Digital Life: Mini-camcorder trail is all blazed out
'In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes," Andy Warhol forecast back in 1969.
Perhaps he was uncannily predicting the rise of vacuous 'celebs' who've become famous for being famous rather than anything they've achieved. Or maybe he was anticipating the Facebook and YouTube generation, who willingly record and broadcast their lives via status updates, pictures and video.
We can pinpoint the mobile phone as the instrument of this new fame. We carry them everywhere and newer smartphones are capable of capturing high-quality pictures/video and uploading it instantly.
So it begs the question why firms are still chasing the trail blazed by the Flip miniature camcorder in 2006. The Flip captured the US public's imagination for its low-cost ease of use and was soon copied worldwide.
Four years on, though, and the diminishing advantages of mini-camcorders are all too obvious as mobiles become more powerful. Smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S or iPhone 4 shoot high-def video and snap five-megapixel pictures.
But it hasn't deterred Sony and Panasonic from trying their luck with new mini-camcorders whose calling cards are small size mated to high quality.
The Sony Bloggie PM5 and Panasonic HM-TA1 both resemble phones designed by a Soviet committee -- chunky with a surfeit of plastic. But their diminutive dimensions mean they're far more portable than even the smallest 'proper' camcorder.
The Sony's button layout could charitably be described as challenging, the Panasonic's not much better, but at least long battery life is common to both.
At first blush the footage stands up well, recording full HD video. The Bloggie has a rotating lens that enables you to capture unusual angles and comes with a fish-eye add-on for panoramic videos and pictures. The HM-TA1 eschews such gimmicks for a more useful LED light to brighten dark scenes.
Look closely, though, and you'll miss such staples as image stabilisation (to combat wobbles) and optical zoom (to bring you closer to the action).
With built-in USB plugs, the Sony and Panasonic are ideal for quick and dirty video shoots for your computer and YouTube. Quality-wise with video, they do have an edge over mobile phones but not by much, particularly in iPhone territory.
The Bloggie costs €200 which includes a 4GB memory card while the HM-TA1 costs €170 but does not come with a card.