Creative Vado HD (Third Generation)
For $180 (as of February 16, 2010), the third entry in Creative Labs' Vado HD pocket camcorder series offers enough features and video quality to compete squarely with the Flip Video Mino HD and the Kodak Zi8.
In fact, the Creative Vado HD splits the difference between those two top-rated pocket camcorders, offering top-notch 720p footage in low light (like the Flip Mino HD) while sporting an external mic port and versatile in-camera settings (like the Kodak Zi8).
The Vado HD also has a wider-angle lens than those two chart-topping camcorders, as well as a pair of features I haven't seen in any pocket camcorder: exposure controls (you can ratchet up the brightness of your footage while filming, using a four-step EV adjuster), and a motion-detection mode that automatically starts recording when the camcorder senses movement in front of the lens.
The exposure adjustments are handy when you're dealing with low-light settings or other tricky shooting environments. In the following test clip, I adjusted the exposure values from dark to light (and back again) a few times to show the range of video brightness you can accomplish.
Another nice touch is the microphone-in jack, which lets you use standard earbuds as a microphone. It's a great option to have when you want to isolate your audio input. Don't expect full stereo recording when you're using earbuds as an external mic, however: In my tests, audio picked up clearly from one earbud, but not the other.
Head-to-head with the top-rated HD pocket camcorders, the new Vado HD fared very well. It's my pick for a go-to pocket camcorder if you're looking for a wide-angle lens; no other pocket camcorder I've tested (other than the first-generation Creative Vado HD) comes close to its wide-angle chops.
I shot all sample videos at the Creative Vado HD's highest-quality video resolution (720p, or 1280 by 720, at 30 frames per second). You can select a higher resolution for these sample clips by using the drop-down menu in the lower-right corner of the video player.
Wide-Angle Test: Creative Vado HD (Third Generation)
Wide-Angle Test: Flip Mino HD (Second Generation)
Wide-Angle Test: Kodak Zi8
In normal indoor lighting, colors in sample footage appeared very bright, but tended to look oversaturated. Footage shot with the Vado HD wasn't as sharp as video from the Flip Mino HD, but its colors were more vibrant. These test clips were shot with no exposure adjustments.
Video-Quality Test: Creative Vado HD (Third Generation)
Video-Quality Test: Flip Mino HD (Second Generation)
Video-Quality Test: Kodak Zi8
Low-light footage shot with the Vado HD was a bit murky, but among the best of the bunch in the pocket-camcorder category. Colors seemed a bit brighter than those in the Flip Mino HD's low-light footage, but the Mino HD's footage looked a little more sharp. All things considered, the Vado HD is the first pocket camcorder we've tested that rivals the low-light capabilities of the Flip line of camcorders.
Low-Light Test: Creative Vado HD (Third Generation)
Low-Light Test: Flip Mino HD (Second Generation)
The Creative Vado HD records MPEG-4 files to 4GB of internal storage, and your footage translates to about a megabyte per second at the highest video resolution (720p). As with most pocket camcorders, the rechargeable lithium-ion battery juices up via the same flip-out USB connector (on the bottom of the device, next to the tripod mount) that you use to offload clips from the Vado HD to your PC or Mac.
Operation is simple, and handled by a four-way, touch-sensitive directional pad that surrounds a center record button on the back of the Vado HD. The touchpad--which controls the video playback, the exposure adjustments, and the Vado HD's smooth-operating 2X digital zoom--responds well (although I'd personally prefer physical buttons).
Occupying the edges of the device are three buttons and two ports: a power button, a video/still capture toggle button, a delete button, an external mic/headphone port on the top, and an HDMI-out port on the right side.
The 2-inch-diagonal LCD does its job, and offers decent visibility for shot composition in direct sunlight. The all-plastic frame is a better build than the first-generation Creative Vado HD, but it's still plastic and nowhere near as durable as the Flip Mino HD's casing. (That said, the diamond-pattern design on the front and back looks a lot sharper than the design of previous versions of the Vado.) You also don't get the macro/landscape toggle, removable storage, or 1080p shooting mode of the Kodak Zi8.
My buying advice: If you want a durable pocket camcorder that provides dead-simple operation and good low-light performance, opt for the Flip Mino HD. If you want 1080p footage, frame-rate controls, an external microphone input, and removable storage, choose the Kodak Zi8. If you want a wide-angle lens, exposure controls, an external mic input, and good low-light video, go for the third-generation Creative Vado HD.
All three are excellent pocket camcorders, but the Creative Vado HD distinguishes itself with the best wide-angle capabilities of any HD pocket camcorder I've seen, excellent low-light video quality, a solid range of features, and a sub-$200 price.
Creative Vado HD (Third Generation)
The third-generation Vado HD has the widest-angle lens of any HD pocket camcorder, as well as exposure controls, great low-light video quality, and a sub-$200 price.
- Excellent low-light performance
- Earbuds can function as external mic
- Exposure controls
- Wide-angle lens
- No removable storage