There are deals to be found but only with information can you avoid buying a known crappy, barely functional device. Yep, I'm going long this week on camcorders under $50 or appear to be inexpensive.
A loss leader item in a physical store is a product that sells for less than compatible products to get you in the door. This year, I suspect you will see more loss leader tablets than camcorders but you will see camcorders selling for under $50 and in one ad that I glanced at I saw a camcorder for $19.
I shop retail only when I have no choice. When I do shop in a physical store I walk around to see what is on sale or of interest to me. I expect to see clothing in a department store. I expect shoes, home goods and perfume.
I don't expect to see camcorders. If I do see them I have questions. They are quickly answered as I read the packaging. Obsolete models, manufactures closeouts and there is a tier of vendors that sell inexpensive knock-offs camcorders at holiday time.
My expectation is that the camcorder will be at best functional and at worse crappy. Your goal is to find the best camcorder at a decent price.
Now I am all about being frugal but a $25 camcorder is a red flag to me. That tells me that it is either a closeout from a manufacture that is going out of business, a third tier vendor that deliberately makes cheap camcorders for the holiday season and markets them to non-tech retail stores or refurbished camcorders.
My concerns about of $50 and under camcorders would be:
640x480 standard definition or HD video? There is no shame in buying a 640x480 if you are just posting to YouTube or Vimeo, if that is what you want. Most people want to have an HD video experience. Read the package, if you can't quickly determine the type of video that it records put it back.
MP4, MOV or AVI - the alphabet soup of potential trouble. If you are a PC user who plans on using Windows Movie Maker you do not want to purchase a camcorder that records in the .mov format. Mac users know that many video formats do not play nice with iMovie or the Apple iOS.
Most modern camcorders record in .mp4. That loss leader at the retail store may not be a new model.
Do you recognize the brand name? Old people don't let the RCA fool you; Radio Corporation of America is long gone. That name was purchased by a manufacture for their contemporary products. Same deal with Vivitar. I'm not saying these are bad camcorders; I'm saying make sure you have a grip of an understanding that it might not be the best camcorder but it might be okay.
Kodak is going, going and just about left the photographic and video market. There have been sales on the remaining stock. A $40 camcorder from Kodak might be an excellent purchase, if you understand that there will be limited or no support for the device.
Think of the Children
If you are buying a camcorder for a child or teenager, stop. If you wouldn't not buy it for yourself why stick the poor kid with it? Just because it is cheap doesn't mean that it is necessarily easy to use.
I get that grandparents, aunts and uncles think it would make a good stocking stuffer or that your little Janie will be the next Spielberg.
Not if she can't get the thing to work because it is incompatible with the family computer.
There are child specific camcorders for the under 8 years of age group. Those would be a better purchase than something off the shelf at a department store.
Your teen probably takes photos and video from a smartphone. They would love a camcorder, sure. If it is the right one for them.
Other Post of Interest