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Flash CamCorders - Highlighting the Canon FS31

Note that as time goes on, equipment becomes discontinued by the manufacturer. Therefore consider this review representative of the types of equipment you wish to take on your cruise or travel vacation.

Why on earth would you want to buy a Camcorder when most digital cameras can record movies?

Good question. A Camcorder is superior in several ways;

  • first - continuous recording time. A Camcorder can record up to 2 hours or longer on a 32Gb SDHC card.

    In contrast, the WTO/ITA (World Trade Organization/International Technology Agreement) - by international treaty - has limited the video time limit of all cameras (non video cameras having the primary use of still photos) to 29 minutes 59 seconds.

    This is because some countries have a VAT (Value Added Tax) on video cameras that photo cameras are exempted from, so to protect the tariff, all cameras not having the VAT are limited to 29 minutes 59 seconds.

    Also, non-video cameras are first and foremost designed for photos, so they are optimized for that purpose. For this reason, the sensors are usually more sophisticated, and generally have more resolution (megapixels) than are required for Video. Due to this primary function, long term use of the camera's sensor will at some point overheat it. Some cameras shut down after only a few seconds or minutes of sensor heating, where the best cameras can reach the 29 minute 59 second limit.due to sensor heating.

  • The second reason is that many photo cameras with video capability use CMOS sensors. Essentially all DSLRs these days that have video capability have CMOS sensors. Unfortunately, CMOS sensors use a shutter design called a "rolling shutter", and present significant distortion in action photos, or even when you pan the camera. This distortion is called "Rolling Shutter Distortion" and is explained below:

    Note that most compact cameras and virtually all CamCorders use CCD sensors, which are immune to rolling shutter distortion. While this distortion can be fixed in post-processing software, it is another step that is required for a high quality video.

  • A third reason is Dolby Stereo, or at least better microphones, which is a feature not always found on the digital camera versions. In fact, when you add all of the intrinsic features inherent in a Camcorder, it can fulfill a niche not equaled by a digital camera.


 

Typical Flash CamCorder

Canon FS31 Camcorder

Canon FS31 Camcorder

Specifications

Specifications
Sensor: 1.07 MegaPixel
Optical Zoom: 41x Image Stabilized
Digital Zoom: 2000x
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Lens: 2.6mm~96.2mm f2.0~5.2 zoom
Movie Mode: LP. SP, XP
File Format: proprietary, JPG, MPG
Internal Memory: 16Gb
Media: SD, SDHC
Manufactured: Japan
Release Date: 2009
Street Price with lens: $300


Newewr
Alternatives

Overview: The model shown, the Canon FS-31 is no longer made. However, it is representative of what is available on the marketplace.

Most Camcorders generally have low pixel count sensors, compared to digital still cameras. Even a HD video camera's images are generally less than 5 MegaPixels. The fact is that you don't usually need as many pixels in video because your eye disregards most loss in quality in movie modes, whereas the eye is more discriminating when viewing photos.

Fact is, video in concept is not unlike MP3 players in that they are "lossy". In reality a video is just a collection of still shots, but at a high rate. The sensation of motion at a high rate gives the illusion of smooth movement. In reality each frame can have a significantly lower pixel count photo than you will have with a still photo. Your eye tends to blend any defects so that you don't notice them.

Conversely, when you view a still photo, your eye is more discriminating, and you can pick out defects so easily that higher MegaPixel sensors need to be used to produce a satisfactory image.

For example (and you may have to reload this page to see it), before you begin the movie below, look at the first frame, which is a still photo. You can see that the quality is not that good. But when you begin the movie, the quality seems to improve. Part of the difference is because YouTube tends to compress the files, further reducing quality. But it is still an effective example of how video movies do not need the megapixel count for quality pictures that still photos require. The effect is compounded due to the conversion to YouTube, but you get the idea of what I mean.

 


Movie taken with my Canon FS20 Camcorder.

Panning: With this camera, I have noticed that if you pan too fast, the picture can noticeably pixelate. This is likely due to a slow sensor. So smooth, slow panning works out better (which is more pleasing to view anyway).

In the example below, which I took with the Canon FS20, you can see some pixelation. In the second half of the clip, as we are approaching port, watch the sky. You will see what looks like the sky flashing a bit. Look closely and you will see some pixelation when the sky "flashes". Processing and conversion to YouTube exacerbates the effect significantly, but it is still noticeable in the original - just not to the extent you see in the video.

File format: Unfortunately the Canon FS Camcorders record video in a proprietary format. You cannot usually pop the SDHC card out of the Camcorder and play files in a recognizeable format on your computer. You must download the movies to a download software (included with the Camcorder). This software converts the movies to MPG format during downloading.

SDHC Cards: The solid state nature of the Canon FS20 Flash Memory Camcorder means there are no humidity issues to contend with - at least in respect to tape. In the tropical-humid Caribbean, this is a good thing. I ruined a Hi-8mm Camcorder on one trip to the Caribbean when I walked outside of an air-conditioned area, and did not let the Camcorder stabilize long enough for the change in humidity and temperature. The tape jammed in the transport mechanism, which ended up busting a cheap nylon gear.

Summary: While a digital camera is arguably as good or better than most Camcorders today, they don't generally have the length-of-time capability or features normally found on Camcorders. Given those characteristics, Camcorders do fill a niche, however small it may be. And with the low cost and small size of modern Camcorders (at least of the Flash Memory variety), there is no reason not to have one in your camera bag.