Stills are great for sparking memories. They are almost like video thumbnails to the mind; one glance and you can relive the sights and sounds of the moment in your head.
But to relive the sights and sounds of the moment on your screen, you'll need a dedicated video camera. Sure, point-and-shoot video mode works great in a pinch. But to relive the sights and sounds of the moment on your screen, you'll need a dedicated video camera built specifically for the task. Besides, with HD camcorder prices plummeting and devices shrinking, there's enough room in mom's pocketbook, dad's fanny pack and the grad's backpack for both.
FOR MOMS AND DADS
Common places to spot amateur videographers are at youth soccer games, school plays and recitals. But not all digital camcorders are up to the task of accurately capturing a budding athlete or performer. Here are two low cost options:
Sony bloggie CM5
The Sony bloggie CM5 is an affordable pocket HD camcorder that can shoot 720p HD footage at 60 frames per second (fps). That means the bloggie essentially captures and displays 60 still images per second of video, which is twice the frame rate found on most devices.
The 60 fps is ideal for sports because the action is smooth and the athletes look graceful - even uncoordinated six year olds. The bloggie also has an optical zoom lens, a feature most pocket camcorders lack. It's great for maintaining video quality while zooming in on your little soccer superstar as he or she zips down the field.
The Kodak Zi8 can also shoot 720p at 60fps and costs a bit less than the bloggie, but it doesn't have an optical zoom. It makes up for it by including an external microphone jack, which is valuable for school plays and recitals. Camcorder on-board mics typically have trouble recording quality audio in hollow auditoriums, resulting in tinny sound and garbled voices. An external mic picks up and distinguishes voices clearly, allowing moms and dads to fully enjoy their little star's moment in the spotlight.
If you really want to spoil mom and dad this Mother's and Father's Day, consider these more expensive options:
Sony HDR-XR550V, CX350V, and CX300
Two words: Golf Shot. Sony's three HD offerings have the ability to capture a few seconds of footage and break it down to 22 still images that can be viewed and printed to analyze the nuances of a golf or tennis swing. Mom and dad can automate Golf Shot to activate once the microphone picks up the unmistakable crack of the club hitting the ball. It can be manually set as well if they whiff.
Panasonic HDC-TM700, HS700
Most cameras and camcorders have face detection, but the Panasonic 700 camcorders have face recognition. Mom and dad can program up to six different faces and the TM700 or HS700 will recognize and prioritize the faces whenever they are in frame. It's a "set it and forget it" feature that means mom and dad's clan will always be in focus.
With the college-aged Facebook and YouTube crowd, video is made for sharing. While most camcorders have software features for automatic uploads, some devices do it better than others.
The Flip SlideHD, MinoHD, UltraHD
Flip owes much of its success to making video sharing as easy as possible. It's all controlled through FlipShare, the pocket camcorder's proprietary software. The whole process of moving footage directly from the Flip to Facebook, MySpace or YouTube is quick, simple and intuitive. As a bonus, Flip camcorders come in almost any design or color imaginable, and budding artists can also design their own Flip print.
Eye-Fi Pro X2
It's not a camcorder, but stick this Wi-Fi-powered Eye-Fi Pro X2 SD card in any SD-ready device and it will wirelessly transfer your clips to both a PC and sharing site of choice. It eliminates the need to connect and upload video. And unlike with older Eye-Fi cards, users can now select which videos they want automatically uploaded, which is a great feature for keeping embarrassing footage off the Web.
Some college-bound and recent college grads are less interested in shooting video and more into crafting films. Most professional-level camcorders cost $5,000 or more, but many of today's mid-range and high-end consumer camcorders shoot high-enough quality video to satisfy any would-be Scorsese at a fraction of the price.
Canon Vixia HF S21
With an MSRP of $1,400, the S21 isn't cheap. But it is one of the most solid consumer level camcorders available. It produces sharp picture, shoots high-quality video in low light, and offers manual picture controls. Also, it shoots at 24fps, giving video a film-like quality not found with other frame rates.
Panasonic HDC TM300
This prosumer HD camcorder is the precursor to the recently released TM700, meaning it's less expensive and just as good saving for a handful of new features. One thing it's not is obsolete; this is among the best all-around camcorders available and it received many accolades in 2009 for performance and value. Like the S21, it has a host of manual audio and picture controls, is great in all lighting conditions and has a 24fps mode for movie-quality video.