Camcorders are portable video cameras which can record images and sound to some form of media, either tape-based or digital. They have been around since the early 1980s, with significant technological advancements achieved at the beginning of the 21st century. The earliest models recorded to either VHS or Betamax tapes, allowing for easy playback in home video players. These camcorders were quite bulky, as they contained an entire video recorder, along with the lens and camera device. This didn't stop them from becoming quite popular, however, as many people used them to replace traditional still cameras when recording weddings, birthdays, and other important events.
By the late 1980s, two innovations had allowed camcorders to shrink substantially. One was the release of the VHS-C tape format. VHS-C was fully compatible with standard VHS tape players by using an adapter that the tape fit into, but it was much smaller than full-sized VHS tapes, allowing camcorders that used VHS-C to have a much reduced size and weight. The tapes could only hold up to 40 minutes of footage, but the smaller weight meant that the devices could be used in a wider range of situations than the bulkier alternatives.
The second format innovation was the use of 8mm tapes. These tapes were much smaller than VHS, but could hold a comparable two hours of footage at a high quality. The downside to 8mm was that it was entirely incompatible with existing video players, so that one had to plug a camcorder directly into a VHS or Betamax player to watch or re-record the 8mm tape.
By the end of the 1990s, many camcorders had switched to a digital tape format called MiniDV. These tapes are very small, even smaller than 8mm tapes, and have highly increased performance over their non-digital alternatives. The MiniDV format has a number of benefits over other tape choices, aside from its small size. MiniDV tapes are able to copy repeatedly with virtually no loss of quality, and many types can hold more than three hours of footage on a single tape. A large portion of digital camcorders use MiniDV as their primary media, because it allows for a good mix of small size and affordability.
Digital8 camcorders are another digital alternative to more traditional types. These digital tapes do not offer as many benefits as the competing MiniDV technology, but they are able to run both 8mm and Hi8 tapes, making them a good choice for people upgrading from an existing 8mm or Hi8 setup. With the affordability of recordable media and portable storage, a few new types of digital camcorders have recently begun to rise in popularity. These include DVD, flash, and hard-drive based devices.
DVD camcorders are digital camcorders which use a built-in DVD recorder to burn footage directly to DVD-R or DVD-RAM media. Because of the affordability of DVD media and its imminent portability, they have seen a surge in sales. Flash and microdrive based devices use either portable flash memory or a proprietary memory type to store video. Unfortunately, this type of memory tends to be relatively small, with media in excess of 2GB being prohibitively expensive for most people, and flash-based camcorders have consequently become something of an anomaly.
A new breed use internal hard drives to store the video directly. These have the advantage of using no external media at all, and allowing video to be copied directly to a hard-disk rather than played through and recorded by the computer. Unfortunately, not using external media can also be a limitation, as it makes it impossible to switch out tape after tape for long shoots. Once the hard drive is filled, one must have a computer to dump the information into to before shooting more footage.
Camcorders range widely in price, depending on the media and level of quality. A decent MiniDV device may be found for a few hundred US Dollars (USD), while a hard-drive based models will often cost twice the amount, and prosumer or professional level options cost thousands of USD.