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Pocket camcorders evolve, and prices climb too

Consumer Reports News: November 23, 2011 11:38 AM

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Among the nearly two dozen new models listed in our latest pocket-camcorder Ratings, you'll find quite a few with distinguishing features, new designs—and heftier prices as well, indicating a reversal of what happened in this market five or six years ago.

We’ve tested and Rated rugged pocket cams, like the top-rated Kodak PlaySport Zx5 ($130), that are waterproof and crush-proof. Some, such as the Sony Bloggie Duo ($170), come with two displays—one on the front of the camcorder and another on the back. Others can capture 3D video or project video or photos onto a wall or any surface. You'll even find a few with optical zoom on them instead of just a fixed, non-zoom lens.

Design is important too: Most camcorders still come in a candy-bar (iPhone-style) shape. But several, from Toshiba, Panasonic, and DXG, offer a pistol-grip configuration, which makes it easier to hold your camcorder steady so that you don't get jittery video.

Price is another factor. Although you'll still find cheap models, some selling for as little as $100, more models are coming with higher prices. A couple even cost as much as full-size camcorders, around $300 or more. Some of these pocket cams have enhanced audio capabilities, such as the Zoom Q3HD ($300) and the Olympus LS-20M HD ($220). These models not only have higher quality built-in stereo mics but also include an audio-input jack for attaching an external microphone.

When Pure Digital introduced the Flip pocket camcorders in 2006, they were very cheap and dead simple. The company had made a bold move: It had studied the full-size camcorders available at the time, many of which were bloated with far too many features for most consumers. Pure Digital decided to strip away features, leaving just a fixed lens, a few controls, and a USB jack that flipped out of the camera body (which is where the name Flip comes from). And the simple formula not only worked, it transformed the full-size camcorder market as well.

Today's newest models appear to be shifting the pendulum back the other way, though, by adding more and more features. Even so, the newest models still strive for simple interfaces and controls.

For more on pocket camcorders, check out all the models in our just-updated Ratings (available to subscribers).

Terry Sullivan

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