Creative Vado Camcorder Review
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Riding on the coattails of Pure Digital\'s Flip series, Creative has launched its own ultra-compact, ultra-affordable camcorder. The Creative Vado (MSRP $99.99) is in many ways an exact clone of the Flip Ultra and its successor, the Flip Mino. All three are a study in bare bones simplicity, offering as few features and as few buttons as possible. They aim to reinvigorate the home movie phenomenon by making the process easy and cheap.
Video Performance* (1.25)*
For $100, you shouldn't expect much from the video performance of the Creative Vado. Its final product is really closer to a webcam than a traditional camcorder. And while most people aren't looking for the Vado to rival full-featured consumer camcorders, it is expected to compete with its closer rivals, like the Flip Mino. In this regard, the Vado disappoints.
The Creative Vado uses a 1/4-inch VGA CMOS sensor, which is a mere 640 x 480 (roughly 0.3 megapixels). This is the same kind of sensor used on the Flip Mino, the RCA Small Wonder, and a few others, but it is paltry compared to most camcorders. More traditional camcorders today try to boost resolution by packing more pixels into the sensor. This isn't the case for the Vado or its competitors. These ultra-budget camcorders have a lower pixel count, which typically lowers resolution, but increases sensitivity. Unfortunately, this gambit was less effective for the Vado than it was for the Flip Mino, as you'll see in the Low Light section below.
We started our testing by shooting our DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 3000 lux (bright light) and examining the results on a full-size monitor. Compared to similar camcorders, the Vado's greatest weakness is its color accuracy. The Vado doesn't do a good job differentiating between subtle changes in color tone and, more importantly, has an atrocious automatic white balance. This means that the whites don't look white at all and the rest of the colors are thrown off, too.
*The Creative Vado at 3000 lux
*The Flip Mino at 3000 lux
When you compare the Vado to its main competitor, the Flip Mino, the difference isn't hard to see. Considering that the two camcorders have similar lenses and sensors, we assume that the Vado falls short in its processing. Compared to even slightly more expensive low-end camcorders (like the JVC GZ-MS100 and the Panasonic SDR-SW20), the poor color performance is just as noticeable.
Fixed to a tripod and recording an unmoving subject in the bright light conditions of our lab, the Vado had passable sharpness and a relatively low level of noise. If you look closely at the two charts, the Vado is actually slightly less noisy than the Flip, especially in the reds and greens, and seems to produce bolder blacks in the fine detail. Unfortunately, the Vado's processor is only guessing at how to fill in those details, so the result is 'sharper' detail that's riddled with huge ugly chunks of discoloration, called compression artifacting. And when the detail becomes too fine, the Vado simply gives up and conveys no information at all.
When we take a low-end camcorder out of the lab, compression artifacting and motion trailing often become a familiar sight. These ultra-budget, ultra-compact camcorders have difficulty processing fine details and areas of high contrast, especially when recording moving objects. The Vado is no exception. The images below are frame grabs of the Vado and the Flip Mino, which we took side-by-side during simultaneous recording.
*Even in bright outdoor light, the Vado loses a lot of detail.
*The Flip Mino is no champ, but it does fare better.
Notice how much detail is lost in the street, the brick crosswalk, and even the trees in the distance. The ambiguous smear of sky in the Vado footage becomes wispy cloud detail on the Flip. And that color inaccuracy we saw in the lab rears its ugly head when we see muddier greens, reds, and yellows. In the images below, you'll see the Vado's other shortcoming, which is its tendency to completely blow out the highlights in any high contrast scene. When we reviewed the Flip Mino, we saw the same problem, but you'll see that the Mino doesn't look so bad when compared to the atrocious overexposure on the Vado.
*In scenes with high contrast, the Vado overexposes the brightest areas.
*The Flip Mino has a better handle on what to do with the bright spots.
While most consumers will not be looking for high quality video from the Vado, it's difficult to excuse the poor color balance, lack of detail, and drastic overexposure of bright areas. YouTube certainly turns most video into a low resolution, blocky affair, but muddy colors and blown out areas of white light will show up even in online video. When it comes to video performance, the Vado is a last resort among stand-alone camcorders.
Video Resolution* (7.50)*
The video resolution was tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even, bright light. We then watched the playback on a monitor. Ultimately, we found that the Creative Vado produces an approximate horizontal resolution of 375 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and an approximate vertical resolution of 400 lw/ph. This is actually a noteworthy improvement over the resolution of the Flip Mino and Flip Ultra. This may be the single area of performance where the Vado outdoes the Flip.
It's important to note, however, that the resolution test is a very narrow measure of a camcorder's capabilities. Measuring high contrast lines on a chart under ideal lighting, we can see what the Vado's potential might be. There were a few rare moments out of the lab when we saw proof of the Vado's superior video resolution, but in most circumstances, compression artifacting, overexposure, and poor white balance hampered the Vado's ability to match the Flip Mino.
Low Light Performance* (3.08)*
The low light performance of the Creative Vado was tested in three stages. First, we shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux, then compared it to other camcorders we've tested. Below, we have the Vado at 60 lux, compared to the most recent from Pure Digital, the Flip Mino.
*The Creative Vado at 60 lux
*The Flip Mino at 60 lux
Considering the two camcorders are equipped with identical sensors, the discrepancy is startling. Usually, a single large sensor captures more light, resulting in a brighter image. It's possible that the Flip has its automatic gain turned way up in order to lighten up dark images—many manufacturers increase gain to improve low-light recording. However, an increase in gain typically results in an increase in noise. The Vado is both darker and noisier than the Flip Mino, suggesting that the Vado's failure is in the processing. The Vado does retain a fair amount of sharpness, but sharpness isn't helpful when the image is so dark and the color so muddy.
*The Creative Vado at 15 lux
*The Flip Mino at 15 lux
At 15 lux, the story is much the same. The image is significantly darkened. Even at 3000 lux, the Vado doesn't provide a lot of fine details, but at 15 lux, the subject is virtually unidentifiable. To be fair, all camcorders in this price range struggle at 15 lux. But compared to the Flip Mino, the less expensive Flip Ultra, and virtually ever other camcorder we've seen, the Vado is at the bottom of the barrel.
The second stage of the low light test measures sensitivity while shooting the same DSC Labs color chart. We slowly and steadily lower the light until the camcorder is outputting a peak of 50 IRE (a measurement of exposure determined by reading a waveform monitor). The Creative Vado was able to produce 50 IRE at 15 lux. This is not the worst result we've seen, but it's poor compared to the Vado's competition; The Flip Mino produced 50 IRE at 7 lux and the Flip Ultra at 12 lux.
The third stage of low light testing involves shooting an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then exporting frame grabs to Imatest imaging software to determine color accuracy, noise, and saturation. Based on the video from the DSC Labs color chart, we were unsurprised to find the same poor performance here.
The Vado's real downfall here the was the noise, which measured 1.175%. This is not a good result and impacts heavily on color accuracy and saturation. Imatest found the Vado to produce an absolutely abysmal color error of 24.4, while the saturation measured 36.47. These are very poor test results. Other camcorders in this price range, which are themselves not stellar performers, have an average color error of about 12 and a saturation of about 70. This means that the video produced by the Vado in low light has inaccurate color and is significantly less saturated than the competition.
Overall, the Vado had one of the worst low light performances we've ever seen. If you plan to shoot a lot of video in clubs or other dark environments, the Vado may pick up large shapes and outlines, but not a lot of color or detail. If you're sitting across a table lit only by candles, you might have trouble picking out the birthday girl. The only good thing to be said about the Vado is that is provides a good amount of sharpness, even in low light. Unfortunately, this won't do you much good if you can't see your subject. For a bit more money, you'll get much better low light results from the Flip Ultra.
*In low, indoor light, the Vado doesn't know what to do.
*The Flip Mino could be a lot sharper, but at least we can see what's going on.
Like its competition, the Vado is not equipped with an image stabilization system. Some budget camcorders (like the Panasonic SDR-SW20 and the JVC Everio MS100) offer electronic image stabilization—this is one of the many features you get for a few hundred dollars more. More comparable camcorders, like the Flip and its many clones, do not generally offer stabilization. Even steady hands will need to watch out for that nausea-inducing Blair Witch effect.
Wide Angle* (9.80)*
We tested the Vado's maximum wide angle capacity by placing the camcorder on a tripod and measuring the left and right angle degrees using a vertical laser. Test video was later interpreted on an external monitor to attain a true wide angle reading. The Vado's maximum wide angle measurement proved to be 49 degrees. This is a good result for the Vado—slightly above average for any consumer camcorder and a noteworthy improvement over the Flip Ultra's 43 degrees and the Mino's abysmal 38-degree wide angle.
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