Holiday Gift Guide 2009: Five camcorders under $300

Here are five camcorders under $300 that could please the videographer in your life this holiday season.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

Many of us are still on tight budgets this holiday season, but if you're looking to give your favorite photographer a new camcorder, there are some affordable options. Here are five camcorders under $300 (not including shipping, sorry!) that could please the videographer in your life:

Flip UltraHDYou might think it's over-hyped, and it some extent, it is. But that doesn't escape the fact that this is a darn good gadget for what it is and for its price (usually about $199). It shoots 720p HD video, repeatedly reviewed as very good quality for its Mini-HD status class, and its compatible with both Mac and Windows operating systems. Users can charge and transmit videos via USB, and there's also a special YouTube capture mode. It comes with 8 GB of internal hard drive space, but unfortunately, there's no external memory card slot.

Available in both white and black, it's a sleek, small camcorder (2.2 in x 1.2 in x 4.3 in and only 6 oz.) that can fit in almost any sized stocking.

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Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera A bit bigger but a bit lighter than the Flip UltraHD, CNET acclaims that the Kodak Zi8 camcorder "surpasses Flip Video's video quality and feature set." It shoots up to 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second, has an SD card slot, and can shoot 5-megapixel resolution stills. It also shoots at 720p/30fps for easy YouTube uploads. With a nicely-sized 2.5-inch LCD screen on the back, you can better see the camera's light exposure levels as well as utilize the face-detection and macro mode features.

Beware though as the bundled software isn't Mac compatible, and it is necessary for smooth playback of 1080p video.

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Sony DCR-DVD650Moving up on the camcorder spectrum, the Sony DCR-DVD650 is a very simple camcorder just under the $300-mark. It's built with a 60x optical zoom lens, 2.7-inch LCD screen, and it records to either a 3-inch DVD-R/RW or a Memory Stick Pro Duo. The maximum recording time at the highest possible quality level is 20 minutes per single-sided 3-inch DVD. Recording at either 720x480 or 640x480 resolution, videos are saved as MPEG-2 files. While most of the reviews for video quality are very positive, taking stills is not its strong suit.

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JVC Everio GZ-MS120Available in red, blue and black, the JVC Everio GZ-MS120 is definitely intended to be for the more style-minded videographer. The flash memory-based camcorder features dual SD Card slots, a 123k-pixel 2.7-inch color LCD display and 35x Konica Minolta optical zoom lens. It also captures JPEG stills at a max resolution of 832 x 624. The Everio GZ-MS120 records well for its price, and, like a lot of camcorders these days, it tries to promote itself as "YouTube" friendly. But it's not a very high-end camcorder, thus its good for outdoor or well-lit interior situations.

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Canon FS200A standard consumer-level camcorder, the Canon FS200 is a solid choice in its competitive class. Usually available for under $300, the 680k-pixel resolution camcorder is ultracompact as there is no internal storage space; there are spots for SD or SDHC cards only. There are three video mode options (Program AE, Shutter-priority AE, or Scene), and the FS200 allows the user a bit of manual control, such as adjusting focus and exposure, but not aperture. The fun feature of this model is Video Snap mode, which whenever pressed, the camcorder shoots four seconds of video at a time. Those clips can then be edited and melded together for short movies, which some reviewers thought to be "a bit gimmicky, but...actually kind of fun."

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