Don't look now, but here comes Father's Day, which means it's time to think about a gift for the man who seems to have everything.
Chances are Dad is the family photographer, and on summer vacation (also coming up), he's usually got a video camera in front of his face while everyone else is having a good time cavorting around monuments and screaming on roller coasters. No doubt, he is also in charge of carrying the camera bag around his neck as the clan traipses from the beach to the beach house and back.
Make it easier on poor old Dad this year by getting him a smaller video camera. How small? Well, they come pretty tiny these days: We checked out one that is barely bigger than a USB drive.
We've zoomed in on a few new models that fit easily into Dad's shorts pocket to make life just a little easier for him.
These guys invented the market for pocket camcorders, and they just keep improving it. True, the Flip Ultra HD is bigger than many we looked at, but the good outweighs the bad.
The Good: No cables! And you get 120 minutes of recording time. We're not sure what "Ultra HD" is -- by definition, HD should be pretty ultimate in the first place -- but the picture is clear, smooth and bright, even in our low-light garage, where the camera's playback actually brightened reality.
The Bad: No cables! If you want to watch your footage on a TV, you need a $24.99 HDMI cable. Also, it does not take still photos.
The Price: $199; available at camera and electronics stores and www.theflip.com.
What started out as a replacement for the Sony Walkman won't be happy until it takes over the world. These Apple people are pretty good at all things digital.
The Good: It had to happen, and it has. The iPod nano's got a video camera -- a bright, clear 640-by-480 image that travels at 30 frames per second, so it looks nearly HD. It's as easy to operate as the music function of the iPod and comes with 15 effects -- X-ray? -- to keep things interesting, as if they weren't already. Syncs up to iPhoto or iMovie (or your own software) from which you can easily edit and share. The screen is the viewfinder; turn it sideways, and the image goes from portrait to landscape. And for the first time in an iPod, there's an FM radio -- with "live pause" (you can pause a song in midlyric). And, comes in grape!
The Bad: You have to hold the nano in your fingertips to avoid covering the tiny lens and microscopic microphone; there's no way to screw it onto a tripod. Does not take still photos. And to watch it on a TV you need a component cable ($49).
The Price: $149 for 8 gigs, $179 for 16 gigs; available all over the place or at www.apple.com.
Rugged and waterproof. A good camcorder for clumsy dads who are likely to drop it.
The Good: By far the most substantial minicam of the bunch. The PlaySport feels good in your hand, with just enough weight to let you know it's there and to pay attention to what you're aiming at. It's water resistant up to 10 feet without a special case -- you can take the camera into the bath or pool or to the beach and not worry about getting it wet. (Online footage posted by users shows the submarine images to be quite impressive.) Charges by USB via computer or a wall socket (the same cable does both) or a wall charger. And, comes in grape!
The Bad: If you are looking for something lighter in the pocket, this isn't it. If you want a camcorder that you don't worry about dropping, this is the one. Internal memory is nonexistent for all useful purposes; upgrade to at least 4 gigs.
The Price: $149.95, at many places that carry Kodak or at www.kodak.com.
uCorder Wearable Video Recording
Feel like a spy with this teeny recorder.
The Good: True to the description, the uCorder is small enough to clip to your pocket (it feels like a thick pen) and record meetings without fussing with a camera; you can also hang it on the included lanyard around your neck and stroll the office corridors snitching on everything you encounter. ("Hey, that's Facebook, not company work!") Since it's hands-free, it would also be great to let a kid wear it while doing stunts on a skateboard. The model IRDC250 has a stand that lets you use it as a webcam. The images in bright situations are OK, and for low-light scenes there is a built-in headlight, sort of a baby high beam that adds an eerie aura to things. Also, it's easy enough to retrieve and upload files.
The Bad: No viewfinder! You have to guess whether it's pointed the right way. The 2 gigs of internal memory (the model 150 has 1 gig) must be supplemented with a microflash chip (about $12 for 2 gigs). It takes three hours to get a two-hour charge from the battery. The slide buttons on the sides take some getting used to, as does remembering whether the blinking blue light means the unit is recording or not. At 25 frames per second (HD can get up to 60), images move fast, like a high-speed action movie; in low light, however, things get blurry. The sound is OK for up to 25 feet. Does not come in grape.