These models still record their images on to tape, but they also allow a vast array of extra functions including - in nearly all cases - the ability to be used as a sideline "still digital camera."
Rather like their still camera cousins, most of the digital camcorder technology on the market comes from the Far East. The market being lead by familiar electrical giants such as JVC, Sony and Canon. However these devices tend to be retailed by the general electrical retail sector - rather than the computing equivalents - who seem to view computer usage/interaction with only mild interest.
The headline advantages of digital camcorder technology (over conventional models) are that they are generally smaller, lighter and can be designed in slimmer non-conventional shapes. The headline disadvantages nearly all revolve around cost and computer compatibility - points which we will return to later.
Unless you have been living in a cave, there is little that needs to be said about the function of a standard camcorder. Most Britains seem happy recording their holidays or children's birthday parties. Hoping to "entertain" their friends and neighbours with the results later. However if you are very lucky you might record something newsworthy or amusing and enjoy fifteen minutes of fame.
With the smaller LCD (see glossary) based models you will be able to film and photograph less obviously, which should result in a far more natural scene in front of the camera. With re-chargeable batteries as standard you will also be able to play and experiment with imaging (both still and moving) without incurring much extra expense.
Most of the models on the market have a remote control function so you can sit back in a chair and view your work through a television or monitor. However the range of functions controllable by remote control varies wildly from model to model.
Digital camcorders deliver a slightly better picture quality than plain analogue, as well as allowing in-camera digital special effects; although, again, these vary from model to model.
Some makes also have an "increased shooting speed" option that allows extra quality moving shots at the price of increased tape usage. If you are going to use the camera for a lot for "still" work a flash facility would be a genuine plus - a function that seems to be absent on certain models; although some feature a "shoe" for one to be added later.
It is possible to simulate some of the functions of a digital camera by using a "snapshot" function such as the Snap Magic sold by Innovations (www.innovations.co.uk). This computer-linked hardware captures either live or recorded pictures from any camcorder and then transfers them to the PC. These packages usually throw in a software manipulation package as well.
While the full range of extras and options cannot be explored today. I was disappointed by the lack of bundled support software offered, even by the most expensive models. On a more positive note I found that Argos was offering over a hundred pounds worth of extras for a token ten pounds - if you spent more than five hundred pounds with them.
Another popular optional extra is a (digital) editing console. This allows the moving images to be edited and controlled - and perhaps single shots to be picked out. These can be used with digital and non-digital technologies. With these you can create digital fades, wipes and titles; as well as add a soundtrack later. However it should be noted that some of these effects can be created "in-camera" with some models.
In "still mode" the amount of storage space on a digital camera is huge. Many have the ability to take over 500 still photographs so you should never run out of room. With their large (re-chargeable) batteries you should be able to shoot all day long without a second thought.
While digital camcorders are nearly always better than either still digital cameras or conventional camcorder models, most of these advantages do come at a price. Also the buyer must be aware that they are buying a product with minus inflation - you are almost certain to able to buy the product (or similar) for less in a couple of years time.
However you can be certain that you have chosen the right area of the market, because in the fullness of time all camcorders will become digital; and by then the major manufacturers and retailers will have then woken up to the fact that computers and cameras compliment each other - and can get the two to work together even more seamlessly.
Presently the market is a little immature leaving the would-be user to do a lot of work and research on their own. Thankfully WH Smiths has plenty of magazines that can fill-in the bare outlines that I have painted today.