Can you just skip the pocket camcorder and shoot HD videos with your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera? Sure, experts say -- but with a pocket camcorder, you'll shoot better video and have an easier time doing it.
One exception: The iPhone 4S (*Est. $200 and up with contract) brings full 1080p HD video to the smartphone world, and testers say it looks great. The top-rated pocket camcorder in our latest report on HD camcorders, the Samsung HMX-W200 (*Est. $145), still beats the iPhone 4S for pure video-shooting performance at CamcorderInfo.com, but the iPhone 4S has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve -- most importantly, its always-on wireless Internet connection, so you can instantly share your videos. Pocket camcorders can't share anything until you plug them into an Internet-connected computer.
In short, if you already own an iPhone 4S or are planning to buy one, critics say you don't need a separate pocket camcorder (unless you want something waterproof). But since the iPhone 4S costs at least $1,500 once you pay for the two-year contract, it's not something you're going to buy just to shoot quick little videos.
If you're on the fence about whether to spring for a pocket camcorder or just rely on your phone or camera's video mode, here's some advice from top experts who have tested all three types.
-Your phone might shoot lower-resolution 720p HD. This is true for the iPhone 4 (*Est. $100 and up with contract) and iPod touch (*Est. $190 for 8 GB), Apple's cheaper options. "That doesn't always mean it's inferior," cautions Greg Scoblete, About.com's guide to camcorders. "Some 1080p pocket camcorders actually produce worse video than a 720p model." (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
Even cheap digital cameras beat smartphones when it comes to video, CamcorderInfo.com says. If your point-and-shoot camera shoots full 1080p HD video, it'll probably look as good as a pocket camcorder's. The top-rated Canon PowerShot Elph 100 HS (*Est. $160) does this; see our report on cheap digital cameras for more.
-Pocket camcorders are easier to use. They come with on-board editing/sharing software that makes it easy to polish your clips and upload them to YouTube or Facebook. Pocket camcorders are also ready to record in just a second or two, with usually just the press of one button -- no fiddling with menus.
You'll "wind up catching moments you'd have lost with any other gadget," says David Pogue at The New York Times, a devotee of the now-defunct Flip pocket camcorder. "I've got all these great videos of my toddler son in the back seat of the car, because he'd suddenly start singing a hilarious made-up song, and I'd grab the Flip from the center console, hit the button, and I'd have it. I would not have had a prayer of getting those songs if I'd had an app phone."
Some point-and-shoot cameras (including the Canon PowerShot Elph 100 HS) have one-touch video buttons, too, but startup times may be slower. You can email or post clips to YouTube directly from your iPod Touch, but without the built-in editing software and all of the video features that you'll get with a pocket camcorder.
-Pocket camcorders get better sound, CamcorderInfo.com says. And if you really want good audio, most pocket camcorders have a jack for an external microphone.
-Pocket camcorders can be rugged. For instance, the top-rated Samsung HMX-W200 is waterproof to 10 feet, dustproof and rated to withstand a drop of 6.5 feet. Try that with your fragile phone.