Video (cont)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5

The ZS5 offers a slightly less versatile video implementation than its near-relative the ZS7, one of the key differences being that video files are recorded in the Quicktime movie format, rather than the more efficient AVCHD Lite format available on the ZS7. Apart from the format choice, the ZS5 actually offers a lot of control over video shooting. As well as the usual choice of capture resolutions (down to QVGA and up to 720p) the ZS5 also allows you control over white balance, color effect, and an option to use Panasonic's 'Intelligent Exposure' mode.

Autofocus can be set to single or continuous modes, and optical zoom can be used during video shooting. Like some other cameras in this group, however, zooming is slower in video mode than it is when shooting stills. Much slower. Almost too slow, in fact, to be of much use when framing moving subjects.

Movie footage from the ZS5 is of a very high quality, and in terms of detail capture, the Panasonic is amongst the sharpest of all the cameras in this group. Motion is captured very smoothly, and exposure and white balance are as accurate as they are when shooting stills. In our test environment a tiny amount of chroma noise can be seen in midtown areas when the video footage is paused, but in playback, these areas look absolutely fine.

Panasonic ZS5 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps
Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: large file!)
File size: 31MB, 10 secs .MOV File size: 24.7MB, 6 secs .MOV File size: 28.5MB, 10 secs .mov

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7

The ZS7 provides a similar but slightly more versatile video mode than the ZS5, including the option to shoot in the AVCHD Lite format, as well as Motion JPEG. The main advantage of AVCHD is its efficiency, in that it is possible to fit more footage onto a memory card, but the option to use the more universally compatible Motion JPEG instead is also provided.

Additional options compared to the ZS5 comprise a 'wind cut' option to adjust audio for wind noise, and an option to append GPS data to video files shot in the AVCHD format. Zooming is possible when shooting video with the ZS7, just as it is with the ZS5, and it is similarly slow compared to still shooting. Face detection AF is available in video shooting as well.

We shot our test targets with the ZS7 in the AVCHD Lite format, and the Panasonic has done a good job of both exposure and color. Video is smooth, and with the exception of of a very slight granularity in shadows, output is very clean. One of the benefits of the AVCHD Lite format over the more standard Motion JPEG is that more video can be stored per megabyte of memory. Motion JPEG files shot with the ZS7 look indistinguishable to those created with the ZS5.

Note: we originally saw and commented on serious compression artefacts in AVCHD Lite video clips shot with the ZS7 when viewed in VLC Player 1.0.3. After further analysis of the footage in the recent version 1.1.0 update of VLC, we are happy to report that video files from the ZS7 are of a very high quality and the text above has been amended accordingly.

Panasonic ZS7 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps
Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: large file!)
File size: 16.2MB, 10 secs .MTS File size: 10MB, 6 secs .avi File size: 21.5MB, 10 secs .MTS

Ricoh CX3

The Ricoh offers a choice of video recording modes, from QVGA to 720p, but optical zoom is disabled during video shooting, and replaced by a smoother (and obviously silent) 2.8x digital zoom. Autofocus control is fairly comprehensive though, and includes face-detection, multi and spot AF modes, continuous AF and an infinity AF setting. White balance can also be set manually using all of the same presets that are available when shooting stills, including a manual (custom) WB option.

The CX3 is one of the cameras in this test with a dedicated video mode position on its main shooting mode dial, and black bars appear on the top and bottom of the image when 720p video is selected, showing the appropriate image area.

Despite its huge files, the CX3 is amongst the weaker models in this group when it comes to its video quality, and compared to some of the other cameras, movie clips shot with the CX3 are rather murky, and somewhat soft. Fine detail is poorly rendered, although motion is fluid, and transitions from areas of difference luminance are smooth. Camera shake is an issue with the CX3, though, and as our studio tests show, the Ricoh's image stabilization is clearly less efficient than some of the other cameras in this test. This is especially apparent in our clip of the Newton's cradle. On the plus side, exposure and white balance are accurate, even if the footage lacks contrast compared to results from some of the Ricoh's competitors.

Ricoh CX3 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps
Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: large file!)
File size: 45.2MB, 10 secs .avi File size: 25.1MB, 6 secs .avi File size: 47MB, 10 secs .avi

Samsung HZ35W

The HZ35W offers perhaps the most comprehensive feature set in video mode of any of the cameras in this group test. As well as the usual choice of resolutions (QVGA, VGA, 1280x720p and 1280x720p 'HQ') it is also possible to adjust frame rate (up to 60fps in QVGA capture) white balance, exposure (using exposure compensation), metering mode, and various color modes and effects filters.

When the main exposure mode dial is rotated to the movie position, the full range of video shooting parameters can be adjusted, but even in still shooting mode, video can be captured with a single press of the red button (at whatever parameters you used last time). Something that caught us out when filming with the HZ35W is that by default, the audio is cut while the lens is zoomed. The logic behind this 'feature' is that by cutting the audio temporarily, the sound of the lens zooming isn't captured on the soundtrack of video footage. The downside is that you might conclude (as we did) that the camera is faulty. Fortunately it isn't, and this setting can be changed in the 'voice' section of the video shooting menu.

Video performance from the Samsung is something of a mixed bag. Whilst exposure is accurate, and the camera's AWB system has coped well with the mixture of artificial and natural light in our studio, saturation is relatively low. Compression artefacts are noticeable when footage is paused and advanced frame by frame, and a general slight softness doesn't help. In 'real world' shooting, however, these issues are unnoticeable.

Samsung HZ35W 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps
Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: large file!)

File size: 12.5MB, 10 secs .MP4 File size: 7.9MB, 6 secs .MP4 File size: 13MB, 10 secs .MP4

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55

The H55 offers 720p video shooting, in two modes, 'standard' and 'high quality' as well as VGA resolution. Control is relatively limited, but it is possible to adjust exposure (using exposure compensation), white balance and metering mode, as well as image stabilization. Stabilization is available in two modes - 'standard' and 'active'. The latter mode is designed to correct more extreme movement.

Unlike its near-relative the HX5, the H55 cannot record stereo sound, and movie files are recorded in the Motion JPEG format, rather than AVCHD. As with the Panasonic FZ5, the benefit of the H55's movie files compared to ACVHD footage shot with the HX5 is primarily versatility. Motion JPEG files are larger than AVCHD, but for the moment at least, Motion JPEG is more universally compatible format. Autofocus is continuous in movie shooting, and the optical zoom lens can be used during filming.

The H55 gives good results in video mode, and captures crisp and colorful footage, without any obvious compression artefacts. Our test scenes are generally well-rendered, but the colored cogs shot (filmed towards the long end of the zoom) does look rather grainy when viewed frame-by-frame, which masks some of the finer detail. A similar effect is noticeable in the station roof of our model train scene, where the corrugation is almost completely invisible. Like several of the other cameras in this group though, the H55's topplate-mounted microphone has a tendency to pick up sounds above and behind the camera, as well as in front of it.

Sony Cyber-shot H55 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps
Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: large file!)
File size: 11.7MB, 10 secs .MP4 File size: 7.1MB, 6 secs .MP4 File size: 11.8MB, 10 secs .MP4

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5

The HX5 offers almost exactly the same video functionality as the H55, with the exception of its file format, and its impressive 1920x1080 maximum resolution. The HX5 is the only camera in this group to offer 'full HD', and this, along with its ability to record stereo sound, is bound to make the HX5 appealing to keen videographers, as well as stills photographers. Resolution choice in the AVCHD format is restricted to 1920x1080 and 1440x1080. Footage captured at the lower resolution is recorded at a rate of 9Mb/s as opposed to 17Mb/s at the highest quality setting. For this reason, it is possible to fit roughly twice as much footage on a memory card when the HX5's video is set to 1440x1080 output.

We shot our test targets in the AVCHD format with the HX5, and the extra resolution of the Sony's footage is immediately apparent in slightly better detail overall, compared to most of the other cameras in this group. We played back video from the HX5 on a 27in HD display and it looks great.

The fine horizontal lines that characterise interlaced video are obvious when movie clips are paused, but during playback, the footage looks smooth and detailed. Colors and exposure are accurate, and the HX5's video shows no evidence of compression. Like the H55 though, the HX5's optical image stabilization is unable to completely neutralise the effects of camera shake when shooting video.

Sony Cyber-shot HX5 1920 x 1080 pixels (interlaced)
Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: large file!)
File size: 22.9MB, 10 secs .MTS File size: 13.5MB, 6 secs .MTS File size: 22.2MB, 10 secs .MTS