Digital video is now a viable option, with prices on camcorders dropping drastically. Analog camcorders are also a better buy now.
Trouble is, picking one is harder than ever.
The top analog camcorders, meanwhile, produce very high-quality images at their faster recording speed--certainly good enough for the vacation mementos and family occasions.
How do you know which is the right one for you?
We examined five popular formats--two digital, three analog. Some highlights:
DIGITAL--There are MiniDV and Digital 8 (or "D8") formats. D8 is used only by Sony.
* MiniDV camcorders--$840 to $2,700--offer generally good to excellent picture quality at either SP or LP recording speeds. MiniDVs can be very small and light and with the right hardware and software, they are relatively easy to connect to a computer for editing. Blank tape is expensive and difficult to find, however.
* Digital 8s cost from $799 to $1,299. We only tested one, and found its picture quality excellent. D8 uses the same tape as Hi8 or 8mm analog units--less expensive than MiniDV tape.
It's relatively easy to link D8 to a computer for editing, but D8s SP speed lets you record at only half the stated minutes on a tape.
ANALOG--The analog 8mm format is somewhat more popular than the compact-VHS format (VHS-C), although VHS-C tapes can be played in your VCR. Hi8, an 8mm variant with the potential for the best picture quality, may become a format without much reason for being because of the popularity of digital.
* Plain 8mm camcorders cost from $299 to $499; Hi8 models, from $399 to $799. Picture quality can be fair to very good at SP speed, but may worsen at slow speeds--a drawback of all analog recording.
* VHS-C camcorders range in price from $329 to $899 and use tapes that are inexpensive and widely available. The picture quality is good at SP speed.