Keeping Up with the Jones's Video Camera

Okay, I'm tired of lugging around my ancient Sony Digital8 video camera and enduring the scoffs and dismissive sounds of my fellow amateur filmmakers at my daughter's school. This camera is a clunky, lumbering beast compared with all the spiffy, tiny wonder devices wielded effortlessly by the parents around me. These new wonder cameras are recording ultraclean digital movies, enhanced for widescreen TVs, oomphed-up with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, and stabilized against image shudder, while I'm sitting here creating a wobbly, square, harsh, monaural movie. I feel like I'm failing my kid. In 20 years, she'll look at these movies and dissolve into tears, thinking, "Dad trashed my memories!"

With that ominous foreshadow fresh in my mind, I decided to start looking for a new camera. In the interim since I purchased my antique Sony (at nearly $1000), cameras have, of course, both plummeted in price and completely evolved. If I were to buy a camera today with the functionality I now have, I would probably spend $200. But look at the features that have become standard in just over five years! Now that I own a widescreen HDTV—and, indeed, now that the entire world is going that route—I'll need a camera that can take advantage of the widescreen ratio and use every bit of my TV's resolution. I'm a big lover of perfect, enveloping sound, so I'll need the surround-sound capability. I'll need the image-stabilization feature because my films almost always make me seem as if I'm suffering from extreme palsy. And I'll need decent optical-zoom functionality, along with the usual basics.

The questions I'm struggling with now involve media portability. I want the camera that will let me easily throw video onto my computer for editing and manipulation. I've had no trouble downloading video with my current tape-based camera, so my first instinct is to go with digital tape. But now there are cameras with 40GB and 60GB hard drives, which would let me simply attach a cable and start downloading. Simple! There are also cameras that record the video onto mini video discs or full-fledged DVDs, but some of these cameras (e.g., Sony) appear to involve annoyingly proprietary formats.

And now, as I gather all my options, I realize that I'm looking at another $1000 camera, destined to be obsolete again in five years. Every once in a while, I wonder why I even try to keep up with it all. Oh yeah, that's right. I want my daughter, in 20 years, to think, "You know, Dad really cared enough to make my memories as visually and sonically effective as possible."

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