2009-12-27

Pocket Camcorders Buying Guide

Pocket camcorders have quickly become a multi billion dollar industry with multiple manufacturers.

Notwithstanding price, an obvious advantage, the main advantage of a pocket camcorder is, well, that it will fit in your pocket. Large camcorders may soon go the way of large cell phones.

And like with compact cell phones, pocket camcorders come with major trade offs. For cell phones it is reception range, for camcorders it is image quality. On the other hand, it is way better than nothing. And since few of us lug a camcorder everywhere we go, nothing is what we normally have.

Prices are usually under $250, so you might as well get the best one. And the best one means HD. Many cell phones and the iPod Nano can take reasonable video. But they can't take HD. And, as I write this in December 2009, that is where the pocket camcorder's niche resides: HD video.

At the moment, a couple offer 1080p. However, that feature is mostly a gimmick. The technology of pocket camcorders just isn't  that good yet. So when comparing pocket camcorders, stick to a 720p comparison.

Let's go by elimination:

Samsung HMX-U10
Although the specs look good on paper, the Samsung HMX-U10 has gotten horrible reviews by buyers at Amazon.com . I suspect the technology press would have given it equaly bad reviews if they had reviewed it. Most likely Samsung wisely chose not to provide thech reviewers with the pocket camcorder. Although if you are a conspiracy fan, perhaps the press prefered not to anger Samsung. As the saying goes, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Kodak Zi6
Already old technology. Kodak has replaced it with the Zi8. Feel free to pick up a used one from an early adopter, but I question the logic of buying a new one.

Kodak Zx1
This camcorder is good for outdoors. In fact, it is the only weather proof one currently on the market. However, the bike and helmet kit accessory that Kodak brags about is almost impossible to find. And since you don't want to be filming on rainy days (especially since this camera is lousy in low light), the weatherproofing is of little value. This pocket camcorder is useless indoors. Eliminated.

JVC Picsio GC-FM1
This Fall Gizmodo concluded in their "Ultimate Pocket Camcorder" review that it sucked. Why argue with Gizmodo?

Aiptek PenCam HD
Also panned by Gizmodo, the Aiptek PenCam HD. However, if you choose not to trust Gizmodo, the plus side is that the pocket camcorder looks cool (the camera, not the video, that sucks).

OK, so that is 5 fewer pocket cams to be tempted by. Good stuff. However, there are still many you could buy. Which is the best?

Not a huge difference amongst the best reviewed. The best pocket cam is the one you can't have yet. Either because it is not available yet in your country (Mino HD, second generation with 8GB), or everybody ran out and bought it (Kodak Zi8).

Consistently rated in the top two is the Flip Ultra HD. It has two major drawbacks: it is fat and needs a mini HDMI adapter ($5 at Monoprice.com). Also, you can't take pictures. That may or may not be a drawback as pocket camcorders are generally lousy at taking pictures and you can always take a caption from a video. The HDMI issue is more of an annoyance than anything. Indeed, not everybody will play unedited video on their HD TV from their camera, so perhaps those who do should be responsible for getting an HDMI cable (or mini HDMI adapter if they already have a HDMI cable).

The Flip Ultra HD is fat, but it will fit in your pocket. So it certainly qualifies as a pocket camcorder. However, in tight jeans the bulge will be visible...

As for advantages, the primary is memory. Like an iPod or iPhone, memory is included. 8GB should be fine unless you will be away from a computer for long periods (think vacation). Not having to buy an SDHC card is an important savings and major hassle saver. You can't lose internal memory. You also don't have to worry about buying the correct quality of memory.

On pocket cameras without internal memory, if it writes at 12 mega bits per second, than any SDHC card rated class 2 or higher (2 mega bytes per second) should be sufficient (a byte is 8 bits). However, many customers think a class 6 card is the minimum speed. And those are much more expensive, especially at the capacity you will need (8GB or more).  Worse still, even at equal class and capacity, reported quality, and price, of the SD cards vary considerably. It is just one more thing that can go wrong.

Prices of pocket camcorders, indeed, even the same pocket camcorder, vary from one seller to the other. A few minutes of shopping can save you a few dollars. But remember, these are all relatively affordable, so I'd think twice before booking a day off work to tour the malls.

As these are small, they are affordable to ship. Google and online sellers are you friend when it comes to to pocket camcorders. Keep in mind the different versions (Flip Ultra HD vs Flip (not HD) and the Mino HD 1st generation with 4GB and the soon to be released second generation with 8GB).

Start with Amazon. Although they seem better at pricing books than electronics. Their prices vary considerably over time.

Also, keep in mind that pocket camcorders barely make sense. You can shoot video on a cell phone or the iPod Nano. You also most likely have a digital camera and most of those allow you to take short video.

Video on a HD pocket camcorder will be better than on the above, however, it will probably be worse than on an old fashion camcorder. Your old fashion camcorder can't record in HD, but the video will be much smoother and much clearer indoors than on a pocket camcorder.

That said, those old cell phones were "better" too.

-Pocket HD camcorders - CNET Reviews
-Ultimate Pocket Camcorder Comparison - Pocket camcorder battlemodo ...
-Top-Rated HD Pocket Camcorders - PC World
-Pocket Camcorders: A Beginner's Guide to Pocket Camcorders




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