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Stills and Video
July 21, 2009 - Dave Hecei
Digital cameras have come a long way since their humble beginnings. The first digital cameras were just video cameras that could save a still image. Let’s just say the quality of the images made with these cameras were not great. Digital camera sensors have change since then and so has the image quality.
Digital cameras, the point-and-shoot types, have evolved many times over the years. Since most cameras now have enough megapixels to allow for big enlargements, camera makers have looked for other features to add to their cameras. An obvious choice was video recording.
Just like the first digital cameras, the first still cameras to record motion were not great. The video was small and recording time was short. Some didn’t even record sound. As camera technologies improved, so did the quality of video. This is due in part from the improvement in camera sensors, processing power, and increases in memory capacities.
The typical digital still camera can take 640x480 video at 30 frames per second (fps), which is pretty much the same as standard definition television (SDTV). Video from a digital point-and-shoot you buy today will produce better video than any standard VHS consumer camcorder. With the increased popularity of HDTVs, a few of the newest digital cameras now have HD video capabilities.
There are two HD standards out there, 720 lines or 1080 lines. One of the first standards that came out in HDTV was 720p. Then came 1080i and 1080p. 1080p is sometimes called ‘full HD’. Don’t be fooled by the number though, 720p can look as good or better in certain circumstances over 1080i. Most TV broadcasts are all 720p and only Blu-Ray movies are 1080p (some satellite HD services can be 1080p).
Digital SLRs, or DSLRs, have a disadvantage compared to a point-and-shoot camera – they have a mirror in the way of the sensor. Because of this mirror blocking the light coming to the sensor you cannot use the LCD display to frame a shot. Some of the latest DSLR models have worked around this problem and can offer a common feature called ‘live view’. One of the benefits of a DSLR with live view is the ability to shoot video.
If you are looking for a camera to shoot great stills plus shoot great video there are a few things to look for. One is video size. Most will do 640x480, which is a good TV quality video. Make sure it does it at 30fps. A good miniDV digital camcorder records video at 720x480, and some still cameras now shoot this size.
HDTV video is the future so why not get one that can handle HD. Most of the new HD capable cameras shoot at 720p at 30fps. If you go HD make sure the camera has an HDMI port. This will allow you to connect directly to an HDTV for playback.
Another thing to look at is focus and zoom while filming. Many of the point-and-shoot models do not allow you to zoom while filming, while some won’t even autofocus. DSLRs have some of the same problems, but since the lens can be zoomed and focused manually this may not be as much of an issue.
Sound is just as important as video. Most digital cameras have a single microphone built-in. This is good for basic filming of family events, just like your typical home movie from days gone by. If you want to get a bit more elaborate then you will want the ability to connect an external microphone to the camera for higher quality sound.
In the point-and-shoot market there is the CASIO Exilim EX-S12, Canon PowerShot SD780 IS, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37. Each of these cameras are in the 10-12 megapixel range and are still quite compact in size. They shoot great photos, plus they can record HD video at 720p.
Probably one of the best models, and priced accordingly is the new Canon 5D mark II. This camera was heralded as the first consumer DSLR with full HD recording capabilities. Plus, the quality of the video is stunning. The new Canon T1i has HD capabilities, though not quite up to the 5D m II. The T1i can shoot 720p at 30 fps but shoots 1080 at only 20fps. Also, the Canon 5D m II has an external mic input, while the T1i does not.
Kodak, Samsung, Panasonic, and others have nice HD video capable point-and-shoot models. Nikon, Canon, Pentax, and Panasonic have HD capable DSLRs. If you currently have a standard television or just a standard DVD player then 720p is plenty of resolution to work with. After editing this video can be burned to a standard blank DVD disc. If you have a nice HDTV and a Blu-Ray player, then you will want to check out cameras with good 1080 video. Full HD video can be recorded to a standard DVD as Blu-Ray content using the proper software. Roxio has software for both Mac and PC that will create Blu-Ray compatible DVDs.
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