File type and resolution: .mov; 1080p (at 30 fps), 720p (at 60 fps or 30 fps), or 848 by 480
Strengths: 1080p video, resolution and frame-rate controls, microphone-in jack (you can use earbuds as an external mic), big LCD, macro/landscape toggle, records to SD/SDHC cards
Weaknesses: Laggy interface, bad digital zoom, bulky size, iffy digital image stabilization, mediocre 5-megapixel still images
Buying advice: If you value video quality and frame-rate controls over all else--and if you want the option of using an external microphone--the Zi8 is perfect for your needs. It isn't as polished, durable, or low-light-savvy as the Flip Video MinoHD, but it produces higher-resolution video and offers many more features for $50 less. If you have earbuds, you can also use them as makeshift lavalier mics by plugging them into the Zi8's microphone-in port. Plus, with a simple mod using a mail-ordered wide-angle lens, as demonstrated by YouTube users renadar1001 and onesiccaprilia, you can enhance the Zi8's imaging capabilities even more.
Flip Video MinoHD
Price: $230 for a 2-hour model; $200 for a 1-hour model
File type and resolution: MPEG-4; 720p
Strengths: Great build quality, slick aesthetics, superb ease of use, customizable faceplate, best low-light video quality of any pocket camcorder
Weaknesses: Expensive, no resolution or frame-rate controls, no still-image capture, touch buttons can be overly sensitive
Buying advice: If you're looking for the iPod of pocket camcorders, this is it. The latest Flip Video MinoHD is the most solidly built, easy-to-use pocket camcorder out there, and it's largely considered the industry standard. The second-generation device has a solid metal build (which you can customize with your own designs via the Flip Video Website), a durable metal USB connector, an HDMI-out port, and a smooth digital zoom--it also took the best low-light video footage we've seen in our tests. Its $230 asking price is a bit high compared with the cost of the full-featured Kodak Zi8, but the MinoHD is likely to please anyone on your gift list.
Sony Webbie HD MHS-PM1
File type and resolution: MPEG-4; 1440 by 1080 (at 30 fps), 720p (at 30 fps), VGA (at 30 fps)
Strengths: Adjustable swivel lens, fashionable looks, five preset scene modes, 5-megapixel still images, self-timer, on-screen histogram
Weaknesses: Slightly choppy video, no flip-out USB connector, small buttons, overly sensitive built-in microphone, storage limited to Sony's proprietary Memory Stick card
Buying advice: At $150, Sony's first-generation Webbie HD pocket camcorder represents a good value, offering a fashionable frame and some good in-camera extras. The swivel lens is a nice touch for self-portaits (you can point the lens at yourself while looking at the 1.8-inch LCD screen), and the camcorder provides convenient scene modes such as Auto, Backlight, and Low-Light. Video becomes noticeably choppy when you move the camera around, and the microphone has a tendency to pick up the sound of your hand on the Webbie's body far too much. Also, you'll need to invest in a Memory Stick card, as this camcorder doesn't have built-in storage.
Flip Video UltraHD
Price: $200 for a 2-hour model
File type and resolution: MPEG-4; 720p (at 30 fps)
Strengths: Runs on two AA batteries, great low-light footage, very easy to use
Weaknesses: Bulky frame, pedestrian design, no resolution or frame-rate controls, no still-image capture
Buying advice: Want everything the Flip Video MinoHD has to offer but unwilling to pay extra for the smaller, more durable frame? The UltraHD is pretty much the same camcorder. It has its benefits when compared with the MinoHD: It's $30 cheaper, it's more vacation-friendly due to its AA battery power (you'd need to plug the MinoHD into a computer's USB port to charge it), and some users will find its physical buttons easier to deal with than the MinoHD's touch-sensitive divots. Other than that, it's the MinoHD's twin, offering great low-light footage, an HDMI-out port, and dead-simple operation, but no fine-tunable video settings or still-image capture.
Memorex MyVideo HD
Price: $130 for a 2-hour model
File type and resolution: .mov; 720p (at 30 fps)
Strengths: Great feature set for the price, sharp contrast in bright-light video, full-size HDMI-out port with cable included, good 5-megapixel still images
Weaknesses: Plain-jane looks and plasticky build, muddy low-light video, iffy digital image stabilization, bad digital zoom, muted colors in bright-light video
Buying advice: You've pillaged your couch cushions for every last shred of money, and you've scrounged up 130 bucks for a camcorder. Take a look at the Memorex MyVideo HD. Though this model's video resolution maxes out at 720p, its feature list approaches that of the loaded Kodak Zi8. Unfortunately, you might as well cross digital image stabilization and digital zoom off that specs list, as both are poorly implemented. On the bright side, video shot in well-lit scenes is sharp (but muted), 5-megapixel stills look surprisingly good, the bundled ArcSoft video app lets you make basic edits, and you get an HDMI cable in the box. The MyVideo HD won't astound you, but it is a serviceable low-priced option that offers decent performance and great extras.