Camcorder for Moms, Dads and Other Non-techies

Not everyone wants or needs a “real” camcorder, one that records on tape or a DVD (not as good quality as tape, anyway).

So, when Pure Digital introduced their new Point & Shoot Video Camcorder, I wanted to see it.  Here is what I found.  Convenience and price trumps quality.

It’s about the size of many small digital still cameras.  It comes packaged with a pair of installed alkaline AA batteries and it’s ready to go.  Just press the ubiquitous power button, the intuitive red “record” button to start, use the up and down arrows to zoom, then press the red button again to stop recording and that’s about it.

Each segment recorded can also be instantly deleted by pressing the dedicated Delete button.  The “<” and “>” symbols allow skipping forward or back through videos.  Again, it could not be easier.

There’s a small and bright 1.5-inch display so you can see where you’re going and where you’ve been, as well as a built-in speaker so you can hear your masterpiece. There is no optical viewfinder. It’s about as easy to use as they come. Up to 30 minutes can be recorded, saved and then erased to try it all again.  This is an all-digital model with NO tape, It uses 512MB of on-board digital memory, just like a digital still camera, only it is not removable on the Point & Shoot.

Unlike many digital still cameras today, the Point & Shoot also lacks an anti-shake mechanism, so unsteady hands will create unsteady videos.

The lens is fixed and the 2x zoom is digital only, which somewhat degrades the images that have no quality to spare.

All this for only $130.  Sounds simple, and it is very simple.

There is a built-in pop-out USB connector arm that plugs right into your Mac or PC, and software is built-in for each platform, though it has to be installed on the Mac. The computer uses this software for transfer and also offers software buttons so the videos can be e-mailed to others as well as organized on the host computer.  The videos can be burned to a DVD or Video CD if your computer has a burner (few do not have at least a CD burner today) and you know how to do this.

On the computer screen, the “interface” allows users to save and organize videos by date and to “Make Movie.”  This option lets you select clips stored in the folder labeled “Point & Shoot Videos” that the software places on the computer desktop.  Once the clips are selected and the “Make Movie” button is clicked, the software creates one continuous video by combining all the clips. Another process that could not be simpler.

In addition, users are encouraged to take their camcorder to Rite Aid or CVS stores where a well-made DVD can be created for under $15. They’ll transfer your footage, make the DVD, reset the camcorder and give it back to you.  I tried their sample DVD sent with my test unit. It worked well in my Mac and PC and in the two DVD players I tried it in.  I like the simple menus.  The process of creating a DVD also stitches together all the scenes into a single video or, from the menu, you can choose and watch individual scenes, up to 98 individual clips can be recorded within the up to 30 minutes of total time recorded.

I tried it out recently at a family event. At the same time, I shot videos with a Casio digital still camera I am testing  (Earlier in the day, I went outside to shoot some scenes in the daylight.)

I tired out making a movie and emailing the clips. That worked fine.

When the Point & Shoot is powered up, there’s a little audio salute as well as a beep, which everyone around can (and did) hear when it starts and stops recording. I wish there would be an option to turn this off or just eliminate the unnecessary sound altogether.  You know how people stare!

Both cameras shoot videos sized at 640×480, known as VGA, and at 30 frames per second.  This is far less of a quality job than even a $300 digital video camcorder.  However, at its best, it’s fine for life’s moments in short clips, and that’s what the Point & Shoot is targeting.

The verdict?  For the audience for which it is intended, the Pure Digital Point & Shoot  Digital Camcorder does an adequate job. Just who is it in the audience for one of these?  It’s for anyone who does not want to spend the money on a “real” camcorder and also does not have nor want to use even a $250 digital still camera that is capable of shooting similar, many better videos.

It’s for those who otherwise would not record life’s moments but would wish he or she had made the effort.

I found the Pure Digital model lacking in low-light sensitivity. The audio left a lot to be desired. At the event, I was only in the third row with about 15 feet ahead of that to the stage.  Sound from the stage was muddy and sounded particularly distant. The Casio digital camera I was testing did a very good job of hearing what was going on and without sounding as if I was a mile away.  I noted that with my earlier up-close videos the sound was still not perfect, but at least good enough that its failings were not the focus of what was being watched. Video quality overall was just about the same with both cameras,  except when I zoomed in with the digital still camera’s optical and then digital zoom. It did a better overall job at retaining the quality through the zoom.

The Pure Digital’s digital-only zoom also was evident by its lower quality zoomed images. As noted, it would be best to be within spittin’ distance of the subject when using the Pure Digital if you want better audio and video.  If you would plan on taking one of these to capture junior’s soccer or baseball game and get something worthwhile, you had better be next to the umpire unless your expectations are not so great.

If you use the Point & Shoot to capture an infant’s first year, up close and personal, primarily in well-lit indoor surroundings, you should be satisfied.  Don’t count on loving it to shoot videos at a swim meet or on a camping trip to capture the majesty of nature.  It’s just not up to the task. But, then, what do you expect for only $130?

As a convenience to a mom and dad or grandparents, I can see how the Pure Digital camcorder can be useful. It’s certainly better than nothing, and just how many times have you said you wished you had a camera?  No stills with this one, however. So, it’s not exactly the same as with a video-enabled digital camera, since those do both better than this does just video, but at greater expense.

On the other hand, with convenience in mind, it’s hard to beat the ease with which this thing can shoot, connect with a computer and e-mail videos. Boom, and it’s done.  You would have to know a little something more in order to do the same thing with your digital camera or camcorder and your computer, but I don’t think it’s at all complicated to shoot simple videos with my digital still camera and then organize and email them. I also can use my phanfare account to nearly automatically post videos and still images from my little digital still camera for others to be invited to see on their computer.

Pure Digital has licensed the technology to the RCA brand, which has introduced their version called the Small Wonder EZ101.  It looks the same as the Pure Digital model, but I tested it and found that outside it may be the same but inside it is different. I noticed that the picture when played back instantly using the supplied cable (same as for the Pure Digital product), the video looked terrible.  It was not even close to the quality of my digital still camera’s video output. It is the identical in every way, including the price, except for one very big thing. The video on the Pure Digital-branded product is at VGA quality – 640×480 pixels. The RCA product is at HALF VGA or 320×240 pixels. On the computer, both will look OK, not great. On the TV you will see half the video quality of the RCA. I hope the next generation of RCA-branded product will rectify what I think is a travesty.