You may not fancy yourself the next Spielberg, but if you like to make videos and don't want to break the bank with a high-end camcorder, there are plenty of options.
I tested three pocket camcorders, all under $200, that ranged from the super simple to those with a few more bells and whistles — including high-definition video capture.
If you're a YouTube auteur or unofficial family videographer, one of these may fit the bill without emptying your wallet.
— The $180 Flip Mino from Pure Digital Technologies Inc. was the smallest and simplest camcorder I tested. Both are good attributes when you're making quick videos on the fly.
The Mino weighs just 3.3 ounces, which makes it nimbler than its sibling the Flip Ultra ($150). The Mino has a mostly flat face that features a 1.5-inch LCD screen and a big red recording button.
Its simplicity is also enhanced by a built-in battery that can be recharged by plugging in the flip-out USB dongle that is housed in the top of the Mino. (The other devices I tested lack this recharging ability, but they do have USB prongs that make it easy to connect them with your computer.)
There is no memory card slot on the Flip Mino, but the device includes 2 gigabytes of internal memory, which provides 60 minutes of recording time.
I found this to be more than enough for taking a bevy of short videos (most people wouldn't want to watch more than a few minutes of my "Blair Witch Project"-inspired moviemaking, anyway).
The Mino only has one video quality option — you record at a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second. This makes for more-than-adequate YouTube-sized videos on a computer screen. But if you want to blow your videos up to half or full-screen size, you won't be happy with the Mino.
The device has 2x digital zoom, and zoomed in and out in a less jerky fashion than the other devices I tried. But it didn't really add much to the Mino's capabilities.
The camera captured sound pretty well, even in noisy situations like a happy hour at a local watering hole.
One simple thing that the Mino includes but some other camcorders lack is a little red light that lets subjects know that you are taping them.
The device doesn't have a self-portrait mirror, though, which can make it hard to know if you're filming yourself or your shoulder.
If you're interested in the Mino but want better video quality: Pure Digital plans to release a high-definition camcorder in mid-November. Price details are not yet available.
— Eastman Kodak Co.'s Zi6 camcorder ($180) is a step up from the Flip Mino in video quality and recording options. But at the size of a chunky smart phone, it may turn off users who value a sleeker form.
The Zi6 has the largest screen of the devices I tested — 2.4 inches — but while this made it easier to play back videos, the picture was not as sharp as on the others.
And at 3.8 ounces, it is also the heaviest, even before accounting for the weight of batteries. The Zi6 doesn't have a built-in battery; instead, there are two rechargeable AA batteries and a charger.
In a world where myriad devices have at most one removable battery, this seemed passe.
The Zi6's nominal 128 megabytes of internal memory means you must use an SD memory card with the device, and there isn't one included.
If you want to make videos in high definition you'll need a big card; the device's box recommends a 4 gigabyte one, which I found adequate for numerous short videos.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. You can film in high definition (1280 by 720 pixels at 30 frames per second), HD60 (the same resolution but at 60 frames per second, which is the frame rate in the U.S. for a TV broadcast of that resolution) and VGA (640 by 480 pixels) with the Zi6.
A video I took in HD mode of sea lions at the zoo was crisp and looked pretty good when viewed in full-screen mode, and their burping and splashing was cleanly audible. The videos shot in VGA mode were pretty clear, as long as I didn't blow them up much.
One issue I had — which might be specific to the device I tested — were some black pixel-sized spots on the screen that were most visible when I was filming bright colors.
These could be due to dust on the camcorder's image sensor, which, unfortunately, is not something a user can really fix.
You can also take photos with the Zi6, as it functions as a 3-megapixel still camera. The quality was underwhelming but still better than a standard cell-phone camera.
Like the Flip Mino, the Zi6 will automatically turn itself off after sitting idle for a few minutes, which should cut down on the time you spend recharging those batteries.
— Apparently, you can go too budget when it comes to budget camcorders. I learned this with DXG USA's 567v HD ($179).
The player looks like a knockoff iPod, complete with white clickwheel-type controls on its face.
It sports a 2-inch screen, which seemed pretty small given the device's overall bulk, and looked darker than the screens on the Pure Digital and Kodak players.
I didn't have a problem recording with the 567v HD, as its controls are mostly styled like those on the Zi6 (in fact, most buttons on it seemed identical to the Kodak device, so I wondered if they were manufactured or designed by the same company).
Also like the Zi6, the 567v HD has almost no included memory — only 32 megabytes — so you'll need an SD memory card.
Another bummer: it, too, eschews an internal battery for two included rechargeable AA batteries and a charger.
You can film in HD, which looked crisp, and lesser resolutions appeared pretty well if viewed in smaller-sized windows. Sound was fairly clear.
One oddity: To change filming modes, you must toggle the main switch in the center of the device. This emits a piercing beep that I couldn't figure out how to eliminate.
That's nothing, though, compared to the problem that arose when I tried to play back my creations on two separate 567v HDs that I tried.
Pressing "Play" seemed to freeze the camcorder functions, including the power button.
I had to open the battery case to turn the device off. And the "Delete" button didn't seem to do anything.
It turned out that the camcorder wouldn't work with a memory card that already had stuff from other devices stored on it. It required a fresh, blank one.
That's not realistic — I constantly swap cards between devices — and the product offered no warning about that issue. I'm still irritated about it.