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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Digital Convergence

Is the “one-device-does-it-all” camera here yet?

Some digital still cameras provide rudimentary in-camera movie-editing capabilities, such as deleting portions and saving the edited version, and printing single frames from a movie. Others come with basic movie-editing software, handy for casual movie-makers. If your prime concern is producing Hollywood-quality epics, a digital camcorder and one of the "serious" movie-editing software packages offer more features and versatility, but the still photographer who wants to do movies can do quite well with many of today's digital still cameras.

Camcorder Stills
On the other side, digital camcorders are gaining respectable still-image capabilities. At least five manufacturers offer digital camcorders that can record still images of 3 megapixels or more, enough resolution to turn out quality prints at letter size or larger. JVC, with its Everio line of cameras, even markets these as "digital media cameras," neither specifically video nor still, and includes a "pro" model with 5 megapixels and three CCD sensors for higher image quality.

Some camcorders will even let you record movies and a quality still image simultaneously. If you're buying a camcorder intending to do serious still work, too, make sure its still-image megapixel count is via actual sensor pixels, not interpolation. The best test of image quality is to look at prints of actual still images shot with the camcorder.

Camcorders can potentially produce better-quality movies than digital still cameras, not surprising since movies are what they were designed to do. Some higher-end, yet affordable camcorders deliver HDV 1080i performance: 1920 x 1080 pixels, nearly seven times the resolution of VGA. If you're a serious movie-maker, a camcorder is still the best way to go.

Camcorders have the upper hand when it comes to sound capabilities, too. While most digital still cameras that do movies can record sound, camcorders do it better. Some, such as Sony's DCR-SR100 30GB and DCR-DVD505 Handycams, even provide built-in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround-sound capability and external microphone jacks, which you won't find in a still camera.

Several manufacturers offer "hybrid" digital still/movie cameras. Samsung offers the SC-D6550 DuoCam, which combines a 5-megapixel still camera with a VGA/30 fps movie camera. Sanyo has a whole line of Digital Media Cameras, which can shoot 5- or 6-megapixel still images as well as DVD-quality video. Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-M2 is another model capable of shooting 5.1-megapixel still images, plus MPEG-4/30 fps video; its Hybrid Record Mode will automatically record five seconds of video before and three seconds after a still image. The Canon PowerShot S2 IS and S3 IS digital still cameras provide a "hybrid" MovieSnap feature that lets you take a 5- or 6-megapixel still shot at anytime during movie shooting by simply pressing the shutter button. Samsung's 8-megapixel Digimax S800 lets you capture a still image during video playback.

So What Does It All Mean?
Basically, it all means that you can shoot surprisingly good video clips with many of today's digital still cameras and surprisingly good still images with a number of today's digital camcorders. And you don't have to hock the house to pay for it: These capabilities can be found in models costing less than $500.

And what does that mean? If you want to experiment with movie-making, you can do it with your digital still camera and enjoy the results. And if you're a videographer, you can explore quality still photography with your digital camcorder when desired.

Bottom line: Convergence gives you the blend of two worlds. If you're mainly interested in still photography, but want to do videos, too, get one of the digital still cameras that offers high-quality movie capability. If you're mainly interested in making movies, but want to do still photography, too, get a digital camcorder that can produce high-quality still images.


Desirable Still Camera Video Features

• MPEG-4 or DivX compression

• TV-quality (640 x 480 or 720 x 480) resolution

• Ability to zoom and focus while shooting video

• A frame rate of 30 fps or higher

• Image stabilization

• Sound capability

Digital Camera Movie Resolutions

QVGA: 320 x 240 pixels

VGA: 640 x 480/720 x 480 pixels ("TV quality")

Wide VGA: 848 x 480 pixels

XGA: 1024 x 768 pixels

HD 1080i: 1920 x 1080 pixels ("HDTV quality")

Digital Cameras
Canon PowerShot S3ISThe Canon PowerShot S3 IS is a 6-megapixel digital still camera that features a 12X optical zoom lens, an optical image stabilizer, 60-fps movie capability and stereo sound; it captures MovieSnap still images while shooting a movie.

JVC Everio GZ-MC500 The JVC Everio GZ-MC500 Digital Media Camera combines 3-CCD MPEG-2 720 x 480 movie capability with 5-megapixel digital still imaging, and stores images on removable Microdrives.

Samsung SC-D6550
Samsung's SC-D6550 DuoCam is a hybrid with two lenses: one for 5-megapixel still images and one for movies.

Sony DCR-SR100 The Sony DCR-SR100 30GB Handycam is a camcorder that records MPEG-2 movies with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and 3-megapixel still images on its 30 GB mini-hard drive.

Canon Optura 600 The Canon Optura 600 is a miniDV camcorder that takes 4-megapixel still images and true 16:9 wide-screen video using the entire width of the image sensor. It features a built-in flash unit for still photos.

Sanyo Xacti The Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1 Digital Media Camera is a pocket camcorder that provides 1280 x 760 MPEG-4 movies with 5.1-megapixel still capability (and can do stills and movies simultaneously), has a built-in image stabilizer, and saves images and video on SD cards.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M2 Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-M2 combines 5.1-megapixel, still-image capability with MPEGMovie4TV 640 x 480, 30-fps movies with stereo sound in a highly compressed, but high-resolution format.


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