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PMA Coverage: EXTRAVICAMS AT PMA '09
The 2009 show is the first in years where the hottest, coolest new products were something other than DSLRs.
bY DON SUTHERLAND


Sony's HX1

A similar range of in-camera effects can be produced by the Olympus E-30, which has been on the market for a couple months but is making its PMA debut at this time. More in the tradition of the battleaxe E3, the prosumer-oriented E30 is actually more advanced in a few significant ways than its "pro" cousin -- certain features, like face detection, were in their infancy at the time the E3 was designed. DEJA VU ?

One camera most people definitely didn't expect from Fujifilm is their Instax 200, which is not a digital camera but which makes "instant pictures" anyway. How? One resists saying "Polaroid film" because there is no more "Polaroid film." There is, however, Fuji's Instax film, which is sort of the same idea. As it shoots out of the camera to "develop" before your very eyes, it brings to mind nothing less than an SX-70.

Are we going backwards in time? On the contrary, time moved forward too quickly, leaving some photography-dependant people stranded. Fujifilm gives forensic photography as an example, a one-of-a-kind photographic original possibly having greater credance as a piece of evidence.

Although not a DSLR by strict definition, Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds Lumix DMC-G1 camera couples the interchangeable-lens feature of DSLRs with the electronic viewfinder of compact cameras. Introduced at the show today is the next step in the camera's development, the high-definition Lumix DMC-GH1. As its name implies, the camera can shoot hi-def video sequences, and is visually distinguished from the earlier model by its pair of microphones on top. The new model adds face-recognition to the features of the original G1. Two new lenses with the Micro Four Thirds mount are also being introduced today, the Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8, and the Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4.

I TUBE, YOU TUBE, WE ALL TUBE

It's not exactly a secret, but video has changed. The internet has been invented, and to match, digital camcorders have been reinvented with internet-friendly features. The new camcorders record to a variety of media -- hard-disk drives, mini-DVDs, flash memory or SSDs -- there may even be camcorders around that record on videotape. What's less frequently discussed is that the file formats used by these various media are usually different, ranging from the relatively uncompressed mini DV tape standard, to the MPEG-4 for most of the HDD camcorders, and AVCHD for many of the solid-state units. (A new format, AVCHD Lite, was announced several weeks ago as a co-development of Sony and Panasonic, but details on what makes it "lite" and which cameras will employ it have yet to be broadly disclosed).

Camcorder manufacturers tell us they're still finding a market for HDD models, and for hybrid models that contain both hard disk drives and solid state drives. Trying to predict the future has proved a treacherous pastime in the digital market, but in the long run our money's on SSD camcorders.

For starters, a camcorder with no moving parts in the recording system has a lot less to break down. It certainly takes less space, and results in a miniaturized camera. Transferring movies to a computer for editing is as simple as taking the SDHC card from the camera and inserting it into a card reader -- no cables to trip over. And although the cost for solid-state memory was higher than that for an equivalent running-time in tape, prices of SDHC cards are coming down rapidly. Pretty soon the reasons to use something other than SSDs will be borderline nil.

The latest generations of moviecams shoot 16:9 widescreen in full 1920p hi-definition, and provide 5.1-channel surroundsound. However, a question that begs to be asked is, do we always need hi-def on the internet? On many websites, video runs in windows much smaller than VGA, with a conventional two-channel stereo soundtrack. And there's no law that says website windows must have a 16:9 aspect ratio. Many might continue perfectly happily with standard-definition camcorders shooting the legacy 4:3 frame.

In other words, while it seems inevitable that SSD moviecams will prevail, I'd hedge my bets just a little when it comes to frame formats and resolution factors. One thing for sure is that a 4:3 standard definition movie requires a lot less data, all other things equal, than a 16:9 1920p movie does. Contrary to popular belief, internet bandwidth is not unlimited. And certainly, the two most recent AVCHD-compatible video editing programs I've looked at -- one by Corel, one by Arcsoft -- seem to consider a 3-gigaHertz processor clockspeed to be the minimim required. I'm guessing that the majority of customers have systems topping-off at 2.8GHz. So, it looks like the photo/video industry will be one of the forces driving the next generation of PCs, something it has done before.

Most of the moviecams presented at this PMA show were introduced at the CE Show in January. But for the first time we have all the major new camcorders -- Canon, JVC, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony -- under one roof. And they bring us some very interesting features.

Probably my favorites of these tinycams are the 3-chip models, of which Panasonic has produced several in recent years. The new HDC-HS300, HDC-TM300 and HDC-HS250 include HDD/SSD hybrid models The image-quality benefits that accrued to 3-chip analog tape camcorders accrue about equally to solid-state HD camcorders. I'm early in the testing cycle, but am still pretty amazed to find such huge quality coming out of such a bitty package.

Just as still cameras are now widely equipped with movie-making systems, a great many movie cameras have a still-picture provision. There's nothing new about it, nor about the contention that a better still picture will be produced by a dedicated still camera (more control over the picture-taking process). Still, when you're shooting a movie, sometimes you find an instant that cries-out to be preserved as a still image. If you look around the Canon Vixia camcorders, you'll find models whose still-photo capacity reaches 8 megapixels. Dedicated still cameras themselves didn't reach such quality until about three or four years ago. The Vixia HF S10 comes with 32GB of solid-state memory built-in, to supplement its removable SDHC card.

JVC is showing new camcorders possessing dual SDHC slots. Planning to shoot a lot of footage this weekend? When the card in one slot is full, the camera automatically switches-over to the card in the second slot.

JVC also offers the CU-VD50 Direct DVD Burner/Player, which allows burning Everio videos to a DVD disc without using a computer. When used with HD Everio, the system can create AVCHD DVDs that are playable on many Blu-ray players.


   







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