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Monday, June 23, 2008

Hi-Tech Studio: A Camcorder Primer For Photojournalists

As camcorders continue to evolve, so does the opportunity for photojournalists to create high-definition video essays alongside their D-SLR work

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Canon XL H1S
Photojournalism is in a period of transition. While many photographers continue to image solely with still cameras, others are finding video to be a necessary supplement to their work. Video is being used to deliver news stories for blogs and websites, as well as for traditional broadcasts. Motion capture also is taking the form of individual video stills published in print and online. Here, we cover some of the new high-definition video cameras a photojournalist might find useful for getting into videography.

High definition may seem a somewhat disingenuous term to the seasoned still photographer. After all, the highest resolution possible in HD video is 1920 x 1080, or just over the equivalent of 2 megapixels in digital still photography. Yet the trade-off is full motion, meaning an operator is generating many potential still images every second.


Most current HD camcorders are capable of shooting in 24p, or 24 frames of progressive footage every second. Progressive means that each frame is a discrete still image rather than the two separate interlaced fields generated by earlier video technology. Interlaced video is less suitable for repurposing to still photography due to the jagged edges and artifacts it exhibits. Many of the cameras here are capable of shooting 24p, often to solid-state memory cards.

Canon's newly introduced XL H1A and XL H1S HDV camcorders bring a familiar brand name and reputation to photographers looking to cross over. The H1S is more expensive than the H1A, but adds an uncompressed HD-SDI output, which is somewhat more useful to moviemakers than to still photographers. Both cameras offer controls that are intuitive to users of Canon EOS SLRs, along with photographer-friendly, interchangeable lenses. With a special adapter, EOS still camera lenses can be used, thus potentially leveraging a photographer's existing investment in optics.

Both models come with a standard Canon 20x HD zoom lens with built-in optical image stabilization. The H1A and H1S shoot HDV to mini-DV-sized digital tapes at a maximum resolution of 1440 x 1080. Neither shoot true 24p, but both offer a 30-frame progressive mode suitable for still and web usage. For budding indie filmmakers/still photographers, that omission might be too far a bridge to cross when other true 24p cameras are available from other manufacturers. List Price: $5,999 (XL H1A); $8,999 (XL H1S).


JVC offers a model with similar specifications, the HDV-capable GY-HD250 camcorder. The JVC shoots high definition at a native 720p format, resulting in a maximum frame size of 1280 x 720. It offsets this with true 24p recording and bayonet-mount interchangeable lenses. A Fujinon 16x zoom is included with the standard package. Longtime manual shooters also might appreciate the more streamlined control system and lower cost of entry among JVC's gear in general.

A solid performer, the GY-HD250 may not be the feature leader of the HD prosumer pack, but it's more than capable of getting the dual purposes of still and motion capture done. JVC also offers the less expensive GY-HD200UB. The 200UB's primary difference is the omission of the HD-SDI signal-monitoring options of the GY-HD250, which is less likely to be essential. List Price: $5,995 (GY-HD200UB); $10,995 (GY-HD250).


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