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Are Consumer Camcorders Becoming Obsolete?

Now days you’d be hard pressed to find a point and shoot camera that doesn’t capture movies as well as pictures. A few years back, digital cameras started introducing the feature but only to a limited degree. Giving you a cool, but basically useless feature by not including sound, limiting the time you could record, and all had terrible video quality. Now, not only is video recording found on cell phones, point and shoot cameras, some high-end SLRs and even the iPod Nano, but all are even getting into the game of quality movie capture. Lets face it, products tend to not sell unless the “HD” logo is somewhere on it. Sure you could get a camcorder like the Flip Video Slide HD, which is a cool video camera by the way, but for about the same price you could get yourself into a nice point and shoot camera with arguably better video. Cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot WX1/B or Canon’s SD3500 IS, cameras that not only give you great video, but amazing picture quality as well considering the price. So I have to ask the questions. Are we seeing the era of consumer grade camcorders coming to its inevitable end? Or at the very least, is the line blurred between personal electronic devices, especially in the $200-500 price range? Or do camcorders still have a few advantages up their collective sleeves?

Camcorder Benefits (for now)

Record Time
When it comes to record time camcorders are still the undisputed champ but how much is actually needed? In the days of Beta, VHS, DV, mini DV and the ever frustrating mini CD format you were limited to only an hour or two of realistic record. However with the introduction of the Hard Disc Drives (HDD) and solid stat media like SD cards you can literally get dozens of hours of record time packed into a camcorder smaller than a 12oz soda can. Although, as digital storage becomes smaller and smaller camcorders will not always have the upper hand. For example 32GB SD cards are fairly common now and terabyte drives the size of quarters may be here sooner than you think. Then again, is all that space just a gimmick to get you to buy something you don’t realize you’ll never use? Let’s be honest, do you actually need 80GB of storage in one sitting? Maybe you will on your vacation trip but everyone in your family has to pretend to be interested in the 20 something hours of footage you’re trying to show them. I’m willing to bet most of us only record a few hours at a time, possibly only a few minutes. Maybe, in a way, record time is to camcorders what megapixels are to cameras.

Telephoto Lens
Next is the lens. At 10x, 20x, even 60x and up with image stabilization and fast auto focus there are strong arguments for using a dedicated camcorder. A typical point and shoot will just not cut it at your kids football game or recital. Furthermore, having a lens capable of doing that requires physical limitations to how small it can be made. So, for now, camcorders will still have a home. Last, I would give camcorders the edge in video quality especially in the $800 and up price points, but this is an advantage that is quickly diminishing as image sensors and storage are becoming smaller, more powerful and less expensive, leaving image quality largely up to the strength of the lens itself.

Usability
Finally, let’s not forget the role cell phones play in this, because ease of use and convenience are what win out in the end. Face it, you’re more often going to have your cell with you than your camcorder or camera, and as the image and audio quality keeps improving on these devices the cell phone will become the preferred device. Not only will cell phones have changed the way we communicate and do business, but they will change the way we document our lives as well by reaching and surpassing the “it’s good enough for what I do” threshold. Some would say that this has already happened.

So are camcorders becoming obsolete? In my opinion, for a growing number of us, the answer is yes. In the world of quick, YouTube clips and embedded Facebook videos, the simple one minute clip of the kids swinging or a toast at the club is easily captured with phone or camera. From there it can be quickly shared through text or uploaded with minimal hassle. Is the camcorder worth the extra effort? I think the important thing is to be honest with your true needs, before you end up with another expensive toy sitting on the closet shelf.

NOTE:
Although some SLRs are now starting to come with movie capture capabilities and with the right lenses, making even professional video gear blush, I excluded them in this post. The price points and skill sets needed are asking a bit much for most consumers.