A Short Course Book
Curtin's Guide to Digital Cameras
And Other Photographic Equipment

Shooting Movies

Movies can be played back on a computer equipped with the right software.

The almost universally recognized movie mode icon.

Click to see a movie captured with a still camera’s movie mode.

Professional quality video is 30 fps but many cameras capture fewer than that.
Many digital cameras can capture short video clips that you can easily share with others by e-mail or using one of the many Web sites devoted to hosting short video clips. Although most SLR cameras can’t capture movies, there are exceptions. The problem is that SLR cameras don’t create an image on the sensor until the shutter is open so there is no stream of images created from which to make frames in a movie. To overcome this problem, one company (Olympus) uses a second sensor in the viewfinder to feed images to the monitor or to capture movies.

In most cases, image sizes are reduced from those used to capture still images so the camera can process the video as it’s being captured and so file sizes are as small as possible. Sizes normally range from a very small 160 x 120 to a current maximum TV quality 640 x 480 (VGA) or 1280 x 720 (HDTV).

Most digital cameras use AVI, MOV, or MPEG video formats so you can view or share them in a number of ways. (If your video isn’t in the “right” format, you can find programs that convert it by Googling for “video conversion”).

  • Your computer can play back movies as long as it’s equipped with the appropriate software. This software comes with your camera, usually on a CD, but most new computer systems already have it installed.
  • TV movies have to be in the MPEG format and on a Video CD or DVD disc. However, you can play back any format when you use a cable to connect your camera to the TV or VCR and use the camera as the playback device.
  • E-mail is a great way to distribute short video clips but anything longer than a few seconds may be too large to send. The recipient also has to have the necessary playback software installed to view the video.
  • Web sites, such as YouTube.com, that let you share movies with friends are popping up all over. You just upload your clip and send friends its address. When they visit the site that hosts your video, they can download or play it.
  • iPods and other portable devices play video clips in the formats they support.
  • Printing individual frames from a video clip is possible on some cameras when printing directly from the camera to an attached printer.
Just playing back a video isn’t all you can do with it. There are programs you can use to edit it or you can incorporate it into other, larger projects. For example, you can insert movies into slide shows or even play them as wallpaper on your desktop. It’s amazing how stringing together a series of very short clips can tell an interesting story.

One camera has a special button that when pressed will begin recording movies no matter what else you are doing. This ensures you never miss a movie opportunity while fumbling with menus or buttons. The same camera lets you take still photos while recording a movie. This is a perfect integration of features that are quite separate on most cameras.

Some camera let you do basic editing in the camera. For example, you can remove beginning and ending sections to isolate the most important section.

Although digital zoom is a useless feature in most cases, it does add something to movies which can’t be zoomed past the limits of optical zoom after they have been shot. The same can be said for special effects such as sepia tones and black and white modes.
When considering features, keep in mind that most of the great images in the history of photography were taken using cameras that only let you control focus, the aperture, and the shutter speed.

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