Lights! Camera! Hard Disk!

The best new camcorder-software combos unleash anyone's inner Spielberg.

Photographs by John B. Carnett

Photographs by John B. Carnett

Be honest: Even you don't want to watch your home videos (raw footage is just not compelling). The good news: Home video-editing software is getting more powerful and easier to use, and the latest digital camcorders (don't even consider analog) are designed to transform you into a production company of one. Here's what to buy.

--Steve Morgenstern

1. YOUR GOAL: ENTER A FILM FESTIVAL

Camcorder: JVC's 12-ounce ultraportable GR-DVP7U ($1,500, top) combines excellent sound and video quality with still photos and e-mailable MPEG-4 video clips.

Software: For Windows or Mac, Adobe Premiere 6.5 ($549) offers a storyboard mode for quick results or a timeline interface for frame-by-frame control. There's also a custom music generator.

2. YOUR GOAL: MAKE WEB-WORTH FILMS

Camcorder: Sony's DCR-TRV27 ($1,000, middle) features a 3.5-inch color viewscreen, Super Steady-Shot, and good battery life.

Software: Mac's iMovie2 is basic, but good enough for the Web. For Windows users who want to save to DVD, we suggest Roxio's VideoWave Power Edition ($100). Otherwise go for Ulead's VideoStudio 6 ($100) for its timeline and overlay features.

3. YOUR GOAL: IMPRESS THE FAMILY

Camcorder: Canon's ZR40 ($700, bottom) is an excellent basic recorder with an 18X optical zoom and 2.5-inch screen.

Software: Windows Movie Maker 1.2, included with Windows XP, and iMovie 2, shipped with new Macs, offer simple video capture with automatic scene detection and other useful features. If you have an older PC, buy Roxio's VideoWave Power Edition or Ulead's VideoStudio 6 (see above). If you have an older Mac, download iMovie2 for free at www.apple.com