At the other end of the spectrum is the dedicated camcorder. On the lowest rung of the ladder you’ll find pocket-sized “shoot-and-share” camcorders that record on
SD memory cards (some on internal memory also, or on both). As an aside, be sure to use a SD card that’s at least a Class 4, otherwise it won’t be able to transfer
data fast enough for satisfactory results. These little cameras are great as secondary recording devices, as an afterthought and for parties and backpacking. They’re sometimes overwhelmed by contrasty light, ill equipped for dim light and the audio quality suffers. But some deliver resolution as high as 720p and can snap stills, to boot. Any businessman who wants to add a little life to boring PowerPoint presentations will do well to embed small video clips—and these tiny camcorders are one of the most convenient ways to create them.
Canon EOS 7D
Traditional camcorders are larger than their shoot-and-share cousins and offer distinct advantages. They often have articulated LCD screens for more convenient capture and playback, perform much better in low light and accept external microphones for improved audio. Because they use a larger sensor, image quality is
Canon Rebel T1i
innately better. They’re typically equipped with extended zoom lenses, electronic viewfinders that are easy to use even in total darkness and can record on a variety of different media, depending on model. They also have superior autofocus systems that can keep moving subjects sharp even while panning. Plus, there are dozens and dozens of models available, from many highly reliable manufacturers, so it’s easy to find the right combination of features at the price that’s right for you.
Prosumer camcorders use “a three-chip” system (three separate CCD or CMOS sensors, one for each primary color) to deliver outstanding picture quality, accurate color reproduction and a wide dynamic range with virtually no color noise. They feature extremely high-quality optics, image stabilization and extended zoom lenses (20X optical zoom is typical). Many offer a variety of scene transition effects for on-the-fly enhancements, plus alphanumeric character recording (names, dates, locations) on top of the live video capture when required. As you’d expect, audio quality excels and all offer extensive external microphone options.
Of greatest importance to photographers is the addition of HD video capture to conventional digital still cameras. Nikon pioneered this frontier when they introduced the Nikon D90 with 720p HD capability in August of 2008, and made it ultra affordable with the Nikon D5000 in the spring of ’09. Other Nikon digital SLRs that
shoot HD are the Nikon D3S and D300S. Canon now offers four models with HD (Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EOS 7D, EOS 5D Mark II and Rebel T1i. Pentax’s latest two entries, the K-7 and K-x, both perform at HD. The Panasonic GH1 and GF1, along with the Olympus E-P1 and E-P2 duet, offer HD video capture and lens interchangeability although they aren’t DSLRs in the truest sense in that it isn’t possible to view directly through the lens optically.
Digital SLRs that double as HD video cameras retain all of the advanced features they possess as still cameras with the exception of autofocus. Since DSLRs use Live View, most use a different, less accurate form of AF in video capture mode. However, you can use exotic lenses and manually zoom during video sessions.
HD performance is not limited to DSLRs, please note. The popular Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20, an all-in-one camera that features a 10x zoom and three-inch LCD in a 10-ounce body, can capture in HD (720p), and uses efficient MPEG4 format to pack nearly 30 minutes of video onto a 2GB memory card.