Camcorders contain 3 major components: lens, imager, and recorder. The lens gathers and focuses light on the imager. The imager (usually a CCD or CMOS sensor on modern camcorders; earlier examples often used vidicon tubes) converts incident light into an electrical signal. Finally, the recorder converts the electric signal into digital video and encodes it into a storable form. More commonly, the optics and imager are referred to as the camera section.
The lens is the first component in the light path. The camcorder's optics generally have one or more of the following adjustments:
aperture or iris to regulate the exposure and to control depth of field;
zoom to control the focal length and angle of view;
shutter speed to regulate the exposure and to maintain desired motion portrayal;
gain to amplify signal strength in low-light conditions;
neutral density filter to regulate the exposure.
In consumer units, the above adjustments are often automatically controlled by the camcorder's electronics, but can be adjusted manually if desired. Professional units offer direct user control of all major optical functions.
The imager converts light into electric signal. The camera lens projects an image onto the imager surface, exposing the photosensitive array to light. The light exposure is converted into electrical charge. At the end of the timed exposure, the imager converts the accumulated charge into a continuous analog voltage at the imager's output terminals. After scan-out is complete, the photosites are reset to start the exposure-process for the next video frame.
The third section, the recorder, is responsible for writing the video-signal onto a recording medium (such as magnetic videotape.) The record function involves many signal-processing steps, and historically, the recording-process introduced some distortion and noise into the stored video, such that playback of the stored-signal may not retain the same characteristics/detail as the live video feed.
All but the most primitive camcorders imaginable also need to have a recorder-controlling section which allows the user to control the camcorder, switch the recorder into playback mode for reviewing the recorded footage and an image control section which controls exposure, focus and white-balance.
The image recorded need not be limited to what appeared in the viewfinder. For documentation of events, such as used by police, the field of view overlays such things as the time and date of the recording along the top and bottom of the image. Such things as the police car or constable to which the recorder has been allotted may also appear; also the speed of the car at the time of recording. Compass direction at time of recording and geographical coordinates may also be possible. These are not kept to world-standard fields; "month/day/year" may be seen, as well as "day/month/year", besides the ISO standard "year-month-day".