Digital camera vs. camcorder vs. digital camcorder - help

I would like to buy a digital camera… something that can take pics that will print out well at 5x7. Preliminary research tells me I need 3.1 megapixels, roughly, for that to be realistic.

I also want to get a camcorder, since the one we have been using thus far is now gone (long story, Pit-material, perhaps!).

Anyway, is there a solution that would allow me to take digital pictures with the camcorder? I see this advertised, but I can’t quite picture how it would work. The digital camera would have a serial or USB connection to transfer JPG or other format files to the PC. How the heck would the camcorder do it, and what format woulf they be in?

I’m posting this as a GQ because I’m not looking for “best camera” suggestions (although such a hijack wouldn’t kill me) but rather for a cogent explanation of the process of taking still pics with a digital camcorder.

  • Rick

Many digital camcorders will take still images. The CCD sensor in a video camera is roughly the same as one in a still camera, so you are effectively recording one frame at a time, rather than the ~30 per second for a moving image. If you are looking for an image in the 3 megapixel range, though, a camcorder will not cut it. Digital video signals are (IIRC) 512 vertical lines, max, meaning your image will have a vertical resolution of 512 pixels, and a horizontal resolution of about 700, which ain’t even close to 1 megapixel.

As to the restr of your question, still images on video cameras are usually stored as JPEGs, although any decent image-editing program can convert between any number of formats. Digital video cameras use the IEEE 1394 or “firewire” to transfer data, which is much faster than serial or USB.

I assume it would work pretty much the same as with a digital camera, substituting the tape in the camcorder for the memory card in the digital camera. Most digital cameras have Firewire ports for transferring to computers – some also have Memory Stick or other cards. The format would be jpeg.

The problem with still pictures from a camcorder is one of resolution. Camcorders capture pictures for display on a TV which doesn’t need a resolution greater than 640 x 480 (modulo HDTV). So the camcorders will typically only capture still pictures at that resolution, although some are now capturing in the 1 Megapixel range. Not enough, as you say, for a 5x7 print.

Here’s some pictures from a review over at Steve’s Digicams (a good review site for digital cameras in general). http://www.steves-digicams.com/2001_reviews/pc110/samples/010607-0041-45.jpg

My personal recommendation would be to go for a separate digital camera if the budget can handle it. A camcorder is bulkier and heavier than a camera – not something you can stick in a shirt pocket or a briefcase and have available at a moment’s notice (which is when the good pictures happen).

And of course, you can get a very good point and shoot film camera for the price of a low-end digital camera (thereby transferring your costs to the film buying and developing end).

I assume it would work pretty much the same as with a digital camera, substituting the tape in the camcorder for the memory card in the digital camera. Most digital cameras have Firewire ports for transferring to computers – some also have Memory Stick or other cards. The format would be jpeg.

The problem with still pictures from a camcorder is one of resolution. Camcorders capture pictures for display on a TV which doesn’t need a resolution greater than 640 x 480 (modulo HDTV). So the camcorders will typically only capture still pictures at that resolution, although some are now capturing in the 1 Megapixel range. Not enough, as you say, for a 5x7 print.

Here’s some pictures from a review over at Steve’s Digicams (a good review site for digital cameras in general). http://www.steves-digicams.com/2001_reviews/pc110/samples/010607-0041-45.jpg

My personal recommendation would be to go for a separate digital camera if the budget can handle it. A camcorder is bulkier and heavier than a camera – not something you can stick in a shirt pocket or a briefcase and have available at a moment’s notice (which is when the good pictures happen).

And of course, you can get a very good point and shoot film camera for the price of a low-end digital camera (thereby transferring your costs to the film buying and developing end).

Much as I loathe both video cameras and digital cams, I’d suggest buying a cheap(er) digical still camera, mainly for ease of use. A P&S digital cam is smaller and easier to shoot with than any digital camcorder.

And, as mentioned above, the resolution of camcorders is nowhere near that of even the cheapest 2 megapixel cams.

For a 5x7, any good 2 megapixel camera will produce very good results. You really only need 3 MP for an 8x10.

The best advice right now is to get a still camera for still images, and a video camera for video. Video cameras can take still images, usually up to 1 MP, but the quality of the lens and the software isn’t as good as a decent entry level still camera. You will be more satisfied with a $200-300 digital camera.

Likewise, the video produced by digital still cameras is lousy, and only worthwhile for basic web use. The quality is still laughable.

Or if you want, when you get the video on your computer, you can catch frames & use those for photos. The quality is about the same as if you used the video camera to take photos.

Here’s something you might want to look into

I don’t think it’s available yet, but should be soon. The Sony Infolithium batteries are great, good for hours of shooting. 10x zoom and a Zeiss lens - I might get one myself.

One megapixel (~1152x864) is sufficient for a 5x7 print, if you’re looking for a baseline. Higher resolution will allow for larger prints, but more importantly, it gives you headroom to crop the picture while maintaining sufficient resolution for printing.

Typically, cameras that offer this feature have a secondary slot for a flash card or memory stick. The resolution is likely to be around 0.3 megabytes, suitable for web pages or TV playback but useless for printing.

When people say, for example, that VHS tape has a resolution of 350 lines, they’re not talking about areal density (e.g., 352x480) – they’re talking about the minimum pitch at which a series of progressively fine alternating black/white lines merge into gray (see “Video Resolution Test Patterns – Do Your Own Test”).

Because television images are raster-based and a row of pixels can be regarded as a “line,” people mistinterpret this to mean that a frame with an areal density of 720x480 pixels has a resolution of 480 lines, but in fact the resolution may vary from fewer than 300 to more than 500 lines according to the quality of the image sensor.

Not really, you can get better still photos from digital video cameras than you would get from a video frame capture. The still images are almost as good as an entry level still camera, the video captures are crap.

Depends on the camera. I have a Sony digital camcorder with a ‘still image’ button. All the button does is freeze the frame and record it onto a few seconds of tape, while letting you record audio along with it. The quality is identical to just capturing a frame in the computer.

No one has mentioned the difference between interlaced and progressive camcorders. A progressive-scan camcorder will take as good a picture as a still camera with a CCD of the same resolution and lens quality. But most camcorders use interlaced video, and individual frames will have a lot of ‘jaggies’ and lower contrast. The stills I get out of my Sony camcorder suck. They would only be suitable for shrinking down to small web images.

If you want to see the quality of stills from a Sony interlaced Camcorder, you can look at my theater screen construction page - all the photos on it were taken with my camcorder.

http://members.shaw.ca/danhanson/Theater/screen/screenproject.htm

I have to agree with Telemark. 1.3mp is just adequate for 5x7 injet prints if you do absolutely no cropping. I sitll use a 1.3mp camera even though I also have a 5mp cam but the smaller one is only used for web work. If you use it for print work I think you’ll quickly become dissatisfied. With the price/performance of digicams following Moore’s law you’d be wise to get the best digicam you can for your budget.

I don’t agree. Depends a lot on the camera. I have a Fuju 1.3 & had MSN make a 20"x30" poster from one image & it looks awesome.

The general rule of thumb is that 1 MP will get you a good 4x6, 2MP for 5x7, and 3MP for 8x10. While it is possible to get a decent 8x10 from a 1 MP image, I’m having a hard time believing that you could get a 20x30 print that looks anything like a film print. There just isn’t enough info to make a clean image at that size, even if the subject is very basic.