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Digital video moving up
There are many enticing reasons to begin capturing your moving memories on digital video camera including superior pictures and sound, no bleeding, ghosting or degradation in quality when copying and easy editing and storage.

As the price of quality analogue cameras plummets ($600-$1500) digital video is quickly being positioned to plug the gap for the hobbyist and professional. At the lower end eager home moviemakers are being spoiled for choice but if you want broadcast quality you still need deep pockets including a further investment in editing software.

Some serious homework is required if you want to ensure your investment meets your expectations and needs. As with any investment in technology it pays to ask some basic questions: ‘What it is I want to achieve? Why, and how far will the budget stretch?’

The first rule of thumb is to make sure the product you’re considering comes from a reputable manufacturer with a history of quality video camera production for example Sony, Panasonic, Canon, JVC, Toshiba and Sharp.

The zoom capabilities, the kind of memory and added functionality may vary but the consumer level there’s little difference in price and capability between the main brands of single chip DV cameras. Single chip cameras have to resolve all the colour information from a prism of red, green and blue through a single filter.

The most recent point of difference has been the introduction of MicroDV recording tapes, paving the way for further miniaturisation. Prices range from $1300 through to about $5000 depending on the bells and whistles.

Most cameras offer a CD with drivers and software to edit and manipulate your movie. The drivers are for connecting your camera via a universal serial bus (USB) or fire-wire port to move images onto your PC.

The editing software will allow you to select frames from your movies as still images. While that sounds attractive it’s important to understand this is typically low resolution, only useful to email to friends or use on your web site. The higher the camera specifications though the better the stills – even then they may only be good enough for a reasonable quality postcard sized image.

Sony has for example released the IP220e digital video camera, which dedicates 2 megapixels to still images - that’s good enough for a reasonably high quality print. The new MicroDV format single chip camera is one of the smallest in the world and sells for $4999.

The next step up is a three chip camera which has have a separate image sensor for each colour and can cope with three times the amount of light, giving dramatic improvement in colour resolution. These give you broadcast quality results and are often used in ‘real life’ TV shows. They’ll cost you anywhere from $3,500- $10,000.

If you are looking to make a serious job of editing your video on-screen at the best possible resolution you need a fire-wire connection to handle the data throughput required and a lot of disk space. Video typically takes up 3.6Mb per second - to edit 30 minutes of digital tape you need about 6Gb spare.

The bundled software that comes with your camera will also only deal with low-resolution moving pictures. For serious editing you need more comprehensive software suites such as Final Cut Pro, StudioDV from Pinnacle or Adobe Premier.

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