New sensor technology, touchscreen LCDs and Full HD recording: hi-def moviemaking is at your fingertips. Here's our pick of camcorders to get you started.
Toshiba Camileo H20 £180
Obvious choices for the cash-strapped, causal moviemaker would be the Creative Vado HD, Flip Mino HD or Kodak Zi6. However, if shooting on something that looks like a phone doesn’t do it for you, Toshiba’s Camileo range offers a more grown-up feel for the same sort of money.
This budget-conscious SD-card camcorder has the largest LCD in this test at 3in, and a 5MP CMOS sensor for 1440x1080-resolution images. That’s not bad for £180.
Unfortunately, the casing doesn’t feel durable and the multi-function controls are fussy for a camera that should be simple to ?use. The feature list is short, although there are exposure and white balance settings and a three-mode flash to help out with stills.
Movies exceed expectations for ?the price and while there are problems with auto focusing and in low light, ?in bright conditions it impresses with fine detail and strong colours.
Excellent value and a capable performer in well-lit conditions.
HD video for under £200 is the credo of this ultra-compact, featherweight camcorder, and like the Camileo above it includes software for direct uploads to YouTube.
It may not be able to compete ?with its bigger, more powerful rivals on quality, but its 1280x720, 30fps HD resolution is a credible effort at this price, and the 8GB flash memory allows for up to two hours of recording ?in its “HD+” mode.
You wouldn’t expect perfect pictures from such a pocketable recorder, and you won’t get them. There’s a lot of noise and a washed-out look to the footage, while the ?lack of controls means it’s virtually impossible to make improvements. Still, its slim lines and clever fold-out USB connection make it suitable for quick shooting and easy sharing.
Small, light and incredibly easy to use, but image quality is hi-def ?in technical terms only.
Not content with being the world’s first true, progressive-scan Full HD camcorder with 60fps recording, this Samsung also has that Star Trek-style phaser handgrip going on. While this is a comfortable design to use, it can be hard to keep steady and also means you can’t place it on a horizontal surface without a tripod.
However, there’s plenty to applaud. It records direct to SD card and allows simultaneous capture of video and stills. Movies are top notch, with a remarkable amount of detail, even in low-light conditions. The docking station keeps the layout simple, but there’s still loads of connectivity, such as HDMI and USB. Build quality is good too: unlike some other pistol-grip Sanyos, this doesn’t feel like it could be crushed by the weight of three marshmallows.
High-end performance from a design that’s just about pocketable.
The HMX20’s novelty moment is undoubtedly the swivelling handgrip, which allows you to hold the camera at unusual angles. It’s an interesting idea and will no doubt find a few fans, but it doesn’t make shooting a more expressive experience.
Fortunately, the camcorder has other strong elements, notably a touchscreen LCD – offering face detection and focus tracking – 8GB of flash memory and versatile connections such as a docking station with HDMI output. It’s the heaviest model here, and feels it, as poor weight distribution makes it unbalanced in the hand.
In a results-driven business the HMX20 fares reasonably. Movies suffer from picture noise but there are high levels of detail, and the low-light performance is acceptable. Sound is a little tinny – which could be improved by plugging in a decent mic – but we’d rather not have to resort to that.
Pleasant to use, but sound and picture quality are a little disappointing.
Tactile types will be drawn directly to the Panasonic’s manual zoom and focus ring around the lens, but new-schoolers are also catered for with an intuitive touchscreen that gives access to menus for more advanced features.
The flash memory captures up to 13 hours of hi-def footage with a trio of 3MP CMOS sensors, while an SD card slot is ready and waiting for additional storage. There’s also a clever Pre-record mode that buffers a short loop of footage before you press record. So long as the camera is always pointing in the right direction, you should never miss a thing.
This would all be meaningless if ?the pictures weren’t up to scratch, but apart from grainy low-light output, images and audio are among the best.
Like a beverage-hungry boozer, ?the Legria HF S10 is all about the optics. And here that means a superb lens, a 10x optical zoom and an optical image stabiliser that’s far better than a digital alternative.
There’s also a 25p progressive shooting mode so you can shoot ?film-like footage, while a host of connections, including headphone and external microphone, USB, component-out and HDMI-out, ?will keep enthusiasts happy.
The Legria’s Panasonic rival, below, can rustle up higher-res stills, but the Canon captures truly exceptional video and its low-light performance is far more compelling. With such detail and texture, as well as rich, spot-on colours, this is a camcorder of the ?very highest order.
Outstanding picture quality and flexibility make this very hard to beat.