A hard drive camcorder is a digital video camera that contains a built-in hard drive for recording video digitally. They have been popular for a few years, but are arguably being eclipsed by the more durable, cheaper, and replaceable Flash memory camcorder format.
In general, hard drive camcorders are quite small, and so they are a great option for frequent travelers and vacationers. And conveniently, an HDD cam never needs any additional media, be it a Flash card or a tape. All of its video is stored inside the camcorder until it is transferred to a computer or DVD, or deleted.
Naturally, this is also one of the drawbacks of hard drive camcorders; if the hard drive fills up, the camera is useless until footage is deleted or preserved onto a computer or DVD.
Hard drive sizes vary widely. It is not uncommon to find drives that are 30 GB, 40 GB, or even 120 GB. A 30 GB hard drive camcorder, for example, will store about 6–7 hours of good-quality footage, and about twice that when set at a lower quality.
To transfer video from your hard drive camcorder to DVD, you will either have to order a DVD transfer of your raw footage or save the footage to your computer's hard drive. With a Flash or tape camcorder, you never need to stop filming as long as you have additional supplies on hand.
Also, like Flash memory camcorders, hard disk camcorders also use the MPEG-2 codec, which is not a file type used for video editing. Consequently, the videos produced by hard drive camcorders were not designed to be edited, and in fact, very few programs can interpret MPEG-2 files.
Video quality varies in hard drive camcorders. Keep the quality settings in mind. A built-in 30 GB drive, for example, will hold approximately 7 hours of video. Switch the quality to the lower-quality setting, and you will double the recording time. However, keep in mind that the lower-quality setting will also result in a lower-quality picture, which can be very apparent when you convert video to DVD for archiving purposes.
Another final downside to a digital hard drive camcorder is its fragility. The hard drive inside of these camcorders has moving parts, and although they have shock protection, they are not shock resistant. If the hard drive is spinning when it is dropped, it could be rendered useless. If this happens, the entire camcorder will likely have to be replaced – and the video on the hard drive may be lost. Also, hard drive cams are also more sensitive to atmospheric pressure than other camera types and most will not operate above 10,000 feet in elevation.