Each day someone asks me what digital camera to buy. Each day, I promise myself I’ll write a blog entry that reviews my favorites. For most of my 300 plus online videos I’ve used a Panasonic PV-GS120. I now use a Canon HV20. I researched them both vigorously.
My system for finding a good camera has 4 stages:
First, ask yourself what you’re after. If you need to update your digital still camera and don’t mind lower resolution video, you may want to get a combination (still and video) device like the Digital Canon A630-A640. If you want high quality HDTV, you’re looking at the Canon HV20 as the lowest-cost entry (or some Panasonic prosumer choices that are elegant but a bit bulky). I loved the Panasonic but I wasn’t about to carry a camera that made me look like a pro.
If you’re like most people, you’re somewhere in the middle and want a decent $300-$600 digital video camera.
- ConsumerReports is my most trusted source, but I’ve found it lags on electronic reviews (sometimes by a ridiculous period: This link is to a thorough review available by subscription only. But it’s dated November 2004). The website will provide thorough buyer’s guides and thorough comparison charts (some require membership). The non-profit has started to provide more real-time reports on certain electronic categories. Here’s the digital camera reviews & buying guide.
- PCMag is my overall favorite source, but it’s tricky to navigate. I hone in on a few models that share high rankings (and then compare its editor choices with those of other sources). For instance, here’s the PCMag editor’s choice on digital video cameras (and here’s the reviews for digital still cameras). They’re in love with Sony, but I’ve never been a fan since I made the horrible mistake of buying digital still cams by Sony. Be careful as you navigate PCMag, because one minute you’re reading an editorial review and the next you’ve stumbled into some low-rent site hawking cheap electronics. The lines between editorial and ads are as faded as my 8-year-old’s jeans.
- Then you can validate your models via ZDNet’s digital photo and video reviews. I can’t attest to the objectivity of this site, but it’s easy to use and fairly thorough. You’re never far from a price and a crappy vendor that will sell you the product for curiously low prices (if you don’t mind having it with no internal parts).
- CNet has its own digital video camera and camcorder reviews’ site. It’s okay.
- PCWorld has a dated but nice piece on miniDV camcorders.
Third, read the consumer reviews. Most online retailers like Amazon will invite consumers to rate the devices. Often you can find some rich reviews like those of ePinions before they “jumped the shark” and became a commerce site that stopped attracting good reviews. You need to be especially careful reading these and focus on patterns. NEVER let one review shape your opinion because they could be a disgruntled customer or a review placed by an employee of the manufacturer.
Finally, don’t under estimate where you buy. As much as I love buying from the web – especially Amazon.com or B&P – I tend to frequent Best Buy and Circuit City. Best Buy is low pressure, but Circuit City sometimes tries to upsell you. The prices are reasonable at both stores, and the weekly shopper has really good deals. The selections are streamlined, and the employees are (with some exception) fairly informed. I like asking the electronic employees what model they own, and which one they’d buy if they bought today. Most importantly, if you can stomach the overpriced guarantee programs then you know that you can return your camera if you have problems. Without having to get on the phone and ship things.
If you’ve recently researched $300-$600 digital video cameras, please post what you selected below. I haven’t been through that process in a while, but there’s a great demand for guidance here.
Butterfly: Using this tag word so people can find this post from a video I’ve done on this subject.