Camcorders are ingenious tools that allow us to record images of the events that make up our lives or to get creative and produce unique and interesting films that previously only professional videographers could craft. For beginners, it is important to understand a little bit about the basic anatomy of a camcorder in order to be better equipped to make a selection when shopping.
Although every camcorder model is a bit different and may offer unique features there are basic components that are common to them all.
The Image Sensor:
A camcorder uses either a CCD, charge-coupled device, or CMOS, complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor, to convert light into electrical signals and record the resulting images. They basically perform the same function as film in a traditional camera or camcorder.
A CCD consumes much more power than a CMOS chip but tends to produce a higher quality image. Images produced via a camcorder with CMOS tend to have more “noise” due to lower resolution and less light sensitivity. As with most technologies however, CMOS as the newer development is gradually gaining ground. The primary advantage of CMOS at this time is it’s affordability versus the more expensive CCD sensors.
The lens of a camcorder provides the opening for light to pass through onto the CCD/CMOS and focuses it so that the image is sharp. By adjusting the lens users can alter what items within a scene are in focus as well as how much light is entering to control the look and quality of the resulting images. Lens controllers are sometimes purchased to allow a user to adjust the lens from the handle of the tripod.
Add on lenses and filters can be used. For instance a telephoto lens allows subjects at a distance to be magnified, a wide angle lens broadens the horizontal field, and a fisheye lens allows for an extreme wide-angle view. Common filters include polarizing filters to reduce glare and UV filters to protect the lens from harmful rays.
An important feature with camcorder lenses is optical zoom which allows the lens to magnify images; a function that allows users to obtain better pictures of subjects at a distance. Optical image stabilizers help to detect and reduce unwanted movement of the camcorder to produce a smoother, more stable film. Digital versions of zoom and stabilization are available on camcorders but do tend to produce a somewhat lower quality image. Digital stabilization however is sometimes preferred by some consumers as camcorders with optical stabilization are often larger.
The average camcorder has a built-in multi-directional microphone. These microphones tend to pick up audio from any direction; from behind, in front of, and at the sides of the camcorder. Thus many home movies end up difficult to hear due to undesired “background noise”.
A camcorder also often has a microphone jack. If the camcorder has such a jack, purchasing an external microphone to attach to it can greatly improve the audio captured. External microphones can be moved closer to the sound source in some instances and in others they can focus on the sound that is desired versus any background noise. Wireless microphones and lapel microphones are useful when recording individual speakers. Shotgun microphones pick up sound from in front of the microphone at a distance while cardioid microphones pick up sound from in front which is nearby. Each option helps to reduce the intrusion of unwanted sound that distorts the audio desired.
The View Finder and LCD Panels:
The viewfinder on a camcorder allows users to see what they are filming. They can be black and white or color. Size varies as does resolution. Some users select a larger viewfinder with higher resolution to aid their visibility but others simply use the LCD screen for this purpose. LCD screen sizes vary as well, and are selected based on personal preference. Viewfinders can often provide greater visibility when filming in sunlight while use of an LCD screen that swivels allows greater visibility if filming overhead.
Inputs and Outputs:
A camcorder will have AV sockets and ports to allow connectivity to other devices such as a television or computer. These sockets allow film to be downloaded, played back, or copied. To allow the camcorder to hook up with a TV or other device it is important that the inputs and outputs coincide. These may be composite video or S-video for analog signals or DVI/HDMI for digital signals.
Most camcorders will hook up with a PC via a USB 2 or FireWire port which allows much faster transfer than a USB 1.1 port. Again, the camcorder must be compatible with the computer to allow hook up.
Although the construction of a camcorder can be much more complex and there is variability in features from device to device, if beginners understand these basic parts they will be well on their way to being able to make a knowledgeable selection when shopping.
The author, Christine Peppler, invites readers to visit homemedias.info for more information about using or selecting a camcorder.
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