Friday, March 18, 2005

Progress in consumer electronics is not linear

In fact, sometimes progress moves in reverse. The entire consumer camcorder market has gone to seed!

Consdier the Optura 50

Last year Canon's mid-range cameras had a reasonable wide-angle lens and S-video analog input.

This year Canon's mid-range camera have no S-video and mediocre wide-angle (thought the Elura 90 has a wide angle adapter in the box).

The high end cameras have S-video and mediocre wide-angle and lots of noise at low light levels. The wide angle adapter is yet more money.

The zoom is very annoying. At least they post their 35mm equivalents

f=4.6-46 mm, f/1.8-2.8, 10x power zoom
35mm equivalent:
Tape: 4:3 recording: 47.8-478 mm
16:9 recording: 40.9-409 mm

A 48mm lens is basically a standard lens. So there's no wide angle at all. Zip.

Most of the video I do is of our kids in the house. The only use for a 10x zoom (or a 20x zoom in the smaller sensor Elura 90) is for a close-up of nasal hair.

Update 3/19: I pursued this further with a usenet thread.

Paul Rubin kindly filled me in. He recommended I look for a used SONY TRV 900.
There is no mystery. The consumer market wanted camcorders to also be able to take megapixel still pictures, which means megapixel sensors, smaller pixels for a given sensor size, which means less light hitting each pixel, which means worse low-light performance. The TRV900 came from before the era of megapixel stills, so it had big pixels and good low-light performance. The VX2100 similarly doesn't take megapixel stills because somewhat outside the normal consumer market (it's a semi-pro camera popular with student filmmakers and the like), so its users don't want that feature.
And Ptravel added some more grim news about what's happened to camcorder sensors:
The VX2000/2100 uses, if I recall correctly, 1/3" sensors. I think the TRV900 used 1/4" sensors. The current line of consumer camcorders uses sensors as small as 1/6". Remember, too, that light sensitivity will decrease logarithmically rather than linerally as sensor size falls.
So the mystery is solved. It was good product management and stupid consumers that destroyed the consumer camcorder market. Still camera capability is a marker for a camcorder that can't handle low light situations.

Update 3/20/05: A plaintive letter to SONY in Jan 2003. Two years later, things are worse.

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