Saturday, 28 February, 2009

More still cameras shoot HD video

Still cameras could shoot video clips for about as long as they've been around. They shot small sized very compressed videos. Maxing out at 640x480. But now there's a range of cameras that can shoot high quality HD video. Some can even be called 'broadcast-worthy'. Not to be confused with broadcast quality, though.

I went on a holiday some days ago with a bunch of colleagues who all had DSLRs. Really good cameras. Reminded me of times, some years ago when I too went everywhere with my film SLR. Eventually, I gave up on my SLR with its range of lenses, flash, motor-drive etc. I bought a really small Canon IXUS70 which is hitched to my belt in a small pouch. I now shoot stills and movies anywhere anytime.

These small point and shoot cameras also have a surprising amount of control over picture taking. Not in the same league as aperture or shutter priority of the DSLRs or bracketing or anything like that. But still, useful, if you know how.

What is quite amazing is how good the video looks with small still cameras. So, while on this holiday, my colleagues came out with stunning pictures, I had videos. Of some things that simply couldn't be conveyed in a still. Like riding a battle tank, or shooting with a real machine gun. Or the incoherent babble of my friend's year old son.

Before this still camera, I shot video with my DV camcorder for some years. After my SLR days I tagged that DV camcorder wherever I went. But its bulky, shoots tape, and needs a camcorder to show people your videos. And the videos need editing (which is what I do for a living anyway). Somewhat cumbersome. Also, video camcorders shoot really abysmal quality stills so I still needed to tag along a still camera.

My next acquisition will definitely be a still camera with HD video shooting capability. Best of both worlds. But I'll forgo the Canon 5D MkII, or Nikon D90 class and go for one that is small.

I came accross, this list of still cameras that can do HD video...

The Nikon D90 and Canon 5D MkII were the cameras that started this trend. But these are both expensive DSLRs. In the Rs 60,000 to 1.2 lakh range. Also, they are bulky, which for casual photography, is a no no. And both have interchangeable lenses. So you'll eventually end up with a collection of lenses which you'll always tag along.

Amongst small cameras, that do HD video there is the Canon SX 1 IS. This shoots 1080p video but at 30fps.

So, In India we'll need a creative way of converting 30fps to 24fps or 25fps. If I can get my hands on this camera, I could figure a preset in Apple Compressor to make a smooth conversion.

A good review of this camera is up at Cameralabs here...

The SX1 IS is probably the only of the non-DSLRs to shoot 1080p video.

The rest of the small cameras mostly shoot 720p movies. All at 30fps. The Canon SX200 IS is one such. It shoots 720p video again at 30fps.

This camera has only an LCD for a viewfinder. No 'regular' viewfinder. I find that a problem sometimes. Too used to shooting with one eye peering through a small hole.

Canon has provided a the SX200 IS with a 12x zoom and the SX1 IS with a generous 20x zoom.

In 35mm terms, the SX200 is 28-336mm while the SX1IS is 28-560mm So both are very wide angle lenses that can zoom to very telephoto. In fact, in the SX1 IS you can digitally double this to 56-1120mm. Great for wildlife too. And it goes down to 0 cm (yes zero cm) in macro mode. So leaf patterns, small insects, serious close-ups, here we come.

For half the price of the SX200 but with a shorter zoom is the Samsung TL34HD. If you absolutely must have a still camera that also does HD video, then this is your pick. But the zoom is 3.6x in this camera.

Detailed reviews are linked on the page I've linked above. So read it and make your choice. I'm not partial to Canon, just that I've always had a Canon, so they caught my eye first.

The Panasonic FZ28 is also a capable camera, much lighter than the SX1 IS and according to one review, better at correcting colour fringes.

Detailed review, also at Cameralabs, here...

One thing that may come to the mind of fellow video shooters is this.

If video shooting is what one wants to do, can't one just get a HD camcorder? Camcorders do still too.

Not quite. Cost is one consideration. Even the most basic HD capable video camcorder is at least Rs 60,000.

Way over the cost of the basic still camera that does HD video. These still cameras start at Rs 10,000. Besides, still cameras that do HD video take great pictures too. So you need to take your pick between spending a large chunk of money on a video camera that shoots average stills or a fraction of that cost on a still camera that shoots gorgeous stills but average movies.

Added 16 March 2009

At the PMA 2009 show, Panasonic added a new camera the DMC-GH1. This is a micro four thirds camera with interchangeable lenses. What makes this camera special is the long zoom and HD movies at 1080p24. Yes 24fps. It saves movies as AVCHD at 17Mbps.

And in this camera, the auto focus works while you are shooting video. Yes. strange as it may seem as a feature, most still cameras that do HD video don't function like true video cameras in these respects.

I believe this camera's movie making capability will be stellar. Panasonic are the guys who gave the world great looking HD in the form of DVCProHD.

The camera will be available by June 2009 so maybe by then some specs might change.
Till, then, a review here...

This year, HD video will definitely get into most homes which have a HD capable LCD TV. As movies shot on a HD capable still camera.

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