Digital Cameras at Amazon.comWhether you want to shoot a flash mob in San Francisco, a frisky cat in your backyard, or a friend's silky moves on the dance floor, a web-sharing camcorder is an essential accessory. Dubbed "shoot-and-share" camcorders by Amazon.com--but also known as "web-sharing," "net-sharing," or "pocket camcorders" in various circles--the stripped-down camcorders are must-haves for people who want to post videos on YouTube, Facebook, Photobucket, or another video-sharing site.
ResolutionUp until recently, most shoot-and-share cameras shot in VGA (640 x 480) resolution, which is the minimal resolution that all PC hardware, and many mobile devices, supports. However, just as some video-sharing sites have started displaying content in 1080p HD, many manufacturers have started selling portable camcorders capable of shooting in high definition (usually 1,280 x 720). The advantages of an HD camcorder are obvious to anyone who's struggled to see past the grainy resolution of YouTube basketball highlights or concert performances.
StorageVideo is a space hog, especially HD video. But shoot-and-share cameras aren't designed to hold a ton of footage; they're built to store enough video to meet your immediate needs, and then quickly transfer it to another medium. That's one reason shoot-and-share camcorders don't rely on large internal hard drives or MiniDV cassettes, but instead use minimal amounts of built-in flash memory and/or flash memory cards to store content. Another reason is that memory cards are tiny, making them the perfect recording medium for compact camcorders.
Depending on the price you're willing to pay, shoot-and-share camcorders may have as little as 1 or 2 GB of built-in memory or as much as 16 GB or more. The latter option generally holds somewhere in the range of four hours of HD footage or eight hours of SD footage, depending on the video format used (compressed MPEG-4 and HD H.264 are typical). The disadvantage of a camcorder that relies solely on internal memory is that once you're full, you're full, so unless you want to delete some footage, your shooting is done for the day. In those instances, it's nice to have a slot for an SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) or Memory Stick Duo Pro memory card. Rather than overwriting some video footage, you can just pop in a new card and keep shooting.
SharingThe most important function of a shoot-and-share camcorder is its ability to easily share video clips on all types of media, including online, e-mail, and even through HDTVs or DVD recorders. The process is usually a few quick steps: connect the camcorder to your computer via USB (many cameras in this category have a built-in USB connector), open the software, select a file, and click Share Video or a similar button. Many camera manufacturers have even reached deals with YouTube, MySpace, and other services to publish your videos directly to their sites. You'll need an account with these services first, but once you're signed up, the process requires a simple button click. If you prefer a specific sharing site, you may want to look for a camcorder that advertises a relationship with that site.
Some shoot-and-share camcorders also make it easy to view your video footage through a PC, TV, or HDTV or record it to an external DVD recorder. These devices tend to have either a standard AV output for regular resolution or an HDMI output for HD resolution, although some newer HDTVs and DVD recorders may also have memory card slots or USB inputs.
DisplayShoot-and-share camcorders tend to have relatively compact color displays (in the realm of 1.5 to 3 inches). Some are built into the main camcorder body, while others flip out to the side for easier viewing.
ZoomShoot-and-share camcorders are usually fairly basic, so their zoom options are often minimal--maybe a 2x digital zoom, but little more. However, a few pocket-sized camcorders kick it up a notch with longer zooms. If you prefer the convenience of a shoot-and-share camera but want a zoom option, you have a couple of choices: camcorders with optical zooms or digital zooms (and sometimes both). Although the idea is the same--to bring the subject closer--they're actually fairly different in terms of image quality. An optical zoom is the better of the two, as it uses the lens optics to bring the subject closer. A digital zoom, by contrast, doesn't actually zoom in but instead magnifies and expands part of the initial image using the same techniques as image-editing software. So although you do get a closer shot of the subject, you lose some resolution in the process.
That doesn't mean a 16x digital zoom is a bad thing, it just means that you shouldn't expect to shoot crystal-clear video from a distance with such a camcorder. If a crisp zoom is a priority for you, consider a camcorder with a large optical zoom.
AudioAll shoot-and-share camcorders include built-in microphones, but they're usually nothing special. If you want to capture higher-quality audio, look for camcorders with external microphone jacks so you can plug in your own mic. A headphone jack is also a nice feature, as it lets you discreetly listen to a recording or check the sound level.
SoftwareOne of the most important features of a good shoot-and-share camera is the built-in software. Is it easy to use? Is it easy to navigate? Do the options make sense to the neophyte? Simplicity is key in this category, as the entire point of a shoot-and-share camcorder is to make the video-sharing process quick and painless. Of course, simplicity is in the eye of the beholder. In general, look for camcorders with software packages that provide one-step video uploading and e-mailing and/or automatically post videos to your preferred video-sharing site, such as YouTube or Photobucket.
Depending on your needs, you might also look for such features as the ability to easily burn videos to DVD, edit individual video clips, capture still photos from video footage, arrange clips into albums, and more.
OutputsAs with every other AV device, the number and type of outputs on your shoot-and-share camcorder tracks pretty closely to price. A basic model will have just a couple of options, whereas a more expensive camcorder may include outputs for several different devices.
At the minimum, most shoot-and-share camcorders offer USB outlets for data transfer. Some go the extra mile, however, by also offering a direct USB connector, so you don't need to bother lugging along a USB cable. If you want to play your recorded videos on a nearby TV or record videos directly to DVD, look for a camcorder with either a composite AV output (for standard-definition TVs) or an HDMI output (for high-def). A few camcorders may offer S-video or component video connections, but they're rare in this category. Audio-wise, an external mic jack is a nice option if your audio needs are somewhat demanding, as is a headphone jack.
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