Video cams that shoot where a phone can’t go

THE market for camcorders has changed beyond recognition in the last few years. Where once they were expensive exotica costing £500 upwards, now they are summer tote bag fillers, sold to sit alongside the sun cream and shades.

GoPros £190 Hero 3 camcorder is aimed at the action afficionado
GoPros £190 Hero 3 camcorder is aimed at the action afficionado

You would be pushed to pay more than £275 for even a top-of-the-range consumer model today – but the question is whether you need one at all, given that your smartphone has the same functionality and that no-one will probably want to watch your holiday videos anyway.

It’s exactly those considerations that have caused the market to contract so much.

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The fact that domestic camcorders now record on to cheap SD cards rather than hard disks or intricate cassette mechanisms has also helped. The SD revolution has made camcorders smaller and lighter, and that has prompted some manufacturers to concentrate more on the fun of filming than the quality.

Any dedicated camcorder is likely to yield better results than video shot on your phone. The image sensor will be bigger and more sensitive, and you can specify a proper optical zoom lens. And camcorders can store much more footage before they start to run out of disk space.

But the real benefit of a dedicated video device is what you can now shoot with it. Cheap mounts for many new models let you plant them in places you wouldn’t dare risk your phone: the handlebars of your bike, a helmet, surfboard or hang glider are all suddenly practical.

Vivitar – once a premium brand but now a badge for cheap electronics – has an “action camera” for only £50, complete with four different mounts, a waterproof casing and a rechargeable battery. It won’t be broadcast quality, but if you share footage on the web that hardly matters.

Further up the scale, GoPro’s Hero 3 at £190 offers considerably better quality. Specialist mounts are extra but GoPro does give its users a decent software package to help get the footage from camera to computer and on to YouTube.

Canon and Panasonic are now the leading vendors of “traditional” home camcorders and £170 buys you a very reasonable point-and-shoot model. If you want more control an extra £50 or so will secure the rest of the trimmings.

You need to edit your footage to make it watchable – but with so much choice for so little outlay, the prospect of making a film someone may actually watch has never been higher.