The Ultra wasn't the first budget camcorder. But, where other models felt cheap, looked awful and cut so many corners as to make that £30 on eBay a false economy, the Ultra combined clever branding with respectable video quality. Its success in the US has been little short of a phenomenon, and other manufacturers rushed into this new space.
The Ultra was followed by the Creative Vado and the RCA Small Wonder. Then the budget camcorder market went high-definition with the Kodak Zi6. Flip then followed up with the Mino, an even smaller model. All of these camcorders are available for less than £150.
These are largely no-frills camcorders, bucking the trend of cramming more features into new models. The idea is that portability and ease of use take precedence over clever features that rarely get used. Each camcorder is a candy-bar configuration with a small screen, a big button to stop and start recording, and limited playback controls. The Flip camcorders' strength is the ease with which they're connected to a computer -- the flip-out USB arm meaning you don't need a lead, as well as giving the camcorders their name.
The US now has HD versions of the Mino and the Vado, both set to cross the Atlantic in 2009. Critics argue that budget camcorders are under pressure from compact cameras and mobile phones that shoot video, but they do still have key advantages. Their sensors are bigger than those in cameras and phones, giving better-quality video; their design and usability is more focused on instant shooting; and their larger memories are more suited to holding big video files.
Edited by Charles Kloet