I get lots of questions from people trying to figure out how best to spend their hard earned money. And looking at the latest generations of both digital camcorders and cameras, it’s sometimes difficult to decide which way to go.
Many digital still cameras, such as the Canon G5 and S-400 can shoot video up to 3 minutes long, and you can edit the clips in playback mode. The Olympus C-5050 takes this a step further and enables you to shoot video until your memory card fills up.
On the DV side of the coin, Sony’s new DCR-TRV70 MiniDV, which is a heck of a camcorder, enables you to capture 2 megapixel still photos and save them to a Memory Stick. It even has a popup flash!
So which way do you go?
A look at the features .
Well, here are a few things to keep in mind as you shop:
- Most digital still cameras, not all, have a time limit on the footage you can shoot. IMHO, the 3-minute limit is often a good thing in amateur film making because that’s long enough for most scenes. But think about the types of scenes you shoot and keep this in mind.
- The typical frame dimensions for QuickTime movies shot with still cameras is 320 x 240. That’s about half of what you get with a DV camcorder. Half size is perfect for computer playback and web publishing, but not so good for TV playback. Also, the frame rate on still cameras is usually 15 fps… again about half the frame rate of DV cams. Not a huge issue here, but you should be aware of it.
- When shooting movies with still cameras, the zoom feature is often disabled. Again, this might not be a bad thing since excessive zooming during the shot is a dead amateur give-away. But there are times when you might want to creep in or out during the take.
- If you’re not up to speed working in QuickTime Pro, editing video from a still camera might not be as convenient as working in iMovie or Movie Maker. And editing is important.
- Going the other way, 2 megapixel pictures are wonderful, and more videocams than ever can capture stills at this resolution. But that only equals a 5″ x 7″ photo quality print, or an 8″ x 10″ enlargement at best. So your stills captured with a videocam are mostly for snapshots, email, and web publishing.
- If a videocam is your only digital still camera while on vacation, etc, you might miss some shots because you left the camcorder back in the room while going out to dinner, etc. Camcorders tend to be more bulky than those little point and shoot wonders such as the Canon S-400 that fit nicely in your pocket.
- Videocams cost more than digital stills. Prices are changing all the time, but figure that a video cam that has what you want is going to cost about twice as much as a digital still that has all the features you need.
If your main interest in movie making is for computer playback, such as on CD, DVD, or the web, and you consider yourself primarily a still photographer who likes to capture the occasional movie, then pay close attention to the “movie mode” specs on still cameras. You might find the perfect tool at an affordable price. Be sure to factor in the cost of a couple 512 MB memory cards — you’re going to need them!
On the other hand, if you consider yourself a video aficionado, but want to have still picture capability, then take a close look at the current crop of camcorders that feature still pictures of 1.3 megapixels or more. If you use iPhoto, you might want to do some testing to see if you can upload directly from the camcorder. Currently, Apple only lists the Canon ZR 65 and ZR 70 on its iPhoto compatibility page, but often devices that aren’t listed will work too. Worse case scenario is that you get a media card reader for uploading.
Keep in mind that if you find yourself leaving your videocam behind more often than not, you might want to start saving for a pocketable point and shoot digital still camera… just so you don’t miss too many of life’s precious moments.
Last, but not least, consider getting both my Digital Video and Digital Photography Pocket Guides. You can purchase both books together for less than the price of a memory card, and you’ll maximize your equipment investment, regardless of which route you choose.