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Best HD Camcorder Under $250

Question: We're taking a trip cross-country this summer, and I want to bring a video camera for some home movies.
I've got a couple hundred bucks to spend but don't want to break the bank. I've seen a lot of these small, solid-state camcorders recently, and I'm wondering which one you recommend?

Hey Reader: We live in wonderful times. There are many styles of camcorders to choose from these days, and most companies have HD models for under $500. (Video sites such as YouTube and Vimeo make it easy to post HD clips right from a camera. But if you want to edit HD creations first, know that you'll need a pretty powerful PC.) For your price range, nothing beats the convenience of a pocket-sized camera like the Pure Digital Flip MinoHD, which delivers the goods while still being light on your wallet and incredibly easy to use.

Gone are the days of lugging around an unwieldy camcorder and box of tapes -- today's pocket camcorders record to solid-state hard drives and have hardly any moving parts. Not only does this eliminate tape jams, it also enables nearly instantaneous shooting, so you don't miss the moment when inspiration strikes.

Although Creative's Vado HD, Kodak's Zx1 HD, and RCA's Small Wonder EZ300HD each have their strong points, the Pure Digital Flip MinoHD is your best bet. All of these cameras have similar features (they shoot in HD and include software for basic editing and easy uploading to video sites), but the Flip MinoHD has the best form factor of the bunch. We found ourselves shooting much more with it simply because we liked carrying it around -- it looks great and sports a simple button layout that makes using it a no-brainer.

The MinoHD does have a few downsides: The short, two-hour battery life might keep you running back to your computer for some USB-enabled charging. (You can't just swap in a spare battery.) And it is difficult to hold steady in your hand, although that's the trade-off with such a lightweight camcorder. Also, there's no HDMI connection, so you're limited to using bulky, old-school component cables for displaying HD video on a television.

Our favorite feature? Well, besides its feather weight and low cost ($200), the MinoHD has a switchblade-style USB connector you can't help but flick in and out while you're waiting for that perfect shot. More than a silly toy, it's a very handy feature that pretty much typifies the experience of using this camera: little touches like this distinguish the MinoHD from its competitors. Another nice extra: Pure Digital lets you custom-design your camera's finish for no extra charge on the Flip Web site (or you can choose from a huge number of preset designs).

Note that Pure Digital just released an update to its Ultra line of Flip cameras, the Flip Ultra HD. We tested it out, but found that its heavy weight and bulkiness made us less likely to toss it in a purse or slip it in a pocket. We're sticking with our MinoHD.

Another benefit of such a light camera: You can attach it to a bunch of balloons and send it flying above New York's Central Park. Check out the video from our little "UP" adventure here.

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Tags: camcorder, features, flip, flip mino hd, FlipMinoHd, flipvideo, justtellmewhattoget, minohd, top