Choosing and Using a DV Camcorder

A DV camera enables you to capture your own video and easily import clips into iMovie via FireWire. Obtaining a DV camera can be a baffling and sometimes intimidating process. There are many brands, and each offers many models with dozens of different features. This adds up to more choices than you might want to deal with.

However, by assessing a few specific factors, you can quickly reduce the dozens of choices you have to just a few:

  • iMovie compatibility? Compatibility with iMovie should be the most important factor you consider when you choose a DV camera. What does iMovie compatibility mean? Basically, it means you have the easiest time and get the best results using that camera with iMovie. This is because you can control the camera from within iMovie, which makes transferring clips from the camera into iMovie a snap.

    Apple maintains a list of iMovie-compatible cameras on the iMovie Web page. To see this list, go to You will have the best results if the camera you choose is on this list.

  • Format? Many video camera formats are available; the good news is that you need to consider only two formats: Digital8 and MiniDV. The difference between them is, as you probably surmised, size. Digital8 cameras use a digital tape the same physical size as an 8mm tape. MiniDV tapes are considerably smaller, and MiniDV cameras tend to be considerably smaller, as well. Because of the size benefits and the fact that MiniDV has become the standard for DV camcorders, I recommend you consider only cameras that use the MiniDV format.

  • Cost? How much you have to pay for a camera is likely to be one of the first things you think about. And it might indeed be the most important factor of all. To quickly find out how much specific models cost, make a note of some of the models you see on the camcorder compatibility list. Go to your favorite retail Web site?try search for the models you noted to see how much they cost.

  • Magnification? The power of the lens determines how close you must be to shoot something. Two values are quoted for DV cameras. One value is for optical zoom, and the other is for digital zoom. Optical zoom uses the physical lenses to achieve magnification; digital zoom uses digital enhancements to make the image larger. Optical zoom provides higher quality, but both are useful. For both values, bigger numbers are better (for example, a 20X optical zoom is better than a 10X optical zoom).

  • Input and output ports? In addition to the FireWire port, other ports are available to get information into or out of the camera. These include a microphone jack so you can connect and use a higher-quality or focusable microphone, additional audio/video input/output ports, and so on.


Make sure the DV camera you get has a port that enables you to record from an external source. This is usually called an A/V port. Often, this is the same port used to export video from the camera (the same jack is used to record from a source as is used to export the video to a VCR). This feature enables you to use an analog source to capture clips for your movies (in effect, such camcorders function as digitizers). For example, you can record from a VCR and then use FireWire to transfer that footage through the DV camera into iMovie so you can use it in your movies. This is easy to do, and the quality is very good (better than with most consumer-level digitizing devices). Even better is a model that enables you to pass-through a signal so you don't even have to record it with your DV camera because the signal passes through the DV camera into your Mac (via FireWire). This means you get a higher-quality first-generation recording in your movie rather than a second-generation recording (as you would if you have to record the video on the DV camcorder before you import it into iMovie).

After you have obtained a digital video camera, using one is very similar to using an analog camcorder. Hopefully, you will use a script or storyboard to plan the shooting you will do with it to get the clips from which you will build your movie.

After you have captured a collection of video clips, you are ready to get into iMovie to begin making a movie.


Before you start making DV movies, you should ensure that you have a lot of disk space in which to store your iMovie project. If you have 2GB or more available, you have enough to get started; however, you won't be able to store very many minutes of DV footage. If the free space is between 1GB and 2GB, you can get started, but you will have to carefully manage your disk space as you work. If you have less than 1GB of free space, you need to move some of your files off your disk because you won't have enough room for anything except the briefest of movie projects.

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