Look! There's a video camcorder inside your digital camera.
It's show time!
How do you show off the videos you take? The easiest way, of course, is to play them back on your camera's LCD. But not all cameras have a speaker for audio playback, and some have just tiny LCDs.
The next easiest method is to hook the digital camera to a TV through the video-out port. (They've all got 'em.) Problem is, the raw footage usually includes gaffes and background commentary. Only a few top models offer in-camera editing that lets you shorten a video clip and resave it, and most lack even the most rudimentary pause and rewind features found in all camcorders.
To make video clips shine like the prints you make from the same camera, you must enter the world of video editing. Here's the good news: you don't need a fancy FireWire (IEEE1394) connection like you do with a DV camcorder-you just need a card reader or a USB connection from your camera to the computer. Video clips can be dragged from the card to your hard drive, then opened in a variety of low-cost video-editing programs. (Some cameras are bundled with video-editing software and a few also have in-camera editing features.)
We could go into all the neat things you can do on your way toward becoming the next Steven Spielberg, but let's just say video-editing software lets you add titles, dub sound, add fancy transitions and effects, and spruce up your video image quality.
So the next time you have folks over to see the wonderful prints you've added to your living room wall or den, make sure they stop by the wide-screen TV to see your latest movie. When they ask you what camcorder you own, reach into your pocket and show them.
Don't think you can make enlargements from your video frames! Photo A (above) shows the detail from a 320x240-pixel video frame shot filming a dancer. Pretty lousy, eh? Photo B shows increased detail available from a VGA-res (640x480-pixel) digital camera or DV camcorder frame. But it can't compare to the detail and image quality shown in photo C, which is a still shot from the 3.2MP Minolta Dimage Z1.
Don't toss your camcorder just yet
Digital still cameras have come a long way in their quest to conquer DV camcorders, but for video enthusiasts, they still have a ways to go. There's the lack of stereo sound recording, and some cameras have short video-clip length. But even the best digital camera can't come close to recording the 1 to 1.5 hours of video that a DV camcorder can. And no digicam features a 22X optical lens, like the Canon ZR90 (shown, $599 street), or an analog-to-digital conversion feature that lets you turn older VHS and Hi8 tapes into DV footage. In addition, DV camcorders do a much better job of adapting white balance and focus during changing lighting conditions while recording. Most digital cameras lock in white balance at the start of the clip and lose track of moving subjects during video recording. And few digital cameras let you zoom while recording video, a common feature on DV camcorders. Also, DV camcorders generally feature larger LCD screens for playback, built-in titling, image stabilization, and speakers for audio playback. Perhaps the most-missed feature on digital cameras is controllable shutter and apertures when in the video mode. Without shutter control, most action shows up with significant blur, even in bright light. But at the rate digital cameras are improving on the video front, these features may all be in next year's top models.