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Cameras With High Ambitions For High-Definition Video

As I've noted before, I'm not a fan of having to carry around multiple devices if a combination gadget can do all of their jobs.

So I had to check out a pocket-sized, point-and-shoot camera--make that, two of them, Kodak;s V1073 and Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FX500.
(Other HD-capable cameras are available or will soon be from Casio, Canon and Samsung.)

And as you can see in today's column, I may have just reviewed too soon. They only delivered recognizably high-def video in certain conditions. You can't expect to take one of these on your next vacation in place of a regulation HD camcorder.

But at the same time, I expect I'll see much better results in a year or two, thanks to continued progress in video encoding software, cameras' processing circuitry and the price of flash memory.

Meantime, in case you were wondering about one thing I didn't get into in the review--how well these cameras work for just taking pictures--here are my thoughts:

* The Kodak is, by an overwhelming margin, easier to use. It employs a touch-screen interface that only exposes relevant commands (though that sometimes means you need to know where to tap to get to the option you want) and is geared towards point-and-shoot types. If you want to set your own shutter or aperture settings, this isn't the model for you.

* The Panasonic goes in the other direction, providing manual control of almost everything and relying on a sometimes-confusing mix of touch-screen controls and tiny buttons and switches.

* Both offer 10 megapixels of still resolution, far more than you're likely to need in everyday use (unless you crop your photos with an axe). They also both include optical image stabilization and face-detection focusing, two of the greatest innovations in digital photography.

* The Panasonic has by far the better zoom lens, a 5x model with wide-angle reach, compared to the Kodak's 3x zoom.

* The Kodak features one of the dumber charging systems around. To replenish its battery, you need to plug a tiny, easily lost dongle into the bottom of the camera, then connect that to a USB cable, which in turn plugs into either your computer or a small power brick.

As I write this, I can't help noticing that the column itself has drawn, um, zero comments and zero e-mails from readers. So I have to ask: Does the ability to record video with a camera--much less HD video--matter to you at all? Let me know...

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 24, 2008; 10:59 AM ET
Categories:  Video  
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