memory is a term used to describe media that lacks any moving parts.

This is considered the media of the future and the advantages are numerous.

For starters, these cards are easy to use, extremely compact and require less battery power to operate.

In addition, computer editing and transfer times are drastically reduced, making your work flow a breeze.

Also a noteworthy feature is their resistance to failure caused by shock or impact.



The sturdiness and size of flash memory is part of the reason it can be found in so many spy and action digital camcorders like the ones you can find at Chinavasion

If you’ve got an older computer, say one bought 5 years ago, things might not run so quickly.

This is not the only down side.

Flash memory is still relatively small in capacity and rather expensive.

The good news is that every year prices decrease while storage capacities increase.

Image resolution

Up on the list of important features is image resolution. There are 3 common resolutions available on HD camcorders today: 720p, 1080i and 1080p.

The higher the resolution, the more detail that image can hold, and the better your video will look.

The “i” stands for interlace and “p” stands for progressive. Essentially progressive is better, since interlaced will in many cases, give you jagged edges and screen flicker. While progressive generally offers you smooth motion and lacks the flicker problem.

When purchasing a camcorder it is recommended to look for the highest resolution possible along with progressive scan.

So, if you are really looking for the best picture then try to buy 1080p if possible!

A great example of this technology can be found in this powerful little 1080p camcorder, our very popular [CVGT-DV14] a camera that shoots video at up to 60fps.

You can see Chinavasion’s HD camcorder in action thanks to some footage that one of our customers shot.

Image sensors

An image sensor transforms the light captured by the camcorder’s lens and turns it into a digital signal stored as video.

The image sensor is one of the most important parts of the camcorder.

There are two types of image sensors used in HD camcorders today: CCD and CMOS.

CCD sensors or charge-coupled device sensor has been around much longer than the CMOS APS sensor (Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) or CMOS sensor for most of us and traditionally had a better resolution.

But more about that later.



  • So what is better, CCD or CMOS? Both sensors have their advantages over the other. Let’s take a look at these two technologies.

    The main advantage of a CCD sensor is its excellent light sensitivity. A camera with a CCD sensor usually takes better images and video in low light and put out great quality images overall.

    The downside is a CCD sensor will use a lot of power and will drain a battery quicker than a CMOS sensor will.

    They also tend to suffer from a “halo” effect when exposed to reflections or bright lights.


    Cameras with CMOS sensors will often stay on and recording for longer than those with CCD sensors.

    They also capture bright lights better than CCD cameras. An example would be a sparkle from a diamond ring, or sunshine glimmering from a lake.

    Like flash memory technology makers of CMOS sensors are getting so good that the output of CMOS sensors of today is not far behind CCD sensors.

    There biggest downfall of CMOS is it isn’t as sensitive to light as CCD and for older chipsets you will need more lights to get the same effect.

    The differences between the two is getting smaller and smaller these days with price playing a bigger part. (a camera with a CMOS sensor will probably be cheaper than one with a CCD sensor).

    Another thing to consider before moving away from CCD is the number of sensors that are included.

    CCD and CMOS camcorders sold today contain either 1 or 3 sensors, commonly referred to as“1 chip” and “3 chip” or CMOS and“3 CMOS”.

    Expensive 3 CCD cameras produce much better pictures than the 1 CCD ones.

    However, this is not the case with CMOS sensors. A 3 CMOS camcorder does not imply superiority over a 1 CMOS camcorder.

    The comparison should be made by the combined pixel count of the 3 CMOS chips VS the single CMOS chip.

The main thing to look for when comparing sensors is pixel count.

This is often expressed as mega pixel or “MP”. The higher the number the better the image will look.

As a general rule, the bigger the sensor or “chip” is, the higher the pixel count will be.

The consumer chips usually range from 1/6″ to 2/3″ in size.

Any camcorder with a 1/6″ CCD sensor with a scan rate of 340,000-pixels or more, should give you the performance you are looking for.

Low light performance

The lux rating tells you how well your camcorder will perform in low-light situations.

Less is more with this rating. A lower lux rating means better low light sensitivity.

A rating of 6 lux or lower is recommended for CCD camcorders, and 9 lux or lower for CMOS camcorders.

This can be the make or break feature for people who plan on shooting video in poorly lit conditions such as concert halls or indoor locations where external light is not available or not practical.

Zoom lens


There are two popular types of zoom, optical and digital.

Optical zoom is a “true zoom” that enlarges the image without any digital enhancement.

Digital zoom increases the pixel size of an image and can cause image distortion.

Don’t be fooled by high digital zoom numbers. It is best to look for at least 10x optical zoom or better.

This will keep your image crisp and beautiful while operating the zoom, and the zoom doesn’t have to be as big as our long digital lens camera CVSE-DV01 there’s a video of it in action below:

Manual settings

Manual adjustment settings take time to master before you can use them properly but the output is worth the effort.

Generally speaking, the more settings you have to control, the more you can fine-tune your picture for the clearest image with the best color combination.

In this next section we will cover the most important adjustment you will want to look for.

White Balance

There are various lighting conditions when shooting and white looks different in all of them.

white balance

Adjusting the white balance allows for perfect color reproduction in any location.

Many camcorders have preset controls for different lighting conditions, and these usually have something to do with the white balance that is used.

Some of them include:

  • sunny
  • cloudy
  • shade
  • fluorescent
  • incandescent
  • manual

It is best to find a camera with at least 4 or more WB control presets.

For the best color reproduction use the manual white balance when available.

The manual WB is usually found on higher end camcorders.


This setting controls the amount of light that reaches your camcorders sensor.

If you are shooting in poorly lit areas this setting can help you to get more light into the lens.

Look for a maximum aperture of f1.4 or f.1.6 for best performance.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed can help to capture moving objects with a still camera without the problem of motion blur. If you are going to capture action sports then this option can really help.

Look for a maximum shutter speed of 1/500 second or higher.

Input and output connectivity

HDMI: Highest quality connection from your HD camcorder to your HDTV.

To view your HD video in all its glory, make sure you have this connection available. Allows for full HD playback and surround sound.

R/G/B Component: A step below HDMI, but still offers beautiful HD video from your camcorder to your HDTV. R/G/B is also cheaper than HDMI.

A/V: Standard red yellow and white connection for connecting your camcorder to your TV or VCR for playback. Common connection used on older analog TVs.

S-video: Similar to A/V, but provides better picture quality. You can not a send audio signal though this connection.

IEEE 1394: A high speed connection for transferring video to your computer. This is also known as“firewire or“”.

USB 2.0: Commonly used high speed connection for transferring video to your computer

So there you have it. A full list of the most important features and what they mean for you in terms of usability. Some people will need different features than others.

You should now be confident in making an educated purchase on your next HD camcorder. I hope you found this guide informative. Have fun and good luck!

Author Chinavasion Marketing 7.10.2009. | 18:03
Write a comment


  1. SERGIO LUÍS October 9, 23:09

    muito bom… vou estudar…

  2. buy optics July 2, 23:48

    You have a great tips here… Can you recommend any brand of digital camera?

  3. Adrian July 20, 14:38

    Sure – any of the cameras that Chinavasion sell!

    Why not try one of the featured products from this blog?

  4. Willoughby July 28, 15:47

    This post really is a great help to those people looking for a camera to start their digital photography experience.In finding the digital camera that will best suits you, these guidelines can really help a lot.But the best thing is to choose the digital camera that you will never had a hard time trying to learn how to use all its features.You should always be familiar with all of your digital camera’s capabilities so you will be enjoying all the benefits it can give you.

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