1. Mini DV (digital video)
This uses small video cassettes to record. Mini dv is the industry standard for professional videography. They can record high quality and offer easy editing ability. The ability to connect to a computer via IEEE1394 connection (firewire) offers video transfer without a loss in quality. The tapes can then be saved so there is no concern with deleting files from a crowded hard drive as they can just be uploaded again later. Mini dv cameras are available with single and three CCD (charge coupled device) sensors. A three CCD sensor provides a more professional look to your finished video but a single CCD is much more economical. A couple of disadvantages of mini dv are: upload time, and the cost of the player. Mini dv tapes upload in real time, so if you have an hour of footage, it will take an hour to upload to your hard drive. A mini dv player is additionally needed if you upload a lot of recordings. If you use your camera to play back the tapes while uploading, this will eventually cause wear to your video heads. Frequent use requires a mini dv player for uploading to save the heads in your camera. The pros do far outweigh the cons for this format however. If you are serious about video or plan to do a lot of filming, I think mini dv is the way to go. (KEH.com has multiple Canon models (GL1, GL2, XL1, XL2), and one Sony model in stock.)
This type of camera records directly to a DVD-R for easy playback on most DVD players. This is a very convenient method of filming but it does not allow for any editing later and the recording time is limited with higher quality modes. If you are a casual shooter just looking for convenience and not a lot of control, this may be the route for you. The quality is not as high as with mini dv cameras, but the ease of having a finished product as soon as you hit stop may be all you need. (KEH.com has one Canon model in stock, DC330).
3. Hard Drive
This camera has a hard drive built into it, to record directly on to. There is no need for tapes, memory cards or DVDs. These cameras are becoming more and more popular and are starting to be made with three CCD sensors which makes them even more desirable. Of course, a 3 CCD hard drive camera is going to be much more expensive than a similar mini dv camera. Your only real recording limitation is the size of the camera’s hard drive; the more space available, the more recording you and do. A hard drive camera will connect to your computer via USB, and the files can be easily copied over to your computer’s hard drive for editing. The transfer time is much quicker than with a mini dv. However, some video compression will occur which can affect video quality. Overall, this is a decent choice for serious videographers. The quality is still going to be a bit better with mini dv, but if you don’t mind sacrificing the slight difference in quality for ease of use, this option could work for you. (KEH.com has one Sony HDR-CX12 in stock).
4. Flash Memory
Flash memory cameras are very similar to hard drive cameras except that they record on to an SD memory card. These recordings will be much more compressed because of the size of these cards and will cause a big reduction in video quality. However, these cameras are typically much more compact and rugged, making them easy to transport and kid friendly. The ability to edit is not lost with this camera either. So, if you don’t mind average video quality and need portability, this is a great option to consider. (An example of a Flash memory video camera is The Flip.)
5. Digital SLR
Some new digital SLR cameras are now adding a video feature. It is only found in the models with the live view feature. Hollywood is taking notice of this and has started using these for the filming of movies and TV shows. Not all of the models are going to be suited for those purposes, but they all offer pretty good quality. As of right now, it looks like the Canon 5D Mark II is the leader of the pack as far as quality goes but the Nikon D300s and the Canon 7D are pretty good also. The only real drawbacks to this format is recording time and focusing. You can only focus these in manual mode. There is currently no auto-focus for digital SLR video. This can make tracking a subject more difficult. The recording time is limited to the amount of time the shutter can remain open, and the size of the memory card being used. For example, the 5D Mark II can record up to 4GB per clip. This equals out to about 12 minutes of high definition or 24 minutes of standard definition video. A lot of professionals are starting to go the DSLR route for their video needs now. If you are filming something that can be done in segments, this is a great choice. It probably isn’t the best option for a baseball or softball game but it is great for movies, documentaries, or other quick scene films. The quality is great and the upload time is short. (Some models included that have video are: Canon 7D, 60D, 5D Mark II, Rebel T1i, T2i, T3i, T3. Find a Canon model in stock here. Nikon D90, D300s, D3100, D5000, D7000, D3s. Find a Nikon model in stock here.)