Gadling Gear Review: Samsung W300 Pocket Camcorder

Capturing our favorite travel memories has never been easier than it is in the modern age. The advent of digital cameras has made photography less expensive and more accessible to the masses, and similarly, digital camcorders have had the same effect for video. Gone are the days when travelers had to lug a bulky video camera, not to mention videotapes, with them on their journeys. Thanks to the use of digital media, such as hard drives and SD cards, today’s camcorders are small, lightweight, sleek and easy to use. That is certainly a fitting description of the new Samsung W300, a durable little pocket camcorder that was designed specifically with travelers and outdoor enthusiasts in mind.

Shaped more like a cell phone than a traditional video camera, the W300 manages to pack quite a few features into its diminutive shell. Its 5-megapixel CMOS sensor is capable of shooting full 1080p HD video at 30 fps while also capturing still photos too. It features a 3x video zoom, image stabilization, a 2.3″ LCD screen and a built-in USB plug for charging and transferring files. It even comes pre-loaded with background music and video editing software that is accessible when connected to a Windows PC. In short, Samsung’s latest entry into the compact camcorder market is a mini movie studio right in your pocket.

Of course, many of those features are standard issue on this type of camcorder and even many smartphones. What makes the W300 a good choice for travelers, however, is its rugged rubberized casing, which helps protect the device even under extreme conditions. The video camera is sealed to keep out dust and dirt, can survive a fall of up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) and is waterproof down to 16.4 feet (5 meters). That makes it a better option to take to the beach or a sporting event than an iPhone for example.Despite what appears to be an overwhelming number of buttons on the device, operating the W300 is actually a simple, intuitive affair. The control pad provides easy access to most of the things you’ll need, including the ability to start and stop recording, as well as adjusting the camera’s zoom feature. Tap the “menu” button to gain access to the camera configuration options, which are all laid out in a very easy to understand and self-explanatory fashion. Reviewing and managing video clips is also easy with playback occurring, complete with sound, on the W300’s screen.

Besides being simple to use, the W300 gets high marks for also being small, lightweight and highly pocketable. The device is just 4.4″ (11.2cm) in length and tips the scales at 4.9 ounces (139 grams), which makes it very easy to carry with you on any excursion. While using my test model, I regularly dropped it in a pocket as I headed out the door and often forgot that I had it with me. That said, the camera’s rugged case makes it feel heavier than it actually is, giving you the perception of heft when it is in your hand.

Not everything about this pocked camcorder is perfect, however, and it does have a few issues that potential buyers should be aware of. First, image quality is good but not great. I found that when I shot video without employing the use of the zoom it came out crisp and clear, particularly when I was close to the subject. But as soon as I added any level of zoom at all, quality dropped off very quickly. As someone who avoids the use of digital zoom at all costs, I was especially bothered by the lack of optical zoom on Samsung’s device, although I do understand that the limitations of the form hinder the inclusion of a true zoom option.

The other item that stood out when using this camera was the low-resolution screen. It is adequate for capturing and playing back video most of the time, but in bright sunlight it quickly becomes washed out and impossible to use. There were times when I had absolutely no idea what I was recording simply because I couldn’t see anything on the screen. It wasn’t until I could review the video back in a shaded environment that I could actually see what I had captured. Usually, it wasn’t good and far off from what I had actually intended.

Those two issues aside I have to say that the experience of using the W300 is just plain fun. Its simple style and small size, coupled with its durable body, makes it easy to take with you anywhere you go. The camera is quick and responsive, has a solid battery life (about 2 hours) and anyone can pick it up and begin capturing good quality video in a manner of moments. While testing the device I found myself shooting more clips than I expected just because the device was so enjoyable to use.

The W300 also happens to be very affordable. Samsung is selling it for just $159.99, which I felt was an extremely good price considering the overall quality of the product. Sure, I would have preferred a better zoom and yes the screen could be improved, but all told, this is one solid, well-built camcorder that is perfect for capturing simple videos to share with friends. If you know and accept its limitations ahead of time, I think you’ll be very happy with the camera.

Canon Offers Free Photography Workshops In US National Parks

Camera manufacturer Canon has once again teamed up with the American Park Network to offer free photography and videography workshops in U.S. national parks. These workshops, which include video for the first time, will be available in a variety of locations and offer park visitors a chance to learn new skills, or hone existing ones, in some of the most photogenic environments on the planet.

The Photography in the Parks program has already been wrapped up in the Grand Canyon, Zion and Yosemite National Parks this year, but new opportunities begin in other parks as early as today. For example, workshops in Yellowstone run from July 21-31 and are held three times daily. Anyone wishing to participate can join in the fun at 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Old Faithful Lodge. Participants are encouraged to arrive 15-30 minutes early. Other upcoming workshops will be held in Grand Teton National Park (August 1-2), Rocky Mountain National Park (August 5-11) and Acadia National Park (August 18-29).

Instructors will be on hand to provide tips on how to get the most out of your digital camera or camcorder. They’ll also have a variety of Canon products available to test as well, including their wonderful EOS DSLR cameras, EF lenses, PowerShot point and shoot and Vixia camcorders. Those expert photographers will demonstrate fun and creative ways to capture the exact photo you’re trying to achieve.

For more information check out the Photography in the Parks website and start making your plans to sit in on one of these classes soon. This is a great opportunity to get a free workshop that could improve your travel photography skills.

Cisco kills the Flip and travelers just move on

Yesterday, Cisco announced that it would be closing down its Flip camera operations as part of an effort to refocus on the company’s core business. Cisco bought Flip a mere two years ago and quickly made it the most recognizable brand of consumer HD video cameras. Suddenly, every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Mary, too) could record their kids, vacations and random acts of police brutality in 720p HD video. Travelers embraced the Flip because it was small, had no extra components to pack and allowed them to record their trips in stunning HD. Well, stunning assuming that the conditions were perfect (read: well lit and no background noise). However, as more and more smartphones and consumer cameras added HD video capabilities, the idea of having a second video device quickly became archaic. Why tote around a Flip when your DSLR, point and shoot or, heck, even your phone can do the exact same thing? And, with one simple press release yesterday, Cisco pulled the plug on the Flip. It burned hot, it burned quickly and now it’s gone. But, does anyone care?I own a Flip. Many of the videos that I have recorded for Gadling were made using the Flip. However, I always recognized and bemoaned the tiny camera’s limitations. The editing software that was bundled with the Flip was useless. I always deferred to iMovie and, more recently, Final Cut Pro. The internal microphone on the Flip was abysmal. It required you to be uncomfortably close to the camera or to speak in an unnaturally high volume. The lack of a port for an external microphone was an issue that users complained about from the Flip’s inception. The Flip also necessitated optimal lighting conditions to record anything even close to watchable.

All of that said, for your average traveler, the Flip was a revelation. When the conditions were right, consumers could record lasting memories in a quality never before imaginable to anyone other than professional videographers. The Flip was affordable, tiny and simple to operate. Sadly, it never evolved while other segments of the technology market surpassed it.

If you’re looking to point fingers in the death of the Flip (and don’t feel like blaming it entirely on Cisco’s poor management of the brand), look no further than the iPhone 4. Apple put an HD camcorder inside its already popular smartphone and showed that merging all of your key portable devices did not require sacrificing any single one of them (except for maybe call quality in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco…but that’s another story). Now, Android phones have HD, consumers are more comfortable upgrading to DSLR cameras that shoot HD and many point and shoots, including the popular Canon S95, put HD video in the palms of people’s hands. And since travelers rarely want to carry extra gear, the Flip, that simple unitasker, is no longer necessary.

Would phones and consumer cameras have upgraded to HD video as quickly as they did if the Flip hadn’t become so popular? It’s hard to say. The Flip certainly did change people’s thinking about video quality and made HD a consumer standard rather than just the professional standard. Cisco, it seems, was either lazy or unmotivated. Other companies with handheld HD video cameras such as Kodak never seemed interested in pushing their products through marketing the way that Cisco did in recent years. Perhaps they realized that the market for pocket HD video cameras had a ceiling and that it was reached almost immediately.

Are travelers sad to see the Flip go? Probably not. Cisco says that their transition plan will support current Flip customers. However, most people who are now interested in taking better videos – people who may have been inspired by using the Flip – have probably already moved on to a new product. Most likely, their phone and/or camera already does what the Flip did for them before.

In the history of travel gear, the Flip is but a blip. Its influence, however, may be underrated. We can all shoot in HD now. Most of our trip videos are still boring and poorly edited, but boy do they look sharp.

RIP, Flip.

New waterproof Kodak Mini Video Camera goes small – very, very small

Kodak just announced a new camcorder to their successful lineup, but did so without too much fanfare. Their new “Mini Video Camera” is not all that impressive in the specifications department (sticking to old fashioned non HD content), but what it lacks in specs, it makes up for in sheer miniaturization.

As you can see in the photo, their new camcorder is about the size of a credit card. Now, Kodak is by no means the first to make a really small camcorder, but they’ll probably be the first to mass market one.

Recordings are made to a 2GB MicroSD memory card (included) or to its internal 128MB of memory. Zoom comes from a depressing 3x digital zoomer and audio is mono – bottom line is that this camera is probably best for capturing things you’d miss if you left your real camera at the hotel.

Oh, and did we mention that it is waterproof? That completes the equation for “take it anywhere you go” – because it’ll be just as happy in the swimming pool as it is filming your drunken antics at the bar.

The camera is available in red and black, is expected to ship starting September 6, and retails for $99.95.

Daily Pampering: Panasonic’s new 3D camcorder

Oh, this is a sexy little piece of technology!

Panasonic recently unveiled its newest HD camcorder, the HDC-SDT750. Now, you can turn your boring old vacation videos into an experience even your friends will love (well, they’ll love it more than the old-school slides you used to show).

Endgadget recently reported on the debut it’s quite stunning. Thanks to a 3D conversion lens that is snapped onto the camcorder, you can unleash your inner-James Cameron on your next outing. When your filming is complete, view the 3D coverage on the camera or hook the 3D stills up to an SD card and play them off of AVCHD-compatible Blu-ray players. Note: 3D glasses not included.

The SDT750 will be available in October for a cool $1,399.

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