Cell phone cameras have made it possible to capture video almost anywhere with minimal equipment, but their quality is usually mediocre. Recording the highest quality home videos requires a camcorder, designed to excel in that one job. Unfortunately, the excitement of buying a camcorder can be dimmed by multiple trips back to the store for accessories. Hundreds of accessories are available for your new camcorder, but a few are more critical than others are.
Modern camcorders are very light and compact, designed for the ultimate in portability. Unfortunately, carrying an electronic device when you're on the go exposes it to a variety of hazards. Aside from the obvious risk of being dropped, camcorders are exposed to rain and seaside spray, sand, dirt, grit, humidity, oils from your skin and extreme variations in temperature. A good carrying case protects your camera's lenses, connectors and delicate electronics from the elements and provides some cushioning if you happen to drop the camcorder. Most cases include several useful pockets for your charger, spare batteries, memory cards and other accessories.
Good camcorders usually have a powerful processor that can compensate for the camera's motion while filming. It can be a real lifesaver if you are in a moving car or running alongside your kids as they take their first ride without training wheels. While most of the vibration will be smoothed out, you'll still get better images if your camera is steady while you shoot. That's where a tripod comes in. A lightweight, adjustable tripod can improve your movies any time you're standing still to shoot. It's especially useful for long-distance filming. For hikers, an extra-light, collapsible monopod can provide similar benefits.
Back in the days of full-sized VHS tapes, you practically needed another suitcase to film a week's vacation. In comparison, the stamp-sized memory cards used by modern camcorders can fit in your wallet. Always have more memory cards than you think you'll need, especially if your camera records in high definition. You might want to have different cards for different purposes, such as recording a sporting event on one while reserving another for the kids' antics in your hotel pool. Use your laptop to copy your videos to a separate card and mail the duplicates home so your memories are protected even if your camera is lost or stolen.
A computer, especially a powerful laptop that can go where your camcorder goes, is one of the most crucial accessories. With software such as Movie Maker on a Windows 7 PC, iMovie on a Mac or OpenShot on an Ubuntu Linux PC, you'll be able to edit your movies into a smooth, professional-looking end result. With your computer, you can also burn movies to a DVD for computer-shy relatives, upload promotional clips to YouTube for your company and archive videos for safekeeping.
While the camcorder accessories just mentioned are the most critical, a number of others are worth owning. Always carry cleaning sprays and soft cloths for wiping your lenses without scratching. Keep a spare charger in your glove compartment for emergencies and a charged battery in the carry case for when a game runs long. An external boom microphone, or stereo microphones, can vastly improve the audio portion of your movies. If you often shoot indoors or in poor lighting conditions outdoors, an external video light can make the difference between a great movie and one that's gray, grainy and unwatchable.
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