New digital cameras raise bar on video

Aron Digumarthi uses his digital camera every weekend to shoot still photographs —and videos. His camera is small enough to tote along on weekend hikes. “Having this one little package of technology with me that can do both photos and videos is just what I need,” says Digumarthi. Just a year ago, most digital camera video clips were silent and limited to 30 seconds or less. They were of such low resolution that, when shown on a TV, they couldn’t fill 25 per cent of the screen. They were also shot at 15 frames per second, offering a slightly jerkier image. But now many newer models offer videos that are unlimited in length, depending on the size of the external memory card. Plus, they can fill an entire TV screen.

Digumarthi uses the Canon PowerShot S1 IS, a new camera sold as a hybrid camera-camcorder. Olympus also sells a hybrid - C770. Sony has upgraded all its Cybershot cameras to shoot at the same frame rate as camcorders - 30 per second.

Daniel Grotta, who with wife Sally is writing ‘PC Magazine Guide to Digital Photography’, credits digital camera improvements —higher image quality and faster processors — for improved video, too. Industry executives agree. “People are very surprised at just how good it is now,” says Paul Schmidt, CEO of digital photo software company Photodex. “The pros will tell you it’s terrible and can’t compare to camcorder footage. But most people don’t care. They’re just delighted to have and use it.” Digital cameras are one of the best-selling tech products worldwide. Graduations and vacations in late spring and summer traditionally give digital cameras their second-best sales after Christmas. About 69 million cameras are expected to be sold this year - up 40 per cent from 2003, says IDC research analyst Chris Chute. That’s higher than his earlier projected growth because sales in the first quarter soared 64 per cent from the year-ago quarter. Video is hot now because Sony and Canon also dominate in camcorders. That means they’re able to bring video expertise to cameras, Chute says. “The digital business is very competitive. And with so many cameras that aren’t very different, video is a differentiator,” he says. “Better video will sell more cameras.”