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I want to buy a digital camcorder and was wondering if you could answer a few questions. I am a complete novice in this area so forgive me if my questions seem a little dumb.

1. Do all digital camcorders have stills capability?
2. How much can they store before you need to download stills?
3. Can the video sequences be copied to normal VHS video?
4. What is a FireWire output?

I'd better stop there. I hope you can help; the staff in my local electrical superstore do not fill me with confidence.
Mick Parris, Maidstone, Kent.

They’re certainly not dumb questions, buying a camcorder can be a tricky business, especially when there’s so much jargon and hype about, not to mention commission-hungry sales assistants, some of whom I suspect know less than you about digital camcorders…


So, to answer your questions, just about every digicam I’ve seen has a still or ‘snapshot’ recording facility. Most of them record a still image on to the tape, each ‘shot’ usually lasts for about 5 seconds. That means you can get around 700 or so ‘stills’ on a 60-minute tape. However, since you mention downloading images I suspect you are referring to models that record still pictures onto built-in or removable memory modules, and come with a PC communications link. How many images they can hold basically depends on two things: the camcorder or card’s memory capacity and the size of image files. It’s difficult to generalise but a ‘medium’ resolution JPEG image typically takes up between 0.5 and 1Mb and on average you get around 20 pictures on an 8Mb memory card.


Video sequences from a digital camcorder can indeed be copied direct to a VHS tape; all digital camcorders have a standard analogue composite video output, either on the machine or via a plug-in docking station. This connects directly to the VCRs video input (along with the audio output from the camcorder), or you can go through an editor or processor if you want to edit the footage or add special effects. The copy will not be as sharp or detailed as the original, but if you copy digital footage to an S-VHS VCR say, it can still look very good.


FireWire, also called iLink by Sony and generically known as IEEE 1394 is a high-speed serial data connection system, commonly used on digital camcorders and PCs. Basically it means camcorders can send pictures and sound to PCs, or other digital devices, as a stream of pure unadulterated digital data. Since this data is basically lots of numbers there is little or no degradation when it is copied or edited, unlike analogue video recordings, which gets noisier, fuzzier and wobblier every time they are copied.


I want to buy a digital camcorder to take on holiday to the States. I wonder if you could advise me? If I buy an American model of the camcorder I want will it be incompatible with UK electronics?
Hilary Potter,

It will, so don’t do it! The Americans use the NTSC colour TV system, we in the UK use PAL and the two are incompatible. You can buy batteries and blank tapes however, for your chosen machine, though be aware that running times for the latter may not be the same, (depending on the format)



I am considering buying a 'reasonable' camcorder and have seen that the Panasonic DX110 is being sold for less than £1000. I've noticed that this has three CCDs and assume that this gives superior performance compared with those with only one. Is this a huge difference in performance or would it be barely noticeable to untrained eyes? Would you recommend this camera for amateur use and for underwater use?
Ken Taylor,

The point of a triple CCD image sensor is not, as a lot of people suspect, to increase resolution, but to improve colour accuracy and reduce picture noise. The differences in performance between models with one and three CCDs is noticeable, if you know what you are looking for, and are viewing the image on a high-quality TV or video monitor that has been properly aligned. In the real world, on a normal TV, under normal viewing conditions I suspect most people wouldn’t see much difference. The DX1100 is a fine machine and ideal for serious video movie-makers; it’s possibly a little over-qualified for everyday use, but at that price it looks like very good value. I’m not aware of any off-the–shelf underwater housings for this model but several companies specialise in custom-made and multi-brand waterproof cases. Have a word with Alan James Photography on (0117 969 9988) who distributes the Companion multi camera housing made by Inner Space Developments. Also worth talking to are: Cameras Underwater (01404 812277), Greenaway Marine (01793 814992), Ocean Optics (020 7930 8408) and Scubacam (020 8987 8681). Start saving now; a decent housing capable of taking your machine to useful depths is likely to set you back the thick end of £2000!


I'm an inline skater from Scotland and I would like to start making
films. I already have access to a Panasonic digicam (DS5) but I am getting my own Sony VX2000 in the near future. I have a 0.42x fisheye lens but I am looking to get a wider and overall more distorted picture. I searched for 'wide lenses' on the Internet and came across a 0.3x lens from Century Optics in the US. Is this product available in the UK and if so what is the price? (It costs $800 in America).

Century Optics do not seem to have a UK distributor though that could be due to the fact that it was recently taken over by the German based Schneider Optics, so things may be up in the air at the moment. However, whilst trying to track down Century I came across another US Internet site selling what appears to be a VX2000 compatible 0.3x fisheye lens adaptor for less than £100! Have a look at the XL-3000PRO lens at:,

Let us know how you get on. In the meantime we’ll continue to look for a source of ultra wide angle lenses/adaptors in the UK; if anyone knows of anything suitable for the VX2000 (it has to fit a 58mm filter ring), please let us know.




Ó R. Maybury 2000, 1909




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