Nowadays, we’re used to technology coming in smaller packages. We have smartphones that are like mini computers in our pockets, portable games consoles, and digital cameras that’ll fit in your pocket. Camcorders are no different, and there’s a whole sub-niche of this product designed for those who love portability: the pocket video camera.
These pocket cameras are changing the way we record home movies. Not only does their size mean it’s easy to carry them wherever we are – making it easy to capture life’s interesting events as they happen – but they are often designed with features that make it extremely easy to share your videos with friends, family and strangers through online sharing sites such as YouTube and Facebook.
Flip was the first major pocket camcorder to hit the market, and its popularity led to a whole range of similar products at attractive price points. Keep reading to find out more about the main specifications to look out for when you buy your pocket camcorder.
When it comes to shopping for a new pocket camcorder, you don’t need to get bogged down in technical terms. Unlike standard camcorders, you’ll soon find out that pocket camcorders don’t come with any manual settings, so you won’t need to even learn what they mean.
There are, however, a few key specs that you need to understand before you buy. With this guide, you’ll know exactly what each of the main specifications mean, and the kind of factors you’ll want to look for in any pocket camcorder.
As the name suggests, the main feature of a pocket camcorder is its size. They’re designed to fit into any pocket – around the same size and shape as a cellphone. In order to get them so small, manufacturers have to cut out a number of extra features, such as controls, larger lenses and so on. However, many consumers prefer these cameras thanks to the fact that they’re easy to carry around wherever you go, and in many cases cost a lot less than standard camcorders.
Most pocket camcorders share the same design characteristics: they are rectangular in shape (like a cell phone) and are held vertically to record video. They don’t usually have flip out LCD screens, like standard camcorders. Instead, they have a small display built into the body of the camcorder. Some pocket camcorders feature touch screens, making them very intuitive to use.
Most screens on pocket camcorders are around 2 inches in size (diagonally): not much compared to the kind of screen you’ll find on a larger camcorder or digital camera. This means that it’s best to watch your videos back on your computer, rather than on the screen itself. The screen is simply there as a means to watch what you’re shooting.
As mentioned above, you’ll usually find simple controls on any pocket video camera, thanks to the fact that manufacturers want to cut out any features they can in order to save space. This also serves an additional function, however: to keep these camcorders as easy to use as possible.
You’ll usually find:
* One touch recording and playback buttons,
* Forward and rewind buttons,
* And maybe a skip button.
Unlike typical camcorders, then, you’re not going to find a whole range of dials and buttons that’ll let you adjust your video settings for different light conditions, fast motion recording and so on. This will have an impact on the picture quality (see below), but most pocket camcorders are still capable of producing good quality HD video.
Aside from portability, the second most attractive feature of pocket camcorders is that they’re cheap! Depending on the features and resolution, you can usually pick up a pocket camcorder for between $100 and $200 dollars. If you’re willing to pay more for better sound and a better picture, then prices can get as high as $300 and beyond. In general, however, the price of pocket camcorders makes them accessible to just about everyone.
Most pocket camcorders can record video in high-definition 720p, and some go up to 1080p. Because of the simpler, smaller designs, you don’t usually have as many choices of resolution as you would with a full-sized video camera. However, most pocket camcorders will let you shoot video in standard definition, too.
Just because a camcorder can record video in high definition doesn’t mean that it’ll necessarily be high quality. A number of factors come into play, so it’s important to understand what features lead to high quality images.
The first thing to note is that pocket camcorders will never produce video to the standard of more expensive and complex camcorders. In short, by purchasing a pocket camcorder, you’re choosing convenience and price over quality. The good news is that the quality is more than good enough to satisfy the average user, and the videos are perfect for sites like YouTube.
Here are a few of the factors that may affect image quality in a pocket camcorder:
1) Image Stabilization: Most digital cameras and camcorders feature image stabilizers to help improve picture quality. In short, they help to limit the negative effects of shaky hands when taking still images or recording videos.
Optical stabilization involves a sensor that’ll cause parts of the lens to move in a way that compensates for shaky hand movements to produce the very best picture results. However, most pocket camcorders that come with image stabilization make use of digital stabilization, which processes the image and has an effect on quality.
Videos will still be good enough for home movies or uploading on YouTube, but they won’t be as smooth as they could be with more advanced digital camcorders. You can make use of a tripod in any situations where you want a steady image.
2) Viewfinders Vs. LCD Screens: Viewfinders are still featured on larger digital cameras and camcorders thanks to the fact that they make the image steadier, especially when zoomed in. However, small pocket camcorders only have the space for an LCD screen. Not only does this make it a little harder to get a steady image, but the screen can also be difficult to see in bright sunlight.
3) Manual Controls: The ability to control settings manually, such as exposure and focus, will always result in better image quality. Pocket camcorders, however, are “point and shoot”: no other controls are usually available beyond “record” and “stop”. Unfortunately, autofocus functions are usually quite basic and may not always focus properly on what you want.
Even pocket camcorders that can record in high definition will rarely give results to rival a larger camcorder’s. They can struggle particularly in dim light or artificial light, delivering poor contrasting and inaccurate colors.
4) Zoom: Most pocket camcorders only come with digital zoom, and won’t let you zoom in very far. When you do, the images will look a little blurry and pixelated. Optical zoom is a far better option for good video quality, but there’s simply not the space for it on the body of a pocket camcorder.
A video is simply a number of still captured images played in quick succession. The frame rate is a measure of how many of these still images your camcorder will capture in a second, and is usually given in “fps”. Most camcorders will record at a rate of 30 fps, though many will also offer 60 fps. This is useful if you’re going to be recording fast movement, such as sports.
However, it’s important to note that most pocket camcorders are not going to deal with motion as well as standard-sized options. Although they may have a high frame rate, fast motion video may still not be perfect thanks to the fact that pocket camcorders aren’t as good at adjusting to light or focusing on objects quickly.
Don’t forget that sound quality also matters if you’re interested in recording your own home movies or vlogging on the internet.
Again, because pocket camcorders are so small, they have very small and basic internal microphones to record your sound. Sometimes the sound in your videos can end up sounding muffled, which isn’t great if you’re planning on speaking to the camera and uploading it to YouTube.
Check whether the pocket camcorder will let you attach an external microphone, as this can vastly improve recording quality. Unfortunately, if there’s no mic slot then there’s not much you can do to improve the sound quality of your camcorder.
Thankfully, video formats aren’t too important with pocket camcorders, as they usually save your movies as H.264 AVI or H.264 MPEG-4 files, which will work with a range of movie editing programs such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker.
Another reason why you won’t usually need to worry too much about the video formats used by your camcorder is the fact that most pocket models come with their own video editing software included. This will allow you to edit your video, rearrange clips, and sometimes add effects.
You can then put it all together and export your video to a file on your computer, or upload it directly to social video sites such as YouTube and Facebook. This is one of the biggest draws of pocket camcorders: they are generally very easy to work with if you want to share your video online.
Following on from the point above about video editing software, you will usually need to own a computer to take advantage of pocket camcorders. Most will come with a USB connector built in, which can be flipped out when it’s time to charge your camcorder (via your computer) or take a look at what you’ve recorded.
This is far simpler than connecting a standard camcorder to your computer: instead of using a cable, the connector is built right in, though some camcorders may still require a cable.
Most PCs and Macs will recognize your camcorder right away, so there will be no drivers to install. Simply transfer your movies to your computer and you’ll be ready to edit or upload them to the internet!
The main purpose of a pocket camcorder is to record video. However, many will also let you take still photographs. This can be useful, as it means you don’t need to carry a separate digital camera around with you.
If a camcorder does allow you to take still photos, check to see whether they come with a flash. If not, you’ll be far more limited in what you’re able to photograph!
Note, however, that some pocket camcorders won’t allow you to take still photographs at all. However, models like the Flip do allow you to capture still frames from your videos. Not quite the same, but it can be a useful feature.
All pocket camcorders need some sort of memory on which to store your home movies – no tape required! The way they do this, however, varies depending on the camera you choose.
1) Inbuilt Memory: Many pocket camcorders come with a certain amount of memory built in (ranging from a few MB to 16 GB). The benefit of having memory built in is that your camera has some storage space out of the box, and you don’t necessarily have to pay more money to buy a memory card. Some camcorders won’t even have the space for a memory card, however, meaning you won’t be able to add additional storage space should you ever need it.
2) Memory Card Slots: Many pocket camcorders do come with memory card slots. This is useful as it gives you more control over how much space you have to record HD videos. However, memory cards do cost more, though depending on the format you may already have some for your digital camera.
Pocket camcorders are just like USB storage drives: whether it has inbuilt memory or a memory card slot, you can correct it directly to your computer and transfer files just as you would with a flash drive. This makes transferring your videos – and even other files – very easy.
NOTE: Some manufacturers of camcorders with built in memory will also tell you how many hours of HD video you’ll be able to shoot on your camcorder. Standard memory sizes mean you’ll usually be able to shoot 2-4 hours of HD video before needing to transfer your content to free up more space.
Video recording is known to eat through batteries, and you’ll find that most pocket camcorders come with around 2 hours battery life – some may extend to four hours, though others will be even less.
This means that they’re great for taking out and about for when you want to capture those special moments, but they aren’t going to last long enough to record a feature-length movie!
As mentioned above, most pocket camcorders will need to be charged via a computer’s USB port. If you’re out and about then having a laptop with you can help you get extra time out of your battery, should you need it.
The good news is that, if you can’t or don’t want to charge your pocket camcorder using a computer, you can buy mains adaptors that’ll fit with your camera’s USB connector. These can be purchased for less than $10.
As with any electronic gadget, you may need some cables to make the most of any pocket video camera.
Since most pocket camcorders connect to your computer directly via a flip out arm, a cable isn’t 100% essential if all you need to do is connect the camcorder to your PC to watch and edit your videos.
If, however, you’d like the ability to watch your videos on a big screen TV, then you’ll want to buy an HDMI cable for camcorders that support HDMI output.
You may also consider purchasing a separate USB cable for your camcorder (if compatible) if your computer’s USB ports are difficult to reach.
Unlike traditional video cameras, pocket camcorders don’t require many accessories to make the absolute most out of them. There are a few you may want to get hold of, however:
1) A Wrist Strap: Since you’re going to be taking your pocket camcorder out and about with you, you’ll be safer if you use a wrist strap to prevent yourself from dropping the camera.
2) A Protective Case: Flip cameras can easily fit into your pocket or handbag, so it helps to have a protective case that’ll stop it getting scratched and damaged.
3) Tripod: As mentioned earlier, pocket camcorders don’t always have the best image stabilization features, meaning that handheld recordings can look a little shaky. To help keep things as steady as possible, look into buying a tripod small enough to match your video camera. Mini tripods can come in very handy, and they will barely add any extra weight when carrying your camcorder around with you.
4) Underwater Case: If you’re going to be using your camcorder in wet weather or underwater, then you’re definitely going to need to keep it protected with an underwater case. Although such cases aren’t available for all pocket camcorder models, there’ll be something available for all of the most popular brands. Just check how deep you can take your camcorder with the casing you buy.
5) Action Mount: Pocket camcorders are popularly used for video blogging or recording simple home movies, though there’s also another fun way to use them: to record the action as you partake in your favoritesport! Action mounts are available to secure your pocket camcorder to bike handlebars, helmets and other items so you can record some awesome action videos. Just take some time to check that the stand is stable enough for the ride.
6) External Microphone: Most pocket camcorders are restricted to low quality internal microphones, and there’s not much you can do about that. However, if your camcorder supports it, it’s well worth purchasing a good quality external microphone to boost the sound quality of your videos.
As you can see from the explanation of specs above, pocket camcorders aren’t perfect. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth buying one or not, consider these main factors:
Size: It goes without saying that the main draw of a pocket camcorder is the fact that it’s small. It can literally fit into your pocket, making it easy to take anywhere. Although standard camcorders come in relatively small packages, they’re still bulky. This won’t be an issue in certain situations, but in others they can really add weight to your bag, and are a lot less discrete when you get them out.
Image Stabilization: It’s harder to get steady shots with a pocket camcorder, especially because they don’t have optical image stabilization built in. This means that your movies can look shaky unless you’re willing to use and carry around a tripod.
Cost: Pocket camcorders are usually cheaper than full-sized options, though it does depend on the brand. If you’re really looking for cheap, then you can buy any sized camcorder at a low price if you look hard enough. Be careful, though, as you may be sacrificing video quality!
Image Quality: The image quality of pocket camcorders has drastically improved in recent years. They can now record images in high definition, though there are still some issues. They will often perform poorly in dim light, or when recording fast moving options. If you want the very best image quality then you’ll probably need to look for a full-sized camcorder. That said, the picture quality of pocket camcorders is good enough for the average user.
Ease Of Use: You won’t find any camcorder easier to use than a simple pocket camcorder. It really is as easy as just pressing “record”! However, the extra complexities of a full-sized camcorder do have advantages. The inclusion of extra settings means that you’ll have more control over your video, resulting in better quality images.
Audio Quality: Because pocket camcorders are so small, they don’t have much space for a microphone. As a result, don’t expect perfect sound quality. If you want better audio, choose a pocket camcorder that’ll let you attach an external microphone, or buy a full-sized camcorder instead.
Screen: Again, because of size limitations on a pocket camcorder, you won’t get a very big display – usually around 2 inches. If you want to play back videos on the device itself, this doesn’t make things very easy. Full-sized camcorders usually have far better quality screens, more useful for playing things back when you don’t have access to a computer.
The smartphone is arguably the pocket camcorder’s biggest rival. Most smartphones and standard cellphones can now record video, so why would you opt for a standalone device when you could just do it on your phone?
One of the biggest differences is the quality. Although many phones now offer HD video recording, it’s still not a standard feature like it is in pocket video cameras. Many smartphones only offer a frame rate of 30 fps, where 60 fps is more common in pocket camcorders. This makes camcorders a better option for recording smooth motion (such as sports).
Smartphones also cost a lot more than your average pocket camcorder. True, you get many more features on a smartphone (including internet, apps, music, and the ability to make calls!) but if what you’re really looking for is a device to record good quality video, then you’ll save a lot of money by opting for a pocket camcorder.
Despite the fact that many devices – from cell phones to tablets – now come with video recording capabilities, it’s clear there’s still a real place for pocket camcorders on the market. See if one of these reasons resonates with you:
You’re A Vlogger: If you regularly record videos to post up on YouTube or your own website then a pocket camcorder is a real asset. It’s small, it’s easy to set up, and it only takes a few clicks to start uploading your content to the internet.
You Want Something Simple: If you don’t have much experience with video recording then a pocket camcorder is probably the simplest option out there. There are no bells and whistles – you simply press a button and get recording. There are no settings to fiddle with, either. Although this means you’re videos aren’t as high quality as they would be with an expensive camcorder, they are still more than adequate and with little effort on your part to learn any new technology.