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The World in your pocket

The World in your pocket

The concept of being able to record anything at a moment’s notice made its first appearance with multimedia phones and has emerged as a market category of its very own, known as pocket camcorders.

These super small camcorders make it possible to record high quality video without the need of a bulky camcorder. The majority of them fit neatly into any pocket or purse for ultra portability. Video quality has taken a huge step up from multimedia phones and with that advance, they’re catching up with many of the standard camcorders on the market costing much more.

One of the big pros when talking about a pocket camcorder is that the majority of them come with built in USB functionality, which allows for quick uploads without the need for additional cords. The USB port is also used for recharging your camcorder without the need of an additional charger. The average battery life is a little less than the slightly larger camcorders, but their versatility and mobility make up for that difference.

Buying Advice: Stats That Matter...
• Resolution: Although standard-definition video cameras are still available at the low end of the market, it’s time to make the switch to HD for your home movies. Better still, most HD camcorders record 1080p (or “full”) high-definition footage, which means those moments you capture will look especially good on HDTVs now and in the future. The one drawback to HD video is that it will eat up more of your storage, leading to shorter recording times, depending on the mode you select. For instance, the Canon Vixia HF20 can record more than 12 hours of footage at its lowest-quality setting, but that plummets to 2 hours and 55 minutes at its best 1080p setting. In general, you’ll need twice as much storage space to record the same amount of footage in HD as you would in standard definition.

• Sensor Size: The bigger the sensor, the more detail it can capture, resulting in a better-quality image. Higher-quality camcorders may have three smaller sensors (one for red, green and blue light) that can offer superior color reproduction.

• Lens: As with most digital cameras, the amount a camcorder’s lens can zoom in on faraway action is measured in x. Unless you’re buying a point-and-shoot, Flip-style model, video cameras will usually come with at least a 10x optical zoom. Look for a longer zoom if you shoot a lot of footage from a distance (20x should be sufficient). Just be aware that it’s harder to keep the lens steady the farther it’s extended.

• Display: Almost all new camcorders have at least a 2-inch LCD on which you can frame your shots and view menu items; most have 2.5-inch to 2.7-inch displays, with a few offering 3- or 3.2-inch screens. Generally speaking, the bigger the better. A few video cameras still offer a viewfinder with which to frame shots, but they’re a dying breed.

Features to Look For:
• Storage Media: What type of media it uses affects how much you can record and how easy it is to work with your footage. If you favor the lightest camcorder, you should go the flash-memory route. Most videocams come with some embedded flash memory, but there are models that have as much as 64 gigabytes built in, and many have a slot for either SD/SDHC or MemoryStick flash-memory cards. In addition to reducing the size of camcorders, the use of flash memory—which has no moving parts—makes for a more shockproof device.
Only a handful of new models use MiniDV tape, which can also record high-definition footage in the HDV format. These require you to attach your camera to a computer to edit the footage, although most video software is compatible with the formats. Camcorders with hard drives offer the most storage but can be heavier and are more susceptible to damage if dropped. Finally, models with built-in DVD drives are still available; the discs can go straight to your home DVD player, but the smaller discs don’t offer much recording time.

• Manual Controls: They may not be something you use every day, but they can be the difference between getting a shot and getting a perfect shot. You can manually focus if you’re not satisfied with the automated focusing, and you can change the white balance (how the camcorder adjusts to white light) for different lighting conditions. Budding Spielbergs will want the option to manually adjust shutter speeds (which determines how long light is allowed to hit the sensor) and aperture (which controls the amount of light that reaches the sensor), although these features are generally only on camcorders costing $1,000 or more.

What You Can Skip

• Digital Zoom: It's usually a higher number than optical zoom, so manufacturers like to tout it. Feel free to ignore it, as digital zoom doesn’t really involve zooming at all. It merely relies on the camera cropping an image and then blowing up the remainder so it appears closer, which winds up degrading image quality.

• Touchscreen Interfaces for LCDs seem like a better idea than they are. The screens aren’t typically large enough to make these interfaces any more handy than using physical buttons to navigate through the menu. Instead ask (or test) how well a display works in direct sunlight, a trickier but more useful screen quality.