''Camcorder' is basically just another name for a portable video camera. Camcorders can be either tape-based or digital. These days, the more versatile digital camcorders are outselling their analog equivalents by pretty large numbers; nonetheless, there remain a fair number of tape-based camcorders on the market, as well as in production. Mini-DVD camcorders try to bridge this technology gap by combining the small size and portability of the digital camera, with the easy connectivity of a tape-based camcorder.Since its development and release in the early 80s, the camcorder has undergone a series of metamorphoses. The original model, released in 1984, recorded onto full-size VHS tapes, making them incredibly bulky and difficult to handle. Only professionals or eccentric amateurs could really afford the time and money needed to get any results out of them.Further developments, however, have only increased the item's popularity with the general public. Eight millimeter tapes (which could then be transferred to normal VHS decks using special adaptors) quickly took the place of their bulky Beta predecessors, and ruled the roost for some time. Then in the 1990s, the mini-DVD camcorder made its debut, allowing users an even smaller recording unit, with even higher video resolution.Nowadays, mini-DVD recorders are affordable and easy to use: just point, record, and use the produced DVD in any computer or DVD player. Even more powerful, however--for some people at least--are straight digital recorders, which forgo the use of DVDs altogether. These camcorders simply record straight to a digital hard drive; the video they shoot can then be directly linked to a computer, edited, and burned for further use. Investing in a camcorder is a practical way to record the important moments in your life and to experiment with technology. However, before you go laying down $10,000 on a digital camcorder with dozens of bells and whistles, first analyze your realistic needs and capacities. Step one is to figure out what format you want. Typically, camcorders can record as MicroMVs, MiniDVs and digital 8s.Probably the most convenient and least expensive taping method is MiniDV, which comes standard at approximately five dollars for an hour-long tape. After choosing your format, consider which essential features you need. If you record speeches, you may want a plug-in microphone. If you're creating a film, you want excellent manual focus options. If you're just videotaping events in your life or family vacations, you can eschew these advanced features and save yourself hundreds of dollars.Don't get caught up in the promise of ancillary features, like digital still photography. If you want to take really great digital photos, you would be better off with a digital camera--not a camcorder. Along those lines, be wary when cameras promise expansive digital zooms. A 10 times zoom should be sufficient for your purposes. If a camera zooms 400 times, you are going to lose some of the image quality.Experiment with the ergonomics and button placements on cameras that have the features you want. You don't want to accidentally turn off your camera in the middle of an important life moment. Be aware that in-camera microphones may pick up ambient noise, so you likely should invest in additional microphone extensions if capturing sound is important to you.