Ever since the world caught wind of the Pure Digital Flip cam's success, super-cheap digital pocket camcorders have sprouted up everywhere. With everyone and their mother trying to become the next Lil Show Stoppa or Soulja Girl, people need a cheap and easy way to capture those magic moments. I tested six of these cams—from Creative, RCA/Audiovox, DXG and Pure Digital—all US$180 or less. Here are samples of all of their videos in various conditions, and an overall look at how they stack up:
Video samples: I tested the camcorders in the three most common situations you'll use them for: indoors with full light, indoors with low light, and outdoors. In the videos, I stood in the same place with each camera. As you can see, different cameras capture different areas. Watch as these two goofballs get their line dance on and destroy the Great American Songbook, and you will easily spot the difference in quality between the recordings.
Indoor, full light:
Indoor, low light:
The Runners-Up (in no particular order):
DXG 569-V HD: The best thing about this cam is that it looks very fancy. The worst thing is that it isn't. The DXG took the worst overall video of the bunch even though it claims to record in HD. Also, the 3 AAAs ran out after about 25 minutes of recording—I should've realised this would be a problem when I saw the unit came bundled with rechargeable batteries and a charger. Still, it's nice that it has a still camera option, and you could probably trick your friends into thinking you have a pricier Xacti for a minute.
Creative Vado: The Vado is the most non-descript camera of the bunch. Boring UI, crappy video quality and a plain outer shell make it a snoozer. However, it's about as thin as the Mino, very cheap and has no frills at all, making it a decent option for total luddites or technophobes.
RCA Small Wonder EZ210: I naturally gravitated to the EZ210 because of it's giant screen, big buttons, and retro look. Seriously, for all the tech inside, the camcorder looks like it was made in 1982. Even though the EZ210 is the most welcoming cam of the bunch, in the end it's about video quality and this one wasn't cutting it. It's a fair price, and I love the expandable memory, so it's a close 2nd place option.
RCA Small Wonder EZ200: The EZ200 is all over the map. After seeing the nice quality of the EZ210's daylight video, I was shocked to see how grainy and slow the EZ200's daylight footage was—it looked like an old-fashioned home film camera. Also, the flip out screen is hokey to me, but it's great for people who like to look at themselves while lipsynching to Mr. Roboto. Complaints aside, I was pleasantly surprised that the EZ200 took halfway decent low-light video. That plus the cheap price and expandable memory make this one a reasonable bet for a starter cam.
Flip Mino: The Mino is thin, has a great look and feel, and captures excellent video, but it's not the winner for a few reasons. Most importantly, it has a narrower-angled lens than just about every other camera in the test—I couldn't get my whole couch into the shot no matter how I tried. Also, the sound wasn't very good. Finally, this week I'm on the other side of the neverending rechargeable vs. AA debate, and between the Li-ion battery and non-upgradeable memory, the Mino is a little too closed for my tastes. However, if you're looking purely for video quality, Mino is a no brainer.
And the winner is...
Flip Ultra: Yes, the first is still the best, and there are good reasons why so many companies want to capture its success: The Ultra works, and it works well. Low light video is great, the camera feels good in your hand, and it's so simple that you could probably train your cat to record their own cute videos with it. The small screen is a drawback, but it captures a good chunk of space. The Ultra is the best value of the bunch when you consider the criteria, remaining the Cadillac of cheap pocket camcorders.
[Special thanks to the singers and dancers, who asked to be known as Rocko Money and Inter Minetti!!]