Movie mode

The TX1 is the nearest Canon has ever got to a true 'hybrid' stills/video camera. In fact the styling and control layout make it seem like shooting movie clips is the TX1's primary function. This extends from the separate and prominent movie record button to the fact that the entire camera is designed to be used in landscape (as opposed to portrait) orientation.

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And the TX1 has movie capabilities to match its styling, offering HDTV-quality (720p) movies at 1280 x 720 pixels / 30 fps with stereo sound (there are also 4:3 and lower resolution options). You can zoom whilst filming and even take a full resolution still shot in the middle of a clip (though doing so does cause the movie to pause briefly).

Like all Canon models the TX1 records movies in AVI format using Motion JPEG, and this is a rather contentious decision for a camera so firmly positioned as an alternative to a dedicated camcorder. Why? Because M-JPEG is a massively inefficient way of storing video (as the name suggests, it's little more than a series of stills taken in rapid succession). At the highest quality setting (1280 x 720 pixels, 30 fps) you're flying through roughly four and a half megabytes per second, and it only takes three and a half minutes to work your way through a 1.0GB SD card. The flip side of this is that the TX1's movie quality is very good - better than the cheap standard definition DV camera I use - though nowhere near as good as a dedicated HD camcorder (and a lot noisier in low light).

We found the TX1's 'HD' quality (1280 x 720 pixel) clips rather soft - they don't actually seem to contain 1280 x 720 pixels' worth of information, which has led some users to suggest that the output is scaled in-camera. I don't know if this is the case (it may simply be that the compression and processing is killing the extra detail), but I do know that the 1280 x 720 pixel output looks pretty soft on a big HDTV.

Below are some examples showing 100% crops side by side so you can judge for yourself; most interesting is the difference between the original '1280 x 720' clip and the same clip downsized to 480 pixels high and then re-upsized - which should result in a visible loss of detail. The fact that doing this makes pretty much no difference to the level of detail would seem to suggest that those huge files are not necessarily bringing a visible resolution advantage, though you are getting more detail than you would by shooting at 640 x 480 pixels and upscaling.

100% crops compared
1280 x 720 clip 640 x 480 clip
1280 x 720 clip downsized to
848 x 480 then upsized back again
640 x 480 clip upsized to 960 x 720 pixels
Res chart comparison
1280 x 720 clip 1280 x 720 clip downsized to
848 x 480 then upsized back again

Image quality aside you can't help feeling that this would be a considerably more useful camera if Canon had bitten the bullet and used an MPEG4 encoder to allow the TX1 to genuinely compete with dedicated camcorders... or maybe they simply don't want to kill sales of their DV-cams just yet. There is an LP mode (which uses higher compression to roughly halve the size of clips), but you'll see a lot more artefacts in your images viewed on-screen.

Looking at the output above I think an 848 x 480 pixel option (with significantly smaller file sizes) would also have been nice. But given it would probably look the same as the 1280 x 720 output I guess that might make the 'HDTV capability' claims look a little optimistic.

Of course Canon could argue that SD memory - even the fast cards the TX1 demands for 720p movies - are now so inexpensive that a pocketful of 2GB or even 4GB cards is hardly going to break the bank, but that's not really the point... I can buy a 60 minute mini DV tape for a couple of dollars - this is not only a lot cheaper than using 10 or 20GB of SD card, it means I don't need to continually upgrade my hard drive to accommodate my ever-growing movie clip collection.

Anyway, if you only ever shoot short clips (a few seconds at a time) I'm sure none of this will bother you, but the TX1 certainly doesn't herald a new age where the need for a separate camcorder and stills camera is history.

Movie options (time on a 1GB card):

  • 640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps (7' 49")
  • 640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps 'LP' (14' 20")
  • 320 x 240 pixels @ 60 fps (10' 5")
  • 320 x 240 pixels @ 30 fps (19' 07")
  • 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps (3' 30")
  • 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps 'LP' (6' 44")

You can record clips until your card is full, though there is a 4GB limit to a single clip (about 12 minutes at the best setting).

Like the S3 IS the TX1 has a separate movie record button (there is no dedicated movie mode). Pressing this will start recording a movie whatever shooting mode you're currently in. You can also take stills in the middle of recording a movie clip (doing so pauses the recording briefly). The still is saved as a separate file. It's difficult to press the button without jolting the camera (and almost impossible to zoom whilst filming without doing so).
Whilst recording the time elapsed is show in the bottom right-hand corner. There is a simple brightness control which can be used during the recording of a clip (press the 'set' button and use the left/right directions to change the brightness).
In movie mode the FUNC menu offers quick access to AE compensation, white balance, My Colors effects and movie size / frame rate (some of these options are only available in rec-m mode).
In playback mode you can view movie thumbnails with full shooting information including - unusually - a histogram. Pressing the 'Set' button lets you play the movie.
You now you get some basic controls for playing movies, slow motion, fast forward and rewind and edit.
Choose edit and you can trim the start and end of the movie clip, and save the result as a new file or overwrite the existing clip.

Sample movies

640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 17.5MB
9.00 seconds

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

1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 34.5 MB
8.00 seconds

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

Optical image stabilization

The TX1 isn't the only ultra compact PowerShot to get optical image stabilization, but with its 10x zoom it's the one that most needs it. As we've seen with previous models the IS works pretty well (Canon's system is one of the most effective on the market, second only to Panasonic's MEGA OIS), allowing you to shoot at two, three or even four stops below the recommended minimum for a non-stabilized lens (though at anything over a stop slower you'd be advised to take a couple of shots to be sure).

There are three modes: Continuous (IS on all the time), 'Shoot only' (IS is activated at the moment the exposure is made) and Panning (for horizontally panned shots).

The first option makes framing easier - the IS system steadies the preview image - but the second is easier on the batteries and, in theory more effective (though as usual our test showed this to be by no means guaranteed - in many borderline cases the continuous mode seems to work better).

The lack of manual shutter speed control means we can't run our full image stabilization test on the TX1, but I was very impressed with it in 'real world use'; we found almost 100% reliable at 1/60th sec at the long end of the zoom (a 3 stop advantage over non stabilized shooting) and it produced a considerably higher percentage of usable shots when pushed to four stops or more slower - as low as 1/15th at the 390mm end (though by then you're getting more blurred than sharp shots). It also makes for much less jerky movies.

As with all IS systems it's not infallible, nor is it easy to predict which setting will be more effective (I tended to leave it on 'continuous' when shooting tele, as the stabilized preview image makes framing so much easier), but if you don't expect miracles and take a few 'safety shots' in borderline cases it's rare you don't get at least one 'keeper'.

1/15th second, hand-held, 390mm (equiv.)
IS off IS on ('continuous' mode) IS on ('shoot only' mode)
1/60th second, hand-held, 390mm (equiv.)
IS off IS on ('continuous' mode) IS on ('shoot only' mode)