Camcorder Formats: Choose Which One?

Choose the best camcorder format for your cams.

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Camcorder Formats of Mini DV Cams

MiniDV cams records standard-def video to videotapes. Both the tapes and the camcorders are inexpensive. And you can import the recorded video into any PC with FireWire, and then write it to DVD. But finding particular bits of video on a tape is difficult: You have to fast-forward and rewind to find your favorite bits if you haven't yet edited them.

  • Pros: These camcorders are cheap, reliable, and widely compatible.
  • Cons: They shoot standard-definition video; finding a particular spot on a tape is a pain.

Camcorder Formats of Min DVD Cams

Min DVD camcorders record standard-definition video to the tiny 3-inch DVD. So you can pop the disc out of the camcorder and into a set-top DVD player for playback. However, the video that mini-DVD cams record is more heavily compressed than that of MiniDV camcorders, and it's more difficult to edit; many video editing programs can't import the video.

  • Pros: Camcorders can shoot and play back video instantly on the camcorder or a set-top DVD player.
  • Cons: They produce lower-quality video than MiniDV camcorders; also the video is more difficult to edit.

Camcorder Formats of HDV Cams

HDV camcorders record high-definition video to the MiniDV tapes that MiniDV camcorders use. And the video they take can be edited in most video editing programs, with the ability to write the high-def video out to HD DVD or Blu-ray discs. But they are expensive.

  • Pros: These models shoot high-def video that's easy to edit; the media is cheap.
  • Cons: They're expensive--HDV camcorders cost two to three times as much as MiniDV ones.

Camcorder Formats of AVCHD Cams

AVCHD camcorders record high-definition video to DVDs, hard drives, or flash memory. I've discussed this new format in depth here. The quality of the video that AVCHD camcorders shoot is good, while this format's Achilles' heel is its editing; no easy way exists to edit the video these AVCHD cameras shoot.

  • Pros: These camcorders produce high-definition video.
  • Cons: Models are expensive; video is hard to edit.

Camcorder Formats of Hard-Drive Cams

Hard-Drive cams record the video to a built-in hard drive. The advantage of this is that the hard drives can hold a lot of video. But these camcorders have a problem similar to that of the AVCHD models: the format they record isn't spoken by most video editing programs. Plus, if you fill up the built-in hard drive while you're away from your PC, you're stuck: You can't swap out the drive as you can with DVDs and videotapes.

  • Pros: These models hold lots of video.
  • Cons: Editing the video is difficult; hard drives are not swappable.

Camcorder Formats of Flash Memory Cams

Flash memory camcorder records video to the same flash memory cards which you can then take out and pop into a memory card reader on your PC.

  • Pros: Models are inexpensive
  • Cons: They produce low-quality video.


So many camcorder formats are available than ever before for aspiring filmmakers and family picnic-shooters alike. In general, the format you choose will play a role in the quality, size, as well as the price. Also, keep in mind that some formats offer better compatibility with popular video editing software than others.