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HD Everywhere?

February 19, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Well, the 2009 Photo Marketing Association’s annual conference is March 3-5 and it’s expected that most everyone who hasn’t already announced a still camera capable of HD video recording— will at the event. This is not to say that video camcorders are not needed any more. I have already shot video with these new “HD-capable” still cameras… and let me tell all the video camcorders out there: your jobs are secure.

The other shoe to drop recently is the first cell phone to tout HD video recording capability. Personally, I am hoping for about 5 MP of quality pictures, but HD video? I doubt it. The proof will be in the pudding when these things actually ship and the video makes its way onto the web for everyone to critically assess.

Either way, the main problem these devices have, aside from the complete lack of control of “camera” functions while shooting, is video that is plagued with problems….

I tested the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 (also reviewed on my favorite camera review site: DCresource) and I was disappointed by the noise reduction erasing detail in the 9 MP images compared to my 3 year old Canon S2 IS. Here are two images taken about 10 seconds apart from across the room, with both cameras set to lowest compression, highest resolution, lowest ISO, and with daylight streaming in the room. (clickable for a larger image)

The top 5 MP image is not only sharper, but it has more detail in the photograph on the table. The bottom 9 MP image from the Lumix is grainy, washed out, and the noise reduction (usually from smaller pixels on higher resolution chips that can’t get as much light as bigger pixels) eradicates fine detail in the faces.

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The HD movie mode was also plagued by poor image quality. Not only was there too much compression creating lots of artifacts, but lens flares and glints of bright light (in this case, on a plastic bag of bread) caused image discoloration and distorted images for several frames.

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If you wanted a way to make HD video unusable, this’d be it.

So the promise of HD video in a digital still camera has yet to be fully realized in as much as quality still images from a HD video camera are never as good as a dedicated digital still camera taking pictures of the same subject matter.

The vertical tear comes from the CCD imager used in the Panasonic camera. Panasonic increased the resolution to 12 MP in their latest version of this camera, the DMC-ZS3, (below, left) but kept the CCD imager.  Canon, countered Panasonic ZS3 with the SX200 IS point-n-shoot camera with HD video (below, right). In both cases, we’re only talking about 720p30 (despite the DCresource page saying P60, Panasonic’s own spec page says the CCD output is only 3op.)

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The solution to this vertical tear, and the frame rate issue, is to use a CMOS imager, which we should all know by now, has other issues- like the rolling shutter. Canon’s higher end PowerShot camera, first introduced only outside the US, is the SX1 IS. This camera uses a CMOS imager, much like most Digital SLR cameras.

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This 20x optical digital still camera, with the tilt/swivel widescreen display, records 1080i30 video. Because it has already been in the hands of users outside the USA for several months now, there is plenty of video on the web to peruse and, sure enough, the rolling shutter issue is there in spades.

Here’s a link to a clip on Vimeo by Gordon Laing where you can see the rolling shutter distort a person standing on the bow of a boat, and the white poles next to him, as the camera shakes in the operator’s hands. Watch as they bend back and forth like reeds grass in the wind- only in the camera, not in real life.

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Is this quality HD video?  Not really.

So the panacea of HD video in a digital still camera is yet unrealized.

Sure, it might be fun for casual use, but with the serious problems that plague it, consumers (and pros) are hard-pressed to take this heavily compromised video and integrate it with truly professional video from prosumer and professional camcorders.

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  1. June 2, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    I’ve held both the Canon and the Panny P&S in my hands and it’s arguable which is better.

    Canon offers manual controls, and better positioning and design of the mode dial son it isn’t constantly knocked out of position. But the new menu system, while pretty, actually takes more clicks to do the same task as before. There’s also very little grip area and it’s sloped “away” so the camera always feels like it’s sliding out of your hand. The battery/media door slides open when you try to take the camera out of your pocket.

    The Panny can zoom while shooting video, including HD. The Canon can’t. That’s a big deal. It also has a dedicated video button making it easier to change between video and stills. Canon does this on the larger cameras, but not the SX200. The Panny mode dial is constantly getting bumped out of position, and it’s closer to the end, so it gets mistaken for the shutter button. Bad design. The battery door stays closed, but the physical button switching between camera and playback often delays getting the camera ready to shoot that spur-of-the-moment shoot. Then, once you switch it to camera, you find out the mode dial is set to nothing and have to stop and fix that.

    The Panny also lacks any sort of manual control. The Canon lets you dial the flash power up and down, set aperture or shutter priority, or full manual control. The Panny gives you over a dozen scene modes that are confusing and, when trying to constructively create a shot- useless.

    Both have a CCD so they record proper video.
    The still quality of both is comparable.

    If the Canon could zoom while shooting video, it’d be the hands-down winner. That it can’t is a big limitation. Bigger than the problems the Panny has is up to you.

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