Shopping For A Full-featured Camcorder? The Bargain Days Are Here

Posted: July 13, 1989

If you're in the market for a camcorder this summer, you may have seen the ads: Recent reductions from major manufacturers such as Panasonic and JVC are bringing advertised prices for some full-size and Compact VHS (VHS-C) camcorders below $800.

This price level traditionally has been the domain of the "point-and- shoot" style of video camera, characterized by small lenses, plastic housing, optical viewfinders, limited focusing ability and lack of an in- camera playback feature.

But not this time. A slow spring retail season and a backup of inventory have prompted $100-plus price cuts on fully featured, auto-everything models at a time when camcorders are on many vacationers' minds.

Another factor in the pricing equation is the continuing rivalry of the two mini-formats, VHS-C and 8 millimeter. It appears that VHS-C, with its shorter 20-minute tape capacity, is on the defensive, and lower prices might help it regain some of its lost market.

Further VHS-C marketing muscle is coming from Zenith and Philips brands, which this summer are introducing new compact models, while C format innovator JVC prepares for the fall debut of a 30-minute tape length (90 minutes at extended play).

No doubt about it, $800 will buy a lot of camcorder right now. But be aware that by the time September rolls around, a new wave of (more expensive) upgrades will be available. Here's a look at what you won't yet find on even the best bargain video cameras:

8X AND 10X POWER ZOOM. Your basic camera almost certainly will have a 6x power lens, but after years of 6x being standard issue, more brands are switching to greater magnification.

BUILT-IN SPEAKER. Most camcorders have an earphone jack for monitoring the sound during playback in the field. The new thing is to mount a small speaker right on the side of the camera.

BUILT-IN LIGHT. Many cameras claim low-light shooting ability of 10 lux or below, and indeed they do produce a watchable picture in indoor conditions. But usually it's not a great picture, and for that reason portable lights are a popular accessory item. On new models from Philips, Panasonic and Quasar, the light is integrated into the camera design and draws power from the camcorder's own battery.

TITLER OR CHARACTER GENERATOR. You may get a date/time stamp or two-page title memory on a lower-priced unit, but the trend is to provide still more memory. A few of the newer cameras will let you store more than 20 pages of text.

SELF-TIMER. Delays the start of recording so you can place yourself in the picture.

TIME-LAPSE RECORDING. Records at regular intervals so you can do the old blossoming-flower trick. A further refinement is animation, which permits shooting a single frame at a time - inanimate objects can be made to move about, a la clay animation.

EDIT SEARCH. Trying to stop one scene and start another smoothly can be difficult in many cameras. Those with edit search let you pick the precise point to start a new recording over an old one.

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