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Lights! Action! Camcorders!

Constantly improving video cameras offer all the options, from super-high definition to instant DVDs
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Emeril Lagasse, Sept/Oct 2005

(continued from page 3)

So with my prejudices admitted up front, I went searching for devices that made the quality compromise of casual video more acceptable. And I found a few intriguing possibilities.

Cell phones seem like the right place to start. The phones now arriving on U.S. shores with two-megapixel image sensors for stills also show a welcome boost in video clip quality. My favorite so far is the new Nokia N90, an ingeniously designed phone/

camera hybrid that boasts a Carl Zeiss lens with autofocus (not the fixed-focus, one-size-fits-all setting of most camera phones, but something that actually tries to adjust to what you're shooting). The video is captured at 352 x 288-pixel resolution—about 30 percent of standard TV resolution, so you might want to avoid watching your clips on that big-screen set, but they're fine when played back on a phone or even in a window on a computer screen. You can even edit your video right on the Nokia phone, piecing together clips and adding music. It's not going to get you to Sundance any time soon, but it's a nice way to kill time while waiting for your flight.

If you're a Palm smartphone fan, the Treo 650 model allows video-clip recording at similar resolutions, though the action isn't as smooth as on the Nokia phone. An interesting software upgrade does improve the Treo's video performance and lets you do some cool tricks, such as grabbing a single frame as a still image. The program's called Live! for Treo 650, available for download at toysoft.ca/live650.html—it's free to try and $14.95 to buy.

Many digital cameras today offer video-clip recording capabilities, some with sound, some without. One of the few that deliver exceptional video quality is Casio's Exlim Pro EX-P505 ($500), which offers 640 x 480-resolution video at 30 frames per second (most digital camera video comes in at half that frame rate and one-quarter the resolution). Colors are warm and deep, there's none of the herky-jerky motion that usually afflicts digital-camera video, and the files are saved in a format that will play on most computers without your having to install oddball software. Most important, the Casio is an excellent digital still camera, with five-megapixel resolution and 5x zoom lens. The rounded barrel and sculpted body make for a secure, comfortable grip, controls are extensive but easy to use, and image quality is first-rate.

Let's finish off with a unique tapeless video recorder, a device that lets you boldly shoot where you'd never consider shooting before. The Samsung SC-X105L ($599.99) is shockingly small at just 3.7'' x 2.3'' x 1.1'' and a barely there 5.1 ounces. Tuck it into a pocket or toss it in your bag and you're always ready to grab a video clip or a still, use the built-in voice recorder and even play back MP3 files. I rarely use the word "gadget" to describe the products I review with suitable reverence, but the word was created to describe digital all-in-ones like this. The basic camera is fun in its own right, producing decent if still sub-tape-quality video clips and mediocre stills (the 800 x 600 resolution isn't enough to make a decent print). But then there's the killer feature, the one that makes this a "sports camcorder"—a weather-resistant external lens that attaches to the camera via a thin wire and connects to your body via a headband, wristband or clip. Suddenly you can take hands-free video as you shred down the slopes, paraglide on thermals or do whatever else thin, attractive people do that looks cool in TV commercials. Since the camera's so light and the lens is so flexible, a world of possibilities for unusual video angles and opportunities present themselves. A pet-cam? Why not. A helium-balloon's-eye view of your home from above? Certainly feasible. And if you've been wondering what to give Paris Hilton for her upcoming nuptials, I think your problem is solved. v

Steve Morgenstern writes often on technology for Cigar Aficionado.


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