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The end of digital cameras - Are the worlds of digital stills cameras and camcorders about to collide to produce hybrid devices, signalling the end of both, hitherto, separate formats?
The current generation of digital compact cameras are capable of producing reasonable quality, 640x480 resolution movies at up to 30fps but the problems have been continuous storage of the huge files created, lack of a powerful optical zoom, and moving image quality not being as good as camcorder movie footage. As camcorders move into the HD field, the recent announcement of a high performance, high quality chip from Sony and the Canon PowerShot S5 mean that the role of standard resolution movie functions could be taken up by digital cameras.
The Canon PowerShot S5 camera which is due in June, features a 12x optical zoom, 8Mp CCD and a long play mode that enables up to an hour of movie footage to be recorded onto a 4Gb memory card. With stereo sound and a decent zoom, this would negate the need to take both a camera and camcorder on holiday for example, as long as enough high capacity storage cards were purchased first - instead of miniDV tapes. Files are easier to copy from memory cards to a computer, rather than downloading the content of miniDV tapes, as well.
Meanwhile, the Sony high speed sensor, the IMX017CQE, is a 6.4Mp CMOS chip that can output 6.4Mp images at 60fps, with each single frame being as good a quality as a 6Mp digital camera still. This is taking the market in the other direction, producing a more camcorder-like device that could capture perfect qualtiy stills. The problem with even three CCD camcorders producing stills is that the device is configured for movie images and the stills are generally poor. Beyond that, even high-spec camcorders don't feature much more than a 2Mp stills function, which is wholely inadequate for digital stills. Though yet to be incorporated into an actual camera, this chip has the potential of producing a hybrid device capable of satisfying both camcorder and stills photography markets.
Given the way that mobile phones are incorporating stills and movies along with telecommunication functions, we asked a number of industry people for their thoughts on the convergence of cameras and camcorder markets.
Robert King, Commercial Director, Samsung Cameras, offered: "Convergence in technologies is offering consumers many exciting developments. For Samsung there is a strong demand for both cameras and video. The video capability on our cameras offers more flexibility to the user and likewise video products offering a camera feature but the consumer has to decide what their requirements are for using each product."
Paul Genge, Product Manager, Digital SLR at Sony said: "The announcement of this new CMOS sensor technology means that Sony is able to offer product designers a greater freedom in their design process. Having a sensor with this functionality means products can converge further. It will soon be possible to switch between still capture and movie capture and not loose image quality as a result. Users could take still images from within footage originally captured as a movie and maintain extremely high resolution, immediately suitable for printing. This would be especially beneficial in capturing a specific moment in time. This could lead to products that are not specifically targeted towards one or other user, but both equally, or a developing a new style of videography and photography combined. This represents a very exciting proposition."
Jon Penney, Product Intelligence Manager, Canon Consumer Imaging commented: "Whilst digital still cameras continue to offer increasingly sophisticated video recording functionality and camcorders are adopting more and more stills functionality, we believe that the two product categories will continue to co-exist for the foreseeable future.
The video functionality of a digital still camera is a useful tool for web sharing, but the size and quality of the images are no match for a camcorder. Similarly, whilst Canon has been pioneering in increasing the sensor size of its video products, our 5 Megapixel DC50 is a prime example, the larger pixel count of a digital compact camera will invariably produce better results.
Given the increasingly compact size and low prices of both products, they are accessible to an ever wider audience and are easy to carry. We believe that whilst further convergence is inevitable, the advanced stills performance of a digital compact camera and the unrivalled video quality of a camcorder will lead customers to purchase the products separately and reap the benefits of both."
Jerome Demare, Marketing Communications & PR executive of Olympus remarked: "You will see a little of both and people can choose whether to start with still image and add movie or vice versa. Where it ends - we will see."