6 Video Cameras For YouTubers

Aug 30, 2008 (03:08 AM EDT)

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Flip's Mino offers a 1.5 inch LCD and smooth YouTube uploads. It uses touch-sensitive controls rather than physical buttons.
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George Orwell missed a key element of technological progress and its impact on society when he predicted in his book 1984 that Big Brother would monitor society via video cameras installed and controlled by government.

As it turns out, we do a pretty good job of monitoring ourselves with Webcams, surveillance video, and cell phones. But the art form is well on its way toward ubiquity with the advent of a new breed of video cameras that records better video quality than most cell phones, at the expense of real-time upload.

This category of video cameras started with the ultimately pocketable Flip about a year ago and has expanded to today's lineup of five competitors that share the same general form factor. The main distinction of these cameras is their small size and their production of YouTube-ready video clips. Their size makes it easy to slip one in a pocket alongside your cell phone, ever ready to record a quick video clip.

At the same time, the genre has expanded beyond simple convenience to include higher quality and more features. The most basic units shoot VGA quality (640 x 480) at 30 frames per second, while some capture high-definition video at 1020i and 60 frames per second. And while the majority of the units maintain their cell-phone size, at least one, the JVC GZ-MS100, has gone to a more traditional video camera form factor in order to add features like optical zoom and auto-focus lens.

The Basics

These cameras are designed specifically for online sharing of video clips. To that end, video quality, storage capacity, battery life, and even optical quality are less important than those in standard video cameras. Conversely, portability, ease of use, and ease of posting the resulting videos all rank high on the list of important features.

Google YouTube logo

Each of these cameras records to flash memory, rather than disk or tape. Some have only their own internal memory, while others allow the addition of secure digital or secure digital high-capacity cards. And some require that you supply your own flash memory, offering no internal recording capacity at all. We prefer the device offer at least a minimum of internal recording capacity and also provide the option to add memory as needed. See a table of video camera specs.

All connect via USB, with the connector permanently housed within the camera. Essentially, you just plug the camera into your PC and then upload your videos.

Your choice of camera will likely be dictated by whether you favor the convenience of carrying a very small device or want a feature only available in a particular unit.

The Mino's pop-out USB connector is the umbilical for both charging batteries and downloading video clips.
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1. Flip Mino

The Flip Mino from Pure Digital Technologies is the latest version of the original Flip video camera that started the YouTube-specific camera trend.

The Mino has a touch-sensitive front panel that lets you control the camera's functions. Most of these cameras include the same set of functions and are controlled from the front panel; the Mino is the only one that uses touch-sensitive areas rather than physical buttons.

The Mino is smaller than the other cams except the Creative Vado and also has the smallest LCD, at 1.5 inches. Even so, the display is sharp, bright, and easy to see, even in daylight shooting. The pop-out USB connector is the umbilical for both charging the batteries and downloading the video clips. The Mino includes 2 GB of flash memory, enough for one hour of video at VGA resolution. It sells for $179.99.

The Flip Mino is available in black or white.

Like some other pocketable cameras in this roundup, software is preloaded on the Mino and runs from its internal memory when connected to a PC. This makes it simple to upload to YouTube, AOL video, or MySpaceTV; send via e-mail; or create a greeting card when attached to an Internet-connected computer. The software suite includes a version of Muvee that can spice up the clip by adding special effects and music.

The hallmark of the Flip video experience is the ability to share videos easily. We were able to simply click on the video we wanted to upload, supply our logon information, and click "go." Upload times vary, of course, with the size of the video. But our video was delivered to YouTube without a hitch, ready for worldwide acclaim.

Creative's Vado is easy to pocket, has a decent-sized (2-inch) LCD, and offers simple uploading to YouTube.
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2. Creative Vado

Creative's Vado includes 2 GB of memory and, like the Mino, records up to one hour at what Creative terms "excellent" quality, VGA resolution. But you can opt for "good quality," letting you record up to two hours of video before transferring your clips to your hard drive.

The Vado is the smallest unit in this roundup and we found it to be very pocketable, with its nicely rounded corners. The 2" LCD is larger than the Mino's, but still smaller than most of the other cams. It is easy to see, even in daylight, but we found that we only used the LCD on any of these cameras to make certain that what we wanted to shoot was in the field of view. Real detailed viewing during recording is not necessary because the lenses are all fixed focus. Even when using the 2x zoom, common to all but the JVC, it's only necessary to check the display and get an approximation of your scene.

Controlling the Vado is done with a rocker-and-button combination. It functions similarly to those of others in this roundup and controls are intuitive.

Vado's software is preinstalled on its internal memory and activates using autoplay when attached to a PC's USB port. The software is easy to use, if limited in function. Unlike the Mino, there are no editing functions available, and the only upload destinations included are YouTube and Photobucket.

The Vado may be the bargain of the bunch, selling at $99.99.

RCA's Small Wonder Traveler is ruggedized, uses standard AA batteries, and accepts memory cards with as much as 8-GB capacity.
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3. RCA Small Wonder Traveler

RCA's Small Wonder Traveler is a slight departure from the Mino and Vado. It is a bit larger than the others and is somewhat ruggedized, in that it has a protective ring around the lens and a detachable strap handle at the top. Because of its size, it is the least likely to fit easily in a pocket.

The Traveler includes a removable 2-GB SD flash memory card with no internal memory. It accepts cards with as much as 8-GB capacity. The ability to change memory cards to increase capacity, combined with the fact that the camera uses standard AA batteries, makes this a good option for (as its title suggests) travelers who may be away from their computers for some period.

Another unique capability is the Traveler's ability to take still shots. It is not the only camera in this roundup that can do this, but it is the only one with a dedicated photo button, allowing you to snap a shot without accessing a menu to change modes. The Traveler also has a switch that changes the video quality from high quality, for one hour of record time, to Web quality, for four hours of recording on the 2-GB card.

The Traveler's software is installed from the device itself, via USB and includes upload as well as editing capabilities. Editing is limited to combining and shortening clips, but may be useful for some purposes. Upload destinations include YouTube,, and e-mail. The Traveler sells for $150.00.

The DXG 567V can record in HD at 1020i and runs on rechargeable or standard AA batteries.
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4. DXG 567V

DXG's 567V is one the two units that can shoot high-definition videos. The Kodak Zi6 (which looks to be a rebranded version of the DXG 567V) can also capture high-definition clips, but only at 720p, as opposed to the 557V's 1020i and 720p modes.

The 567V is slightly larger than the Mino, but has the comfortable, rounded feel of the Vado. To accommodate high-def recording, its LCD is in the 16:9 aspect ratio. In all, the 567V shoots in three resolutions -- 1020i, 720p, and VGA -- all at 30 frames per second.

The controls are easy to use, but the icons that display the video mode are small and we found them easily misread if we weren't careful. On the positive side, changing to close-up mode is done by sliding a switch on the side of the camera body, allowing you to move in as close as 6 inches.

The 567 differs from all the other cameras in that the focal length of its lens is nearly twice as long, at 7.27 mm, versus approximately 4 mm with the others. And though the zoom is specified at 2x, our casual testing showed it to be closer to 3x. Remember that the zoom feature on all these cameras is digital, meaning that the image is effectively cropped, resulting in lower resolution. In this case, using the higher resolution 1020i may make a difference in the quality of your zoomed video clips.

The 567V relies on SD/SDHC cards for its memory. All the internal memory is devoted to the camera's software. We supplied our own 8-GB SD card to record our videos. The included Rapid Blog Manager software executes automatically when the camera is connected to a PC and makes uploading to YouTube, Gmail, and Google easy. Archsoft Total Media Extreme is included on CD and provides extensive editing capabilities.

The DXG 567V sells for $149.99, but remember that you will need to supply your own memory card.

Kodak's Zi6 records video in HD, has a 2.4-inch LCD, and can take still images.
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5. Kodak Zi6

Kodak's Zi6 shares many of the features and functions available on the DXG 567V, but with some interesting twists.

The Zi6 includes 30 MB of available internal memory, just enough to take a very short clip in either high definition (720p at either 30 or 60 frames per second) or VGA. A better use for that very small amount of memory may be to use the camera's still mode to take a few snapshots. Either way, you'll want to get an SD/SDHC card of up to 32 GB.

Like the DXG, the Zi6 runs on two AA rechargeable batteries, which are included along with a charger. The Kodak's LCD is only slightly smaller than the RCA Traveler's at 2.4 inches, making it very easy to use to film and to play back your images and clips. You can even speed up playback to either 2x or 4x normal speed in order to zip through the boring parts.

Plugging the Zi6 into a USB port the first time initiates the installation of Arcsoft's MediaImpressions software. This means that the application needs to run from the computer rather than directly from the camera. We prefer the freedom to execute from the camera's internal memory, eliminating the need to install software on our friends' computers just to upload our videos. However, once installed, MediaImpressions can upload your clips to YouTube. Installing the full application set from the CD allows for editing and "movie making."

The Kodak Zi6 sells for $179.99, but you will also need an SD card.

JVC's GZ-MS100 offers a high quality 35x zoom lens, 2.7-inch LCD, and HD video recording. At about $350, it's at the top end of our price range.
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6. JVC Everio MS100

The JVC Everio GZ-MS100 could be called a crossover in this video category. It looks like one of JVC's hard-drive camcorders and includes many of the features found in them. The main differences are its lack of hard drive or tape recording medium and the addition of its upload function that automatically limits recording time to 10 minutes, the time limit YouTube imposes for uploaded videos.

To be clear, the Everio MS100 is an outlier from the other five video cameras in this roundup. It is too large to fit comfortably in a pocket, has a flip-out 2.7 inch touch-controlled LCD, optical 35x zoom lens, and retails for $350.

What does put it in the same category is the camera's dedication to YouTube video creation and its reliance on flash memory as its storage medium. If your aim is to create better-quality video clips to share online and also produce decent-quality video that can be edited into longer presentations, the MS100 is a good choice. While it costs significantly more than the others in this roundup, its price is still lower than comparable disk-based video recorders.

We appreciated the touch controls on the LCD that make operation intuitive and quick. And while some of the other cams have a circular mirror to make self-portraits easier, the MS-100's flip-out LCD can be rotated to provide a real-time self-view. Stereo microphones make for better audio. And the Everio records in 16:9 format in high definition, as well as in lower resolution modes. Power comes from the camera's rechargeable battery that can supply up to 2.5 hours of recording time.

Uploading video clips to YouTube is simple once the basic software is installed from CD. We were able to connect the USB cable and simply push the "Upload" button on the camera. The software on the PC scanned the camera for available video clips and displayed what it found. We were able to select the ones we wanted and click the YouTube icon to begin the upload process.

Adobe Premier Elements is included in addition to the basic upload software, making it possible to produce nearly professional quality results, if you have the time and inclination to do so.

In Summary

Overall, we found all the cameras delivered on their promise to record acceptable-quality video clips and upload them to YouTube. The differentiating factors did not set any one significantly ahead of the pack, leaving the choice to your personal preference. And even if the price of the JVC MS-100 were on par with the other offerings, its size could keep it from being your choice, despite its overall higher-quality components.

Compact Video Camera Specs