Camcorder Travel Made Easy
Learn how to effectively capture both still and video
Up until a few years ago, there was no question—you used a still camera for stills and a video camera for motion. Now that boundary has blurred. Many digital still cameras have a Movie mode, and many digital video cameras include a still-photo button. So, when you want to travel light, can one camera do the job of two? As with most things in life, it depends.
A video camera is designed to make motion images that will look good when played back on your living room television. That's an image made up of 480 effective scan lines, each about 720 pixels long. When digitized, that makes each TV frame about a 0.3-megapixel image, and 30 of them are needed per second.
Compare that to a basic pocket-sized digital still camera today, which hosts a 3- to 5-megapixel sensor. With a 3-megapixel sensor, each image will have 30 times more information than a frame of video. But for still photography, you don't need to process 30 frames a second; 30 images in an afternoon is more likely. The purpose of a digital video camera and a digital still camera, then, is different in terms of image resolution, the number of images that can be captured and the speed at which they're processed and stored.
What about those cameras that claim to do both? Well, there are compromises. It's easier to design a camera to do one thing well. The more functions built into a device, the more compromises to be made by the engineers. Think about combining the fuel efficiency of a compact car with the cargo capacity of a pickup—it's difficult to have both.