Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pocket HD Camera: My Buying Guide

I recently became in the market for a pocket HD camera.  With two young children running around and doing cute things all things, the video we are shooting just didn't look very good on large screen LCD TVs and I figured it was time to make the move to HD.

One of the first decisions that I faced was whether to get a traditional hand-held HD camera or a pocket HD camera.  Having purchased a Canon hand-held camera with DV tape over two years ago and having used it exactly once, the decision to go with a Pocket camera was fairly easy.  All hundreds of gigabytes worth of video clips that we had taken over the last two years were shot using a variety of Canon PowerShot cameras that are primarily use for taking still pictures, but since we have one of these cameras with us at all times, they really did a great job of serving that dual purpose, but because of quality, but primarily because of conveniece.

When I first started thinking about a Pocket HD camera, my thoughts went straight to the Flip UltraHD Camcorder or the Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera.  These types of cameras were made very popular lately by their ease of use.  However, while I was doing my researched, I ran into a couple of new PowerShot digital point-and-shoot cameras that support HD video including the Canon PowerShot SD970IS and the Canon PowerShot SD960IS and decided to take a look at them.  Most of the buying guides that I had seen previously only compared the traditional so I had to compare those with the PowerShot multi-purpose cameras myself.




As with any product comparison process, the decision as to which product is most suitable for you depends solely on your actual needs.  The most expensive product might have the most features, but if you're only going to use 5% of those features, then there's no need to buy that most expensive product.

Making the Selection
The chart below summarizes the various features of the different camcorders/cameras I considered. The features that stand out are highlighted in green while the ones that I considered to be a disadvantage are highlighted in red.






Flip MinoHD Camcorder, 60 Minutes



Flip UltraHD Camcorder, 120 Minutes



Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera



Canon PowerShot SD970IS



Canon PowerShot SD960IS


Retail Price

$199.99

$199.99

$159.95

$379.99

$299.99

Amaon Price

$168.99

$161.98

$127.82

$314.88

$259.95

Max. Video Resolution

1280 x 720 @30 fps

1280 x 720 @30 fps

1280 x 720 @60 fps

1280 x 720 @30 fps

1280 x 720 @30 fps

Max Still Camera Resolution

N/A

N/A

3 megapixel

12 megapixel

12 megapixel

Built-In HDMI Output

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Optical Zoom

None

None

None

5 x

4 x

Built-In Memory

4GB

8 GB

128 MB

None

None

Memory Card Support

None

None

SD/SDHC/MMC

SD/SDHC/MMC

SD/SDHC/MMC

Recording Capacity (in HD)

 60 min

120 min

Unlimited

Unlimited (43 min per 8GB card)

Unlimited (43 min per 8GB card)

LCD Screen

1.5 in

2.0 in

2.4 in

3.0 in

2.8 in

Dimensions

3.94 x 1.97 x 0.63 in

4.25 x 2.19 x 1.17 in

4.5 x 2.5 x 0.9 in

3.73 x 2.24 x 1.04 in

3.85 x 2.12 x 0.87 in

Weight

3.3 oz

6.0 oz

3.8 oz

5.64 oz

5.11 oz













As you can see from the chart above, each camera has it's own advantages and disadvantages.  Initially, I was attracted to the Flip minoHD camera because of its light weight and low cost. However, after comparing each of the advantages and disadvantages, I decided to get in a different direction. To help you with your own decision, see the summaries for each camera below.

Flip MinoHD Camcorder, 60 Minutes


Advantages

Disadvantages

Light weight.  At 3.3 ounces, it's pretty much the lightest HD camcorder
in the market today

Does not take still pictures, which means you have to carry another camera around

Low cost.  It's not the cheapest HD camera, but at $199.99 retail, it's
still very attractive from a cost perspective

Does not support HDMI output, which means you have to transfer the video to a PC,
burn it to a DVD or transfer it to an Apple TV before you can view it on an HD TV

 Easy to use.  Due to the limited focus, there are very few buttons on
this device and not a lot of menus to navigate

Does not support any external memory, which means that you have to unload the video
you shoot to a PC before you can shoot more video.



No optical zoom.  Although the camera supports minimal digital zoom, that is
pretty much worthless as digital zoom takes away from the quality where optical
zoom relies on the lens to zoom in



Small LCD screen.  At 1.5 in, that's the smallest screen possible and doesn't
show much details


Flip UltraHD Camcorder, 120 Minutes


Advantages

Disadvantages

Decent size built-in memory.  At 8GB, that's much bettern than 4GB, but
I still wish that they added support for external memory cards as well.

Does not take still pictures, which means you have to carry another camera around

Low cost.  It's not the cheapest HD camera, but at $199.99 retail, it's
still very attractive from a cost perspective

Does not support any external memory, which means that you have to unload the video
you shoot to a PC before you can shoot more video.

 Easy to use.  Due to the limited focus, there are very few buttons on
this device and not a lot of menus to navigate

No optical zoom.  Although the camera supports minimal digital zoom, that is
pretty much worthless as digital zoom takes away from the quality where optical
zoom relies on the lens to zoom in

Built-in HDMI support, which allows you to watch video directly from the camera
on your HD TV set

Heavy.  At a whopping 6 ounces, it's twice as heavy as its minoHD sister
camera and the heaviest camera in the lineup


Kodak Zi6 HD Pocket Video Camera


Advantages

Disadvantages

Low cost.   At $199.99 retail, it's still very attractive from a cost
perspective

Still pictures are low quality, but it's better than nothing

Light weight.  At 3.8 ounces, it's one of the lightest HD camcorders around

At 128 MB internal memory, I'm not sure why this was added.  You can only
shoot a minute or two worth of video before the internal memory fills up.
Luckily, the this camcorder supports external memory, which makes your shooting
ability limitless

Easy to use.  This camera tries to copy some of the Flip line features and
doesn't a decent job at that.

No optical zoom.  Although the camera supports minimal digital zoom, that is
pretty much worthless as digital zoom takes away from the quality where optical
zoom relies on the lens to zoom in

Support for external memory cards

Does not support HDMI output, which means you have to transfer the video to a PC,
burn it to a DVD or transfer it to an Apple TV before you can view it on an HD TV


Canon PowerShot SD970IS
&
Canon PowerShot SD960IS


Advantages

Disadvantages

Combines a decent HD camcorder (1280 x 720) with a high-end still picture camera
(12 megapixels).  This is great while you're on the road as you don't
have to carry two individual cameras for video and still images

Almost twice as heavy as the low-end stand-alone HD camcorders

Includes an optical zoom, which gives you the ability to zoom in without compromizing
the quality of the video or the still image

Expensive.  Almost twice as expensive as the low-end stand-alone HD camcorders

Built-in HDMI support, which allows you to watch video directly from the camera
on your HD TV set

No built-in memo

Support for external memory cards, which gives you virtually unlimited capacity
to take videos.  This is extremely useful when traveling without your PC.
You can purchase several SD cards and replace them in seconds as they fill up.

After a lot of consideration, I picked the
Canon PowerShot SD970IS
because it met all of my needs for both video and still images and the fact that it was expandable in terms of the amount of recording that you can do and HDMI connectivity. Your needs may be different and a basic HD camcorder might suffice if you don't care as much about still images or expandability.

Finally, I would like to point out a few other cameras that seem to have very nice features, but I did not consider them for this review because I'm not familiar with the brand or its quality. For example, the Aiptek A-HD 720P 8 MP CMOS High-Definition Camcorder (Black) takes 1280 x 720 and 8 megapixel images for less than $100 and its sister camcorder the Aiptek Action HD GVS 1080P High Definition Camcorder with 5x Optical Zoom (Silver) takes even better HD vidoe at 1280 x 1080 and has an optical 5x zoom for less than $200.

In the end, we all have our preferences and sometimes, you pay a little extra for a brand you trust. Is it worth it? I'm not sure, but I love my SD970IS camera so far. Most the video has been transferred to an Apple TV and everyone is always impressed that the high quality video we're watching came from that tiny little camera.

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