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Our Last 50 Referrers

« Who Designs? Our Tools or Us? | Main | Goodies »

July 09, 2004

Gimme Stills, and Gimme Video

Dear Vanessa --

I have no idea whether this new Sanyo device here works well or not, but it represents a product category I'm eager to spend some money on -- a card-based (not tape-based) device that's half a good-quality still camera and half an OK digital-video recorder. And it's pocket-sized -- whee! (A review of this Sanyo gizmo can be read here.)

I've read unenthusiastic reviews of a couple of other early examples of these things -- do they have a settled-upon name yet? Either the stills or the video were lousy; battery life is a problem; the memory cards digest information sluggishly; and the ergonomics aren't yet ready for prime time. But it's hard to believe that we won't be seeing well-done examples at decent prices within a year or two.

Not that anyone should pay me any mind, but my hunch is that these products will be a great success. After all, given digital technology, why shouldn't your everyday camera shoot both good stills and decent video? While in St. Barth, I was surprised to find myself using the video function on my low-end Kodak as much as I was using the still-photo function. After all, and as ever in the digital universe: why not?

My Kodak's video quality (when played back on a computer) is OK enough, at least if you're expecting next-to-nothing, which I was. People and scenes are recognizable, if not exactly in vivid detail. My Kodak's short video clips can't compare to DV footage; they're best thought of as video sketches, or video snapshots. But the sound quality was surprisingly good.

More important, though, was the video-making experience. I found it much more pleasant to shoot casual video with a cheap, small camera than with a conventional video camera. Pull the handy little thing out of your pocket, give it a twist and a poke, and you're shooting. Another poke and a twist, and it's back in your pocket, video all shot. Not having to worry about wires, backup batteries, tape cassettes, and sand-vunerable tape-motors is a very big plus. (The camera records video and sound to the same SD card it records still images to -- ie., almost no moving parts.) You download the video clips to your computer the same way you download stills.

Now, how cool would it be if -- while all else remained simple and easy -- the video quality were genuinely good, and the lens could zoom?

I've read articles that have argued that card-based video will never catch on because A) you can't cram enough footage onto a card (around 15-30 minutes, depending on the card and on the video quality), and B) how are you going to store the video once you've downloaded it from camera to computer? My response to A is that, where video's concerned, 90% of the time all I'm looking to do is shoot quick, informal clips as conveniently as possible. When I'm ready to shoot a theatrical feature I'll resign myself to using a more complex machine. But for day-to-day use, ease and portability trump optical perfection several times over. And who shoots more than 30 minutes of video in a day anyway?

My response to B is, Well, dumbo, you store your accumulated footage on a big spare hard drive, and you burn it to DVDs for backup. What else? Which of course means that even techno-weenie me -- an Imac-on-system-9.2 user -- will one day be buying an extra hard drive and a DVD burner, sigh.

Still, I'm looking forward to these devices, and am more than ready to hand over the Visa card. Which upcoming digital gizmo do you most crave?



posted by Michael at July 9, 2004


That's easy -- the $500 digital Nikon SLR that will use my awesome Nikkor lenses and Nikon flashes. I've pulled back from pulling the trigger on the $1K bodies, but a man's only got so much willpower.

I've never given a flip about video, so I can't relate.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on July 12, 2004 9:12 PM

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