Vacation Camcorders

0501_panasonicPanasonic Palmcorder PV-GS15
Panasonic Palmcorder PV-GS15

Which camcorders are best for travel?

What you'll find in this story: camera advice, camcorder ratings, vacation camera suggestions, photography advice, digital video cameras

New recording formats and media types are springing up all over, but the cutting edge has downsides. Microdrive- or SD-based digital video cameras require a laptop or other device to download to once you fill the memory card. DVD camcorders let you record straight to discs that you can pop in a DVD player, but you need the right kind of DVD player, disc drive, and software. And all of the above record MPEG-2 video, which isn't ideal if you want to edit on a home computer.

Basically, MiniDV cameras still offer the best combo of quality, price, and versatility. They record in DV format, providing quality and excellent compatibility with editing software. MiniDV cassettes are affordable, widely available, and small enough that you can fit a bunch in your carry-on. Just put an extra battery on your shopping list, along with a FireWire cable for transferring video to a computer if you want to edit once you're home. 

Panasonic Palmcorder PV-GS15  Street price: $388-$520 

Although the PV-GS15's price is close to the bottom of the MiniDV range, Panasonic didn't curse it with the cheap construction and ungainly design of some similarly priced cameras. It's nicely compact and offers a 24X optical zoom. While low-light shooting isn't this camera's forte, its overall image quality is quite good for its class. And as usual, Panasonic provides a range of basic manual controls for those who are feeling creative.

Sony Handycam DCR-HC40Street price: $475-$700

Equipped with a 10X optical zoom and a strong set of automatic features, the DCR-HC40 can capture 1-megapixel stills that are fine for e-mailing (but make disappointing prints). Its low-light modes will let you keep filming when lesser cameras give up. Like most of Sony's recent camcorders, this model has a touch-screen LCD, so changing the settings is somewhat akin to operating a PDA. (Those with larger fingers might find it a bit exasperating.) Best of all, it fits easily in a jacket pocket.

Canon Optura 30Street price: $550-$900

The Optura 30 offers a useful combination of automatic and manual functions, including a manual focus ring. It has an accessory shoe for attaching an external microphone or a video light, and you can take 2-megapixel stills with it, even while recording video. The photos won't be as good as from a dedicated still camera, but if casual snaps are all you're after, an all-in-one device is mighty convenient. The 12X optical zoom gives a decent range; for a 14X zoom and manual audio controls, consider the otherwise identical Optura 40 ($620-$1,000).

Aimee Baldridge covers digital video for CNET.

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