Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Canon SD940IS - how I video'd Japan

I want to just take a little break from my Japan posts to talk about this little champ:

It's the Canon SD940IS, and it's the camera I used both to take the videos you saw in this post, as well as all of the videos we shot for our store blog while in Japan, including brand introductions from some pretty famous celebrities in the Japanese fashion world.

We bought it just before leaving specifically for this purpose, but thinking it'd be kind of a poor-man's solution to the problem of shooting high quality video.  It's a 12.1 megapixel camera that shoots HD video (720p), but it's got a tiny little pocket-cam sensor.  And it's a tiny camera - about the length and width of a credit card, and about a half inch thick.  Any smaller and I'd probably have a hard time even using it.  So we weren't expecting professional results.

But we damn near got it.  I didn't trust the memory card I'd bought (which I discovered post-purchase has a ridiculous failure rate) so my brother-in-law lent us his Panasonic 1080p HD camcorder - not really a professional piece of equipment, but very similar to one that we were given to shoot a segment for Japanese television with a few months ago.  We ended up shooting all of our brand introduction videos twice, once using the SD940IS and again with the HD camcorder, and guess which videos we ended up using?

In every case, the SD940IS videos looked more vivid and better exposed.  The camcorder videos were all very dark in the foreground, and overly bright in the background.  (Using the camcorder's built-in light just made everything look unnatural, like using on-camera flash in still photography.)  The sound quality was better from the SD940IS too.  True, the camcorder was 1080p and would have looked clearer on a large screen, but overall it would have taken me a lot of work to get the camcorder videos to look as good as those that came straight out of the SD940IS.

The image stabilization worked great too - I found it very easy to get that SteadiCam look just by standing still and holding the camera as steady as I could.  Take a look at any of the videos here - I know the subject matter is not exactly mainstream, and the videos are resized and re-compressed for streaming, but you can easily see the effect of the stabilization in all of them.  I used no special effort - just regular handholding at a normal distance (using the LCD screen to frame).

YouTube recompresses even its HD videos, so if you want to see an original video out of the camera that's similar to one from my previous post here, you can download one temporarily here.  It's about 60MB.

As someone who grew up in the era when camcorders first hit the market, it's pretty amazing to think that a tiny little pocket camera like this can now take video that easily bests video from pro cameras 20 years ago, and that would probably be good enough for news program field reports even today.

I actually had to consciously try to convince myself to keep shooting, because I'm so used to pocket cams only taking 2 minutes of low quality video.  I found myself shutting it off unconsciously after 30 seconds or so, even though on an 8GB memory card, this thing will shoot 45 minutes of HD video.  (True, you do then have an 8GB file... and that adds up fast.)  The files it spits out are standard h.264 QuickTime files, so you can play them with QuickTime or edit them in pretty much any modern video editor.  (The camcorder we borrowed created Windows Media files, which worked fine for me too, but aren't really cross-platform.)

It also takes some pretty good pictures, including about half the ones you see in, again, this post (same post as the videos).  No, it's nowhere near the image quality level of my trusty old Rebel XT, but unless you blow things up to 1:1, you'll never notice.  Lens is good, sensor's good for a camera of this class, image processor is really good.  And it's very fast.

No complaints and highly recommended.  Very surprised and happy with the quality of this little camera.  Someday, all video's going to be shot on cameras like this.  (Or phones.)

By the way, we did stick out like a sore thumb using a black pocket camera in Japan. No one there uses black cameras. It's like wearing white sneakers in New York - it instantly brands you a tourist. Cameras there are silver, pink, purple, blue, or any other shade of neon or pastel color - never dull black.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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