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Video

While on the previous generation of digital compact cameras VGA video (640 x 480 pixels) was the standard with these latest models almost all of the manufacturers have moved on to 720p (1280 x 720 pixels) video modes at 24 or 30 frames per second. The Olympus Stylus 9000 is th eonly camera in this test that still comes with a standard VGA video mode. The Panasonic offers so-called Wide-VGA (848 x 480 pixels), all other cameras do 720p HD video.

Canon SX200 IS

The SX200 IS offers movie capture in various qualities up to HD resolution (1280 x 720 pixels, 16:9 format) at 30 frames per second. The optical zoom does not work in movie mode. The camera uses H.264 compression which produces, compared to the Motion JPEG format on previous Canon compact generations, comparable image quality at smaller file sizes. It works out at approximately 3.1 MB/sec. The maximum length of a movie recording is 29min 59sec or 4GB file size.

The SX200's 720p resolution makes, compared to standard VGA, for a very pleasant viewing experience, especially when watching a video at full screen size. Apart from the sheer size of the video image the overall quality is pretty good. Movies are clean with only a few visible compression artifacts. On the downside the Canon's HD mode creates fairly large file sizes, so get a couple of large SD cards if you plan on shooting many HD videos.

Image stabilization keeps the image fairly steady when hand-holding the camera while filming and the sound quality is decent too although wind noise is often audible.

Sample movie: 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 15.6MB, 5 secs .mov

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie
(caution: large file!)

Olympus Stylus 9000

The Stylus 9000 offers standard VGA movie capture (640 x 480 pixels) at 30 frames per second. The optical zoom does not work in movie mode. The recording format is AVI Motion JPEG. At VGA resolution you burn approximately 1.8 MB/sec. The maximum movie file size is 2GB.

Unlike most of the competition in this test on the Stylus 9000 video is not one of the main selling propositions of the camera. The Standard VGA output shows some visible compression artifacts but is overall decent. The sound can occasionally appear a little muffled.

Sample movie: 640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 9.1MB, 5 secs .avi

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie
(caution: large file!)

Panasonic DMC-ZS1

The ZS1 offers movie capture in Wide-VGA resolution (848 x 480 pixels, 16:9 format) at 30 frames per second. You can use the optical zoom whilst recording although zoom action is pretty slow and the focus is struggling to keep up with the zoom which can result in out of focus footage, for a second or so at least, before the focus manages to catch up.

Along with the Olympus the ZS1 is the only other camera in this group test that 'only' offers VGA video. In the Panasonic's case though it's Wide-VGA, offering 848 pixels across in a 16:9 format. The extra resolution compared to standard VGA is certainly noticeable but cannot compete with HD video. The ZS1 provides a clear picture although with a few compression artifacts. Sound quality is good but wind noises are audible. Like on the competitors the ZS1's image stabilization does a good job at steadying the video image.

Sample movie: 848 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 6.0MB, 6 secs .mov

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie
(caution: large file!)

Panasonic DMC-ZS3

The DMC-ZS3 offers movie capture up to HD resolution (1280 x 720 pixels, 16:9 format) at 30 frames per second or 60fps in AVCDH Lite format (for playback on HD television sets). Like on the ZS1 you can use the optical zoom but you'll have the same zoom and AF speed issues. The ZS3 uses QuickTime MJPEG (.mov) format too and burns approximately 3.7 MB/sec. at the highest quality settings. The maximum movie file size is 2GB.

Panasonic officially markets the ZS3 as a Hybrid camera and so it's not a surprise that the ZS3 offers the best specced video mode in this group test. It is the first digital stills camera to offer AVCHD Lite video recording, a video format that is better known in the world of camcorders and is ideal for direct output onto HD TV sets via the built-in HDMI interface (or for importing and editing with video software, note: In the specification Panasonic lists the ZS3's maximum AVCDH frame rate as 60fps which is slightly misleading in so far that the camera records 30fps and then doubles each frame in order to achieve 60fps at output).

For playback on a PC there is the usual 720p HD mode and it does a very good job on the ZS3. The image is clear and only very few artifacts are visible. The camera has a built-in stereo microphone which results in a noticeably clearer and more 'dynamic' sound recording. Background noise can be reduced with the wind-cutter function.

Again you can zoom, with the lens motor running more slowly in an attempt to avoid adding sound effects to your movies. The slowed-down zoom also gives the focus more time to adjust as the focal length changes. It's not perfect but it's a nice feature to have.

Sample movie: 1280 x 720 pixels @ 24 fps
File size: 11.2MB, 3 secs .mov

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie
(caution: large file!)

Samsung HZ10W

The HZ10W is another contender offering HD video (1280 x 720 pixels, 16:9 format) at 30 frames per second. The optical zoom works during movie recording but like on the Panasonics the zoom is pretty slow. You'll also encounter some focus-hunting when zooming. The Samsung records in MP4 video format and uses approximately 1.3 MB/sec at the highest resolution setting. Maximum length of movie clips is 29min if you don't run out of memory before.

The Samsung offers good all-round video quality. The image is slightly more saturated than the competition which, entirely depending on your taste, could be a good or bad thing. Playback is clear and smooth with only a few visible compression artifacts.

Sample movie: 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 6.4MB, 5 secs .mp4

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie
(caution: large file!)

Sony Cyber-shot H20

The Sony H20 is one of four cameras in this comparison that offer 720p HD video (1280 x 720 pixels, 16:9 format). The optical zoom works during movie recording but again is slower than in still image mode. Having said that zoom and AF in movie mode appear to working very slightly quicker than on the competition in this test. The H20 uses the MP4 video format and writes approximately 1.0MB per recorded second on the memory card. The maximum recording time is 29 minutes.

The Sony offers very detailed and clean output at its highest quality video setting but we had some minor focus hunting issues, even when not using the optical zoom. Sound quality is decent too but cannot match the ZS3's stereo output.

Sample movie: 1280 x 720 pixels @ 24 fps
File size: 6.3MB, 6 secs .mp4

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie
(caution: large file!)

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Comments

Matafuko

Just picked up a second hand SX200 for £35!
I bought it because I was surprised at a 12mp, 12x optical, 720p HD and manual function camera would be available so cheaply these days.
I have an SLR but wanted a smallish carry around thing. I am not - in any way - precious about it being top of the line, but the resolution, zoom and manual functions are perfectly adequate for me.
I'm in pretty much total agreement with your review and once you replace the idea that it's the most expensive in the batch test with the fact that I got it second hand for a steal - there's not a bad word I can say about it!
(It's even in the cool blue colour)

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