Camcorder Formats

By | October 10, 2019

Summary of the Pros and Cons of common Camcorder Recording Formats

There are many different camcorder formats appearing now, this is a guide to the the more common formats and their strengths and weaknesses.


Well-established tape format which gives excellent image quality and good edit-ability to create great final products to add visual effects or product rendering images. If you want the best video quality, HDV is the way to go, and if you want the best standard definition video, MiniDV will deliver. Of course, this assumes a good quality camcorder and enough light… Your video can be transferred without any loss in quality to a computer for editing, using a firewire (IEEE1394) connector on the computer and suitable software. The best all-round choice if you are not sure at all. The main disadvantage is that it takes an hour to transfer an hour of shot video into the computer – flashcard and DVD formats can transfer the video to computer in less tame than the running time of the video.


DVD recorders are marketed on the familiarity of the DVD medium. There are numerous disadvantages of DVD in a recorder:

  • poor resistance to camera vibration when recording,
  • limited editability of the recorded video,
  • poorer signal quality due to higher compression than MiniDV,
  • short recording times when run in high-quality modes.

However, the convenience of shooting video and then being able to replay the video on a DVD player mean DVD recorders are seen as easy to use, particularly for children and the technologically challenged. The difficulty of editing the shot video means that the may not be enjoyable viewing for others.

Flash Card

These camcorders use flash cards which are often used for digital still cameras, like SD cards and XD cards. The small capacity of the cards mean the recordings are highly compressed, which means editing can be difficult. However, the camcorders are small, and the lack of moving parts make the camcorders robust even recording while moving or in the rough and tumble of play.

Internal Solid State Storage

Like flash card storage but without the card – the storage is built-in and can be accessed via USB. The popular Pure Digital Flip camcorder is an example of this type.

Hard Disk

Hard disk recorders record compressed files to an internal hard disk, the video is then transferred to a computer for editing and saving to a permanent medium if needed. Because the hard disk is non-removable, this practically forces you to download and edit, which is usually good for the “watch-ability” of the result.

However, if you are going on holiday without access to a PC to transfer your video you need to watch how long you can record for at a reasonable quality – this is usually only a few hours. Some manufacturers offer combination hard disk/DVD recorders where you can transfer some of the hard disk video to a DVD to free up space. However, this often involved further video compression.

Obsolete formats

All these formats should not be considered for purchase, though of course if you get given a camcorder some can give satisfactory results.

Digital 8 is similar to MiniDV in quality but uses an obsolete tape format. There were several analog formats – none were anywhere near as good as MiniDV. These included (in approximately decreasing order of image quality)

Hi8 (high-band), Hi8, S-VHS, VHS, VHS-C

Further Information

For more details on selecting a camcorder take a look at “Choosing and Using a Camcorder”

TV standards vary across the world – see Worldwide TV standards NTSC, PAL, SECAM