The compact camcorder genre is a small but resilient one, with the devices still much-favoured by bloggers, journalists and consumers who don’t like tech that’s bigger than their hands.
Before we jump into the product reviews, it’s worth devoting a few words to their history, best defined by a discontinued product – the Flip.
The Flip, introduced to the US market as the ‘Pure Digital Point & Shoot’ in May 2006, was the follow-up product to a popular camcorder designed for one use only (similar to a disposable camera). A commercial failure, Pure Digital enhanced it by including a built-in USB port that made getting the movies off the camera easy. At the same time, it renamed the product ‘Flip Video’ and embarked on a successful advertising campaign.
David Pogue, a well-known New York Times columnist reviewed the Flip and all of a sudden its popularity sky- rocketed. At its peak, the Flip gained a 13 percent share of the entire US camcorder market.
So what made the Flip a success? Among other things it was just really easy to use. All you did to use the Flip was turn it on and hit the big red button to start filming. If you didn’t like that bit of footage you just captured you hit the Trash button to delete it. And that’s all there is to it. Literally. No mucking around with resolutions, white balance, focus, fade-ins or anything else that makes expensive video cameras so complex.
The other thing that made the Flip popular was the way you got movies off the device, which you did by ‘flipping’ up the internal USB adaptor, connecting to your computer and directly copying off the video files. The Flip was also relatively small (10.4cm x 5.7cm x 3.2cm). Like point-and-shoot cameras, it was small enough to fit in your pocket.
In 2009, Pure Digital ‘flipped’ (sold) the Flip to Cisco, which decided that it wanted a presence in the consumer electronics market. But as often happens with these corporate take-overs Cisco quickly tired of selling products in the consumer market and killed the Flip in April this year.
Still, as the defining product of the compact camcorder genre it’s important to measure Flip competitors with the same metrics that made the Flip a hit. For starters, the product needs to be simple to use, small enough to easily fit in a pocket, record high-quality video and be reasonably priced. Otherwise, it’s competing with other products categories like Smartphones and dedicated point-and- shoot cameras.
WHY YOU SHOULD USE A DEDICATED CAMCORDER
With your iPhone now able to shoot HD video, one of the questions I get asked often is why bother with a stand-alone camcorder?
It’s true, video and lens quality on the latest iPhone makes it a great substitute for a dedicated camcorder, but there are still some limitations to be aware of.
First, the maximum storage your iPhone has is 64GB, some of which will already be used for images, music and apps. Once it’s full you’ll need to remove the video. There’s no such thing as ‘swapping cards’, something that dedicated camcorders let you do. If you’re away from your computer there’s not much you can do but go through the video on the iPhone and start deleting.
Second, many of the portable camcorders now available have differentiated themselves by becoming more rugged. Most are water-resistant and some are shock and dust-proof, too. They’ve got the sort of resilience you need when you’re down by the beach or around kids.
It’s also important to remember that while image quality is determined by a number of things, lens size is of great importance. You simply get a better- looking picture if you have a bigger lens, and most of the better pocket camcorders have lenses much bigger than you find on even the highest- quality smartphones.
Last, if you’re using your phone as your sole video camera chances are that while you’re recording that killer scene someone will call, which means your recording gets paused. It doesn’t sound like a big problem, but imagine you’re trying to record your kid’s very first steps and the phone rings!