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Beginner's Guide to Pocket Camcorders

A newer breed of camcorder offers ease-of-use and portability.

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Beginner's Guide to Pocket Camcorders

Kodak's Zi8 pocket camcorder. Photo courtesy Kodak.

Over the past several years, a new breed of camcorder has emerged on the scene: the pocket camcorder. Popularized by Pure Digital's Flip camcorders, pocket models are now offered by Kodak, Samsung, and Coby, among others. What makes a camcorder a "pocket" camcorder? Good question. The truth is, there is no single, definitive definition. But there are some characteristics that distinguish a pocket camcorder from your average camcorder:

Design: A pocket camcorder is rectangular in shape and held vertically. It's light weight and pocketable (as you might have guessed). It's boxy, like a deck of cards. Unlike other camcorder models, it does not have a flip-out LCD screen. Instead, its display is built into the body of the unit. You will, however, find touch-screen displays on a pocket model.

Low cost: Your average pocket camcorder runs from about $100 to $220, depending on the resolution. High definition models will tend to be at the higher end of that price range.

No optical zoom: The ability to magnify far away objects is very limited in pocket camcorders because they lack an optical zoom lens. The vast majority of pocket camcorders on the market use a digital zoom, which is of limited to no use.

Flash memory:Pocket camcorders use flash memory as a recording format, which is one of the main reasons why they're so light and compact. See Guide to Flash Camcorders for more on flash memory use in camcorders.

Limited feature set: In a pocket camcorder, the name of the game is simplicity, so you won't find much in the way of advanced controls. Pocket camcorders won't offer manual controls over focus or exposure, you won't find scene modes, video lights and many other features which give you greater control over the look of your video.

Easy to use: The upside to having a drastically limited feature set is that pocket camcorders are extremely easy to use. There are few buttons to get lost in and little worry about putting the camcorder in the wrong setting.

Built-in USB plug: A feature shared by many - but not all - pocket models is a built-in USB cable for connecting the model directly to a computer. A built-in USB connection makes the unit more portable and eliminates the need to keep track of yet another USB cable.

Built-in software: You won't find a CD of software packaged alongside your pocket camcorder. Instead, like the USB cable, the software is typically built into the camcorder and loads automatically once your pocket camcorder is connected to a PC.

What About Video Quality?

Like traditional models, pocket camcorders come in both standard and high definition. Given the low cost and lower quality lenses typically found on pocket camcorders, you shouldn't expect them to offer video on par with more expensive, full-featured camcorders.

For casual users who are looking to share short video clips over the web, the video quality offered by pocket camcorders is more than acceptable. Some HD models will even look good when connected to a television, but they can't handlemore demanding video environments, such as low light, as well as their more expensive competitors.

Want to know what the best pocket camcorders are? Click here!

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