Video camera buying guide

In this age of staggeringly powerful smartphones and DSLRs which take stunning high-definition footage it's easy to forget the humble old video camera, but perhaps you shouldn't.

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If you're serious about video then there are a few sound reasons why you might still want to consider a camcorder - from a handy pocket-size version to a semi-pro model.

As with all gadgets, things can get very confusing very quickly if you're new to the world of digital video cameras, so we've put together a guide to some of the key features and concerns...

There has been a rapid increase in the quality of definition available on home video cameras and we are now at the point where unless you are looking at very cheap cameras, you might as well aim for full high definition - which is captured in 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Cameras with full HD are available for less than £100 from mainstream brands now and the results can be very impressive compared to more expensive cameras from just a few years ago.

Optical zoom
As with stills cameras, the degree of optical zoom available from camcorders is an important consideration - and it refers to the magnification available purely through the lens without compromising image quality.

Digital zoom is not the same and does reduce image quality, so is not usually a buying consideration.

Storage format
The most common means of storing footage is either built-in HDD memory or flash memory cards (or both), although more specialist devices record to DVD or digital video tape.

It is important to get the right grade of memory card for your camera, because not all can cope with the high-demands of today's sophisticated devices.

LCD screen
Almost all consumer-orientated camcorders - even the semi-pro ones - have an LCD screen which you can use both as a viewfinder and to playback footage.

In most models this is also used as a touchscreen to control many of the features - cutting down on the number of buttons needed.

Image stabilisation
Consumer camcorders increasingly incorporate hardware to help mitigate the effects of their users' shaky hands. These will certainly be better in camcorders than in smartphones.

It's worth investigating how well this is rated in any device you are considering - especially if you won't be using a tripod.

Stills photography
Just as digital cameras can all take videos now, many camcorders can take high-quality stills. If they are quoted as having 10 megapixel status then you can expect images to be on par with a camera too. Many camcorders also feature a flash.

As we mentioned, you can buy a very good high definition camcorder for less than £100, but as you spend more you will gain more features - and the ability to shoot better footage in more difficult conditions.

Around £200 or £300 will get you a fully featured home camcorder, while at £500 and upwards you start to get into semi-professional devices which will take broadcast standard footage.

We don't have the space here to recommend individual cameras, but respected manufacturers include Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, JVC and Canon.

If you're after something to capture point-of-view footage for activities or sports then Go Pro are the market leader, but there are well-regarded rival offerings from companies such as Contour and Drift.

What do you reckon? Do home users need a camcorder now? Comment below...