During a recent jaunt to the States, I popped into a Boulder, Colorado Target store to pick up one of the $130 point-and-shoot video cameras that created a bit of an internet stir a month or two ago. After using the Pure Digital product for a bit, I thought I’d pass along my observations.

There’s a lot I like about the camera. The styling is vaguely iPodish, and the unit not much bigger than my click-wheel iPod. It’s taller than it is wide, which makes it comfortable to hold and surprisingly stable. Given there’s no tripod socket, that’s a plus, because you can shoot relatively jitter-free video handheld.

The controls are simple: there’s an on-off push button and a big, red record button. A rocker switch around the record button lets you zoom and controls playback of movies. I particularly like the fact that the thing is powered by a couple of AA batteries and battery life seems reasonable.

Downloading videos to the laptop is a breeze. A USB connector pops out of the side of the camera and you plug it in. The first time you connect it to the computer, it downloads the necessary Mac or Windows software. The software allows you to save, delete and even email the video clips.

Video is shot at 640 X 480 at 30 fps and the quality is not bad, given the price. In decent light, the video is clear and it even does a passable job in low light. The microphone on the thing is surprisingly sensitive and the sound quality is good.

So what’s not to like? The 3:1 zoom for one thing. It’s a digital zoom and therefore almost useless. Zooming in results in fuzzy, pixelated images. And the built-in memory can only record 30 minutes of video. Finally, I’ve had mixed results converting the .avi videos the camera produces to other formats. Most often it’s worked well, but occasionally, the results have been marred by video artifacts and even jerky motion.

I have a short, 1.8MB sample movie (nothing special: my cat, Madeira, at feeding time). The video was converted from and AVI file to a QuickTime movie in QuickTime Pro. As you can see, quality is fine and the image is sharp.

Despite the limitations, the ease of use and the quality of the output make the point-and-shoot video camera worth the relatively few bucks I paid for it. The thing is small enough to carry around for grab shots and video storytelling experimentation.

I’m still saving my pennies for a real video camera, though.

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