Digital Video Cameras

I’ve just done some quick research on Digital Video Cameras for some relatives. It seems to me that the main feature that is necessary is Full HD (1920*1080) resolution as everyone seems to be getting 1920*1080 resolution monitors (getting smaller doesn’t save enough money to be worth-while). Resolutions higher than 1920*1080 will probably available in affordable monitors in the next few years, so the ability of programs like mplayer to zoom videos will probably be required even for Full HD video soon. Saving maybe $300 on a video camera while getting a lower resolution doesn’t seem like a good idea.

The next feature is optical zoom, most cameras are advertised with features such as “advanced zoom” to try and trick customers, cameras which advertise 60* or better zoom often turn out to only have 20* zoom. I think that about 20* optical zoom should be considered the minimum, not that there is anything special about 20* zoom, it’s just that there is a good range of cameras with better zoom capacity.

Image stabilisation is a required feature, no-one can keep their hand perfectly steady and the typically a DVC only gets hand-held use – most people who own them don’t even own a tripod! Digital image stabilisation is apparently not nearly as good as optical image stabilisation, and image stabilisation that involves moving the CCD is apparently somewhere in between.

Finally it’s good to have the ability to take quality photos as few people will want to carry a Digital Camera and a Digital Video Camera.

I did a search for DVCs on the web site of Ted’s Camera store (a chain of camera stores in Australia that generally provide good service at a competitive price – but not the cheapest price). The best of the Ted’s options seems to be the Panasonic SD60 HD Video [1] which does 25* optical zoom, 1920*1080i video, 5 megapixel still photography, and optical image stabilisation – it costs $750 from Ted’s.

The next best option seems to be the Sony Handycam HDR-CX110 HD [2] which does 25* optical zoom, 1920*1080i video, 3.1 megapixel 2048*1536 still photography, and digital image stabilisation. The Panasonic seems to be a better option due to having optical image stabilisation and a higher resolution for still photographs. It is also $750 from Ted’s.

Now there’s the issue of how well the cameras work on Linux. A quick Google search indicated that the Sony cameras present themselves as USB card readers and can be mounted on a Linux system, I couldn’t discover anything about the Panasonic. If I was going to buy one I would take my Netbook to the store and do a quick test.

I don’t have enough information to recommend either of those cameras, they may have some awful defects that are only apparent when you use them. But in terms of features they seem pretty good. The Panasonic SD60 HD Video should be a good benchmark when comparing cameras in the store. If nothing else the camera store staff seem to not be very helpful if asked generic questions such as “which camera is best”, but if asked questions such as “how is this other camera better than the one I’m looking at” they can usually give good answers.

If anyone has any other advice for purchasing a DVC then please let me know. Either generic advice or specific examples of Linux-friendly DVCs that have been purchased recently.

9 comments to Digital Video Cameras

  • Brendan

    Storage format!
    Highly compressed video may not be good video – esp if you need a special driver to access it.

    My thoughts:

  • Michael Davies

    I think you should consider the format of the video that is produced – some cameras store their video in proprietary containers, others do not. Having video that does not require the use of grey decoders is important.

  • etbe

    I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of getting a camera that doesn’t use proprietary and patent encumbered technologies. Generally if the video that is produced is any good then it’s utility will well outlast the patent period.

    Brendan’s post about minidv is interesting, but the model he selected would apparently cost about $1,500. One thing I didn’t mention in my post is that I immediately ruled out any device that cost more than $1,000.

  • Note that 1080i is not the same a 1920×1080, it is more like 1920×540 with the other half of the height interpolated from the surrounding information. If you want real full HD, you need to look for 1080p. i = interlaced, p = progressive.

  • Brendan

    $1350 in Sydney – still a little over your budget. They have outlets in Syd, Mel and Bris:

  • etbe

    Aigars: Good point. I guess that something half decent will be in excess of $1,000 then. Maybe Brendan’s $1,500 (or $1,350 – I saw Brendan’s comment after writing this one) DVC isn’t so expensive after all!

  • Niko Lewman

    Canon EOS 5D Mark II
    21.1-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, 14-bit A/D conversion, wide range ISO setting 100-6400, DIGIC 4 Image Processor; high-performance 3.9 fps continuous shooting; Live View Function for stills; Full HD video capture at 1920×1080 resolution for up to 4GB per clip ; HDMI output Updated EOS Integrated Cleaning System specifically designed to work with a full-frame sensor. Our add company uses it make tv-commercials ;)

  • etbe

    Niko: that’s a nice list of features, but for well over $2,000 it’s out of range of home and hobby use.

  • -dsr-

    At the other end of the spectrum, I bought a great still camera that is also an acceptable 1080P video camera. It’s a Nikon P100. 10 megapixels, CMOS sensor, 18x optical zoom, tripod mountable. It’s a pretty good camera and a pretty good vidcam, and it costs under $400 US.