Digital camcorders turn the signals from their CCD chip and microphone into digital form inside the camera, before it is recorded on tape. It is turned back into an analogue video signal on its way out of the camcorder because the video signals which tv sets accept are still analogue. But if you want to get the signals into a computer, you don't have to change them back to analogue because computers can accept the DV signals direct - if you have a FireWire card.
We photographed a still-life set-up using three typical cameras, to show what's achievable.
First we used a ten year old analogue Sony CCD-V90E camcorder such as the one you might have in the cupboard. It records on Video 8 format. The image was acquired using Play Incorporated's 'Snappy'. The results are slightly smeary, with low colour saturation and a magenta Paramount car. This is not the fault of Snappy, it's just the Video 8 showing its age.
Next we used a Sony DCR-PC7E Digital Video camcorder - not the best available but reasonably priced and certainly one of the sexiest. This camera would fit in a pocket and was one of the first to offer direct digital output via a FireWire socket on the camera. The images from this camera are bright and sharp.
By way of comparison, we used the popular Fuji DS-7 640 x 480 pixels digital still camera, framing the same shot using the camera's LCD screen. The image was acquired into a PC using a serial cable. Resolution is not quite as good as the DCR-PC7E, though the colours are slightly more saturated.
We also used another 640 x 480 pixels digital stills camera, the Agfa ePhoto307, which does not have a LCD screen or the ability to focus close. We framed the image in the optical viewfinder and even allowed for parallax - the offset between the viewfinder and lens. Unlike shooting with the other three cameras, we didn't know what we'd got (or hadn't got) until we pulled the pictures into the computer using a serial cable. This camera produces good pictures at a distance but shows the drawback of not having a LCD screen for this kind of closeup.
Greatly enlarged sections of the above images show just how the equipment actually performs.
AND SO, FINALLY...
If you've already got a camcorder, you can produce reasonable pictures - especially after adjustment - using a Snappy with your PC. You can also grab images from other videotapes. This shot of Debbie Harry from the group Blondie, captured using Play Inc's 'Snappy', is from a U-Matic copy of a broadcast video I lit way back in 1978. Making up retrospective albums becomes easy as my shot of my daughter Annelies, taped seventeen years ago, shows.
If you're buying a camcorder, get a digital one and a FireWire card for the computer.
But don't expect a camcorder to match the quality you get from a 35mm film camera - today's tv pictures just don't have that amount of detail in them.
Go on to the next page to learn how to adjust your pics and get the best possible quality images from cameras such as these.
This article first appeared in "Digital
PhotoFX" magazine, Issue 2.
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