What are the different Camcorder Formats

Camcorder is a blended word, meaning “camera recorder” (click here). The first camcorder was the Sony Betamax (Betamovie) BMC-100, which was the first one-piece camera and recorder. It went on sale in 1983, but the Sony Betamax was almost extinct by that time (click here), so the Betamovie never materialized as a viable choice. Over the years, the evolution of the analog video camcorder consisted of a variety of formats, followed by today’s selection of digital camcorders.

Here is a brief rundown of the evolution of camcorders over the past quarter-century:


  • Sony Betamax (Betamovie) BMC-100 used a Betamax cassette and would run for one hour with an L-500. It was introduced in May 1983 and promoted with the slogan “Inside this camera is a VCR.” It was a record-only machine without an electronic viewfinder.
  • Full-sized VHS; uses regular-sized VHS tapes, just like a VHS VCR. The recorded tape can be played in a regular VHS VCR, just like any other VHS tape. Due to the size of the VHS tape, these camcorders must be shoulder-mounted during shooting.
  • VHS-C (compact VHS): A miniature version that can be played back in conventional VHS units with an adapter.
  • 8mm derives its name from the width of the tape (8mm); it uses tape that is smaller than VHS or VHS-C. Tapes made on an 8mm camcorder need to be played back by connecting the camcorder directly to the TV. There is no such device as an adapter to play back 8mm to conventional VHS.
  • S-VHS-C is identical to the VHS-C (above), except that the resolution is higher, at 400 lines (vs. 240 for VHS-C). Recordings made on an S-VHS camcorder can be played back on an S-VHS VCR (using an adapter), but the recording cannot be played back on a conventional VCR. These camcorders can also record in conventional VHS-C as well; in this mode, they can be played back on a conventional VCR.
  • Hi8 is to 8mm what S-VHS is to conventional VHS. It delivers resolution 40% higher than its offspring, the 8mm camcorder (400 lines). And, like 8mm, there is no adapter to play these tapes in a regular VCR. Hi8 camcorders can play and record in either the Hi8 or regular 8mm format.


  • Digital 8 took the existing HI8 (analog) format and converted it into a digital camcorder. These camcorders can record analog 8mm and Hi8 tapes using the regular AV connections, but they would not be digital. Video resolution is about 500 lines, compared to 400 for S-VHS or Hi8 and 240 lines for conventional VHS and 8mm. Since Digital 8 runs at twice the speed as 8mm and Hi8, a two-hour tape, MP6-120, yields only 60 minutes when used in a Digital 8 camcorder. You must use Hi8 tapes, not 8mm, with Digital 8 to get digital recording.
  • Mini DV, by far the most popular digital format today, uses extremely small 6mm Mini DV tapes and can record 60–80 minutes on a single tape in SP mode, or 90–120 in LP mode. Tapes are played back through the camcorder to a VCR, TV or to a computer. There are dual VHS mini DV decks that will play back both tapes, and allow you to copy your recordings to full-size VHS and vice versa. Resolution is about 500 lines.
  • Mini DV HD is a new generation of camcorder that shoots HD (High Definition), for users who own an HDTV. Mini DV 63HD Digital HDV camcorders record 63 minutes in SP, or 94 minutes in LP.
  • Micro MV is a new format that is smaller than Mini DV tapes and records video in MPEG-2 format instead of the DV format.
  • DVD Camcorders record on a mini 3-inch size DVD disc that holds approximately half an hour of footage. Currently there are three major formats used in DVD camcorders: DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM. Sony uses the DVD-R and DVD-RW formats; Panasonic and Hitachi use the DVD-R and DVD-RAM formats. The DVD-R format is the most common, using the least expensive discs and the most compatible with home DVD players. DVD-R format means you can only use the disc once; the DVD-RW means they’re rewritable.
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