The Easy Way to Shoot and Share HD Video
Video-sharing sites such as YouTube have changed the way we consume and create video, and now there are several pocket-sized camcorders built specifically for the task. We recently pitted five high-definition pocketable camcorders from Pure Digital, Creative Labs, Sony, and Kodak against one another in standardized wide-angle, normal-lighting, low-lighting, and audio tests. Shortly after we wrapped up testing, Pure Digital announced yet another model, the Flip UltraHD, which performed better than many of the camcorders in our tests. Although each of these camcorders is devoted to capturing and uploading decent-looking video to the Web in the easiest way possible, each one also has both its major advantages and its key drawbacks. Here's an up-close look at the ultraportable HD camcorders we've tested.
Best Video Quality and Wide-Angle Lens: Creative Vado HD
If a wide-angle lens and bright, colorful video quality in well-lit situations are the top two items on your wish list, look no further than the $230 Creative Vado HD. We do have a few caveats: While footage shot with the Vado HD looked great in well-lit situations, it was among the worst of the low-light performers. And moving objects, compared with those in sample videos taken with the Flip MinoHD, also didn't appear to be as smooth as in clips shot with the Vado HD. Nevertheless, the Vado HD overall captured more accurate, more vibrant colors than the MinoHD.
Next: Pure Digital Flip MinoHD.
Great Looks and Low-Light Video: Pure Digital Flip MinoHD
Video captured with the slick $230 Flip MinoHD is just as smooth as the device's sleek aesthetics. It's also a great low-light performer, offering up smooth motion and good contrast in our poorly-lit test scene. In fact, the only camcorder that produced better low-light footage was its brand-new cousin, the bulkier-but-cheaper Flip UltraHD. The main shortcoming of the MinoHD may not even be a drawback for most potential buyers: Namely, it casts a slight yellow tint on video. While that means most clips have slightly muted colors, it also means that they have a slightly more cinematic look. Also something of a drawback: the MinoHD doesn't have a user-replaceable battery.
Best Feature Set: Sony Webbie HD MHS-PM1
The color options for the Sony Webbie HD MHS-PM1 (purple, orange, or silver) aren't all that make this model eye-catching. It also unleashes the best feature set of any of the camcorders here: a 5-megapixel still camera, a swiveling lens, the ability to shoot 1440-by-1080-resolution video (all the other models here max out at 720p), and five scene modes. That's a whole lot of features for the $170 price, but we only wish the low-light mode worked better and that the Webbie HD had an on-board USB connector like the Creative Vado HD, Flip MinoHD, and Kodak Zi6. This Sony model shoots decent video, but it's the features--not the video quality--that stand out.
Next: Kodak Zi6
Best Microphone and Frame-Rate Control: Kodak Zi6
Like its durable cousin, the Kodak Zx1, the $160 Kodak Zi6 offers nice video frame-rate controls: It shoots 720p video at both 60 frames per second and 30 fps, as well as a standard-definition VGA mode (at 30 fps) and can capture 3-megapixel stills. Other strong suits are its microphone, which captures clear, loud audio, even at a distance; its relatively huge 2.4-inch-diagonal LCD screen; and the convenience of running on AA batteries. But it does have a few drawbacks, as well: It's significantly larger than the other pocket camcorders here, and it had oversaturated colors in some video.
Next: Kodak Zx1
Most Durable: Kodak Zx1
Offering the same 30-fps and 60-fps frame-rate options as the Kodak Zi6, the $150 Kodak Zx1 crams most of what we like about the Zi6 in a more-durable, more-compact, and more-fashionable frame. Video captured with the AA-battery-compatible Zx1 looked less oversaturated than clips shot with the Zi6, which is nice, too. However, there are two big differences that we didn't like: The Zx1 has the weakest microphone of all the models here, and it has no flip-out USB connector. But like the Creative Vado HD, it does have an HDMI-out port for viewing clips on your HDTV.
Next: Pure Digital Flip UltraHD
Best All-Around Performer: Pure Digital Flip UltraHD
No sooner had we finished our five-camcorder battle royale than Pure Digital added yet another excellent HD pocket camcorder to the mix. In fact, the $200 Flip UltraHD may be the best pocket camcorder out there right now. It has a wider-angle lens than the Flip MinoHD (but still not as wide as the great lens on the Creative Vado HD), as well as improved low-light shooting, the ability to run on AA batteries, and the addition of an HDMI-out port (no cable is included, though). It's not as sleek or sexy as the MinoHD, but it offers slightly better performance and HDMI connectivity for a cheaper price, as well as twice as much storage capacity. Full review: Pure Digital Flip UltraHD