Ho ho ho, tis I, Granta Claus! While I've had some positive uses this year at ReelSEO with the most popular, top-of-the-line digital pocket camcorders, they are still a bit off from what I really crave in a video solution that combines their most convenient factor, their portability. That's why I've put together this "wish list" of what I want to see in an HD pocket digital camcorder in 2010.
For this list, I've included what I consider to be overall priority levels for basic, yet professional-quality, video for online consumption (aka, "biz-sumer" quality). I also compare these priority benchmarks against 3 of the top pocket digital camcorders for 2009:
15 Features for my Ideal Digital Pocket Camcorder
The following are my top 15 features I want to see improved with the current line of popular HD digital pocket camcorders. (I'm not listing every single possible feature, but what I consider could stand for the most improvement for professional or business-quality use.)
- External microphone jack. The Kodak Zi8 has an audio input jack, and accepts a 1/8" jack. The Sanyo Xacti also has a audio input jack for microphones, but its with a 2.5 input that requires an adapter. The Flip has no audio input jack, which blows.
- Better audio input. The Kodak Zi8 only does 48 kHz audio quality, even with a external mic. While this is passable (I even compress my podcasts down to 48kHz sometimes), it's a problem if you have surround noise in your video capture. That's why I consider 64kHZ much preferable for professional-quality spoken-word audio with most any video shoot. If your video includes music, then 96kHZ-up is recommended. (Otherwise, what I find myself stuck is syncing recorded audio from a separate digital recorder to my video footage.)
- Directional mic. The Sanyo Xacti line works great at picking up audio with its stereo mic on top, and in the direction you point. The Kodak and Flip models don't appear to work as well when the audio source is at a similar distance, and there is some surrounding noise.
- LCD screen that flips. Neither the Flip or the Kodak models have an LCD screen that you can flip out. That sucks because sometimes you need to see what you're recording if you have the camera on yourself! This is where the Sanyo Xacti line of camcorders (especially the VPC-HD2000A model) really delivers the goods.
- Flash. This would especially help in low-light situations. The Sanyo Xacti is the only model that has any type of flash capability. (It comes as a pop-out feature.)
- An accessory shoe. Only the Sanyo Xacti carries this, which is great for adding a directional mic or a flash unit.
- Optical zoom. This is much better than digital zoom. The Sanyo model has a much higher optical zoom level than the other two models.
- Better battery life. I'd like a model to go beyond just 2 hours for a recharge, please!
- Image stabilization. This is to adjust for any expected shaking movement with such a small camcorder. Right now the Kodak Zi8 offers digital image stabilization, but in my tests I didn't find any real noticeable difference. I would much prefer to see a model offer optical image stabilization.
- Countdown feature. I want to be able to set a timer to start any video recording, so I can prep myself and my subject matter.
- Macro focus. Often I need to focus on a single subject matter and want to blur out the surrounding background. The Kodak Zi8 offers a macro setup, but it isn't great because it focuses only on objects that are really close to the lens – not an adjustable distance.
- Hard drive / removable drive space. The Flip is especially good with its 8GB 2-hour model, and the Kodak Zi8 can use any size SD card, including 16GB. Sanyo's Xacti can do the same size SD card space, too. However it would be even better if I could have an accessory output that allowed the video storage to transfer over to any external hard drive device while shooting.
- Easy computer connectivity. This is where the Sanyo Xacti is considerably more unwieldy, since you have to first put it in its docking station and then connect via USB (unless you prefer to just take out the SDHC card and use an SDHC card reader). Both the Flip and Zi8 allow for quick USB plug-and-play.
- Watch my video live on TV. All of these camcorders allow you to play back your video on your HD television with an HDMI cable, however I would like to use a television as an external monitor, so I can see in real-time how it looks on a large screen before I start shooting.
- Digital stills (photos). The ability to take quick photos on your camcorder should be expected. The Kodak Zi8 This is also where having a flash on the pocket camcorder would come in especially handy with low-light situations. The Sanyo model regularly shoots 8 mega-pixel stills, and has a pop-out flash for low-light situations.
What do I Recommend for your Stocking Stuffer?
So what do I recommend for your stocking summer in Christmas 2009? If you have a $500 budget, then I would say the Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2000A is certainly worth a serious review, because even though its not as user-friendly as the other models, it more than makes up for it with its additional features that I consider to be "biz-sumer" friendly.
That being said, you can certainly get quality output from any of these models I've mentioned here, as long as you learn how to play to each of their strengths, and avoid putting yourself in situations that would naturally expose their limitations. And to help you out with that, I've put together the following video tips, or "vidi-quickies" ("vickies?" Work with me, people…)
Christmas Tips on How Best to use Your Pocket HD digital Camcorder
- Better audio adjustments – If you have an audio input jack, consider getting a wireless microphone. This will allow you freedom of movement. If you don't have an audio input jack, and you want better audio quality than what you're getting on your pocket camcorder, consider using a separate digital audio recording device, and sync the audio from that device with your video content. (I use the Roland Edirol R-09, which recorders in much better audio quality and can work with most any type of microphone that either has an 1/8" input jack, or can work with an 1/8" adapter. I've even used it for some of my podcast shows.) Also, if you are stuck with the internal audio on your camcorder, keep your breathing controlled so not to create additional noise. (Remember, the audio is closest to you, so make sure your subject material is loud enough versus any surrounding noise.)
- Better video adjustments – Get your subject matter in close, keep movement to a minimum, go directly over any overhead lighting, and make sure the camcorder is on stable footing. For the last item, the best way to achieve stable footing is by using a tripod with a leveler, which you can get for as little as $40. If you don't have a tripod that can go to the floor, make sure your table or whatever platform you are on is level and has no one else by it that can cause unexpected shaking. And if you have neither keep the camcorder close to your body, and either find a comfortable seating or spread your feet out comfortable, so you can keep any hand and body shaking to a minimum