There are way too many tape, disk and stick formats out there:
VHS - The old standard, too big, not digital, easily played anywhere without conversion.
VHS-C - A small cassette that fits in an adapter to play in a regular VCR. Most people who have these older units record at the slow EP or SLP speed which gives them borderline crummy results. Not my favorite, as you may guess, but these camcorders are cheap, cheap, cheap. In the right hands, I've seen dazzling results.
S-VHS and S-VHS-C - Called "super" VHS, this format puts more details on a VHS-like tape than regular VHS camcorders do, but unless you have a VCR that plays it back, the picture looks all torn and raggedy. A good non-digital format for pros but on its way out.
8mm, Hi8 and Digital8 - A popular family of camcorder tapes primarily engineered by Sony, the small cassette looks sort of like VHS-C but there is no adapter to play it in a VHS VCR. It started with 8mm, got improved by Hi8 (which used to be expensive), and went digital with Digital8. Hi8 camcorders are now on sale very cheaply-- they are a good choice for the budget-minded. The D8 (Digital8) format ain't bad -- it costs less lower than some of the other digital formats, it's a little larger (therefore more robust?), and D8 equipment is compatible with computer editing systems through it's Firewire plugs just like pro gear.
MiniDV - A small tape format that at one time or another all the major manufacturers agreed upon (but some have broken ranks as you step up into pro gear or move to still smaller tape or non-tape formats). At the time this is written, I'd say this is the best all-purpose format around. It's used in mid-range consumer cameras up to some fine pro-gear used by the broadcast industry, worldwide. You can generally record one hour or so on a tape at normal speed and can get 50% more time at slow speed, but watch out: tapes recorded at the slow LP speed may not play back anywhere but in the camcorder that made them -- great 10 years from now when the camcorder has gone to camcorder heaven and you want to dig out those old shots only to discover they play like your VCR has a bad case of the hiccups.
DVCAM and DVCpro - Industrial step-ups of the MiniDV format and standard. Electronically these digital formats are the same as MiniDV, but the tapes are bigger and there are other differences that Sony and Panasonic love to argue about. We mix and match a lot of MiniDV and DVCAM at our (primarily Sony) shop, using DVCAM in our more expensive camcorders where we need to shoot for two or three hours without stop. Panasonic's DVCpro is similar and has been bought into by a number of broadcasters, but it is less compatible when mixing and matching with MiniDV (in my opinion).
Then there are some emerging formats that I've seen for sale or read about, but haven't bought into yet:
MicroDV - a very small tape in very small Sony camcorders
MiniDVD - a DVD disk in a cartridge used in some Hitachi camcorders.
MPEG video in still digital cameras - some still camera manufacturers feel that you want to also record video with their units. Usually you can collect snippets of less than a minute. The results are interesting to post on a web site, but that's about it. This video is usually captured on whatever memory sticks or diskettes the camera uses -- another whole subject beyond the range of this discussion.
DVD - A major playback format but not yet widely available in camcorders.
I didn't go into all the older formats and broadcast formats that are still lurking around: 3/4", BetaMax, BetaSP, and 1" to name just a few. On top of that, if you are sort of an international soul, you've run into the fact that other parts of the world have different TV standards. Ours is called NTSC, much of Europe is PAL, France is SECAM and there are subsets of these. If you are a student of world history shortly after World War II, you can fan out these three major formats to the rest of the world by who was in charge of or aligned politically with whom. The tapes and disks are the same mechanically, but what's recorded on them is different. It takes special equipment to translate from one format to another.
A big part of our business is dedicated to just transferring all these old and new formats to the more popular playback formats: VHS and DVD. The digital formats are here to stay and pretty-much obsolete the older formats. As this is written, high definition camcorder equipment is not yet available for consumers -- this equipment will probably be very expensive when it first shows up. Get a good camcorder today while everyone is still healthy and around, and the kids haven't grown too big, and don't second guess yourself about what might or might not be coming down the road.
Video Kitchen can edit, duplicate or convert your video to and from almost any format. Our most popular services are transferring photos to DVD building stunning photo montages and copying VHS and camcorder tapes to DVD to preserve and share those special moments.
We also shoot, edit and do mass duplication of VHS, DVD and CD for businesses and organizations. You can come in and work in an edit suite with one of our editors producing a "broadcast-ready" program or edit together a family video on a self-service basis.
Our wide-ranging transfer services include converting old Super 8, 8mm and 16mm home movie film to video, converting video footage for PowerPoint presentations and encoding clips to be shown on the Internet, to name a few.
We have a location in Louisville Kentucky's Highlands at 2323 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 40205 and one in Jeffersontown in the East End at 1917 Blankenbaker Parkway, Louisville KY 40299. Please browse through our pages at http://www.videokitchen.com and feel free to call six days a week.