These cameras come in a broad range of prices, formats, and performance levels. But they all have cool color viewfinders (no more squinting at a fuzzy black-and-white image) and easy playback.

Sony DCR-PC7
A high-performance digital video camera in a sleek chassis. First you'll need to master its smallish viewfinder and hard-to-find controls, but the resulting video wizardry will be clean and crisp. Bottom line: this Sony is so cute you have to resist the urge to pet it. $2,800 (but if you pay the list price for any of these cameras, you're not looking hard enough).

Sharp VL-H850U
Sharp's Viewcam uses the Hi-8 tape format (a step up from 8 mm) and gives both sound and picture quality that are superior to VHS's. The big, four-inch color screen isn't just a viewfinder; it offers immediate gratification--you can watch your travel masterpieces seconds after you shoot them. (TV playback does require some annoying wiring, however.) $1,700.

Panasonic PV-DV710
Packed with every feature and gimmick imaginable (and a cassette the size of a Zippo lighter), this digital model gives your eye the choice of a color viewfinder or a 3.8-inch LCD screen. State-of-the-art effects--you can make the image flash like a strobe or give it a sepia tone--turn your everyday video into a cinematic statement. $2,500.

The Hitachi VM-8300A ($700), though not compact, is convenient: its VHS tapes go straight into your VCR. Add to that a powerful zoom lens and handy electronic image stabilizer.
The petite RCA CC648 ($750) features a well-designed automatic-exposure dial--useful in problematic light--and a way to create your own in-camera titles. The smaller VHS-C cassette slips into an adaptor to play in your VCR.

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