Archive for August 31st, 2010

Canon SD780 IS: The cheapest art-capable HD camera on the market

My super-tiny Canon SD780 IS arrived today (also known as IXUS IS 100)! The charger for it is bigger than the camera! I got it with the red color, since that color was cheaper at Amazon (it was $159 last week when I bought it, it’s $169 as I write this). With it, I also bought the Zeikos lens adapter for Canon digicams, so this way I could use my ND filter. See, small-lens digicams tend to record video outdoors in high shutter speeds (lens/algorithmic limitation), so a strong ND filter can help with the situation by forcing the camera to open up its aperture and slow down the shutter speed.

So when I received the camera I set its “Color” settings to flat (contrast, sharpness, saturation, and skin tone set to minimum). These flat settings also maximized the dynamic range of the camera. Then I disabled digital zoom, so I don’t jump into its nasty look by mistake while shooting. Then, while shooting, I reduced 1-2 steps of exposure compensation and locked it there (these digicams tend to over-expose outdoors, so I made sure mine didn’t). I also turned OFF image stabilization, even if I was handheld (to gain a bit more video quality).

The result was a beautiful-looking video of my garden, very clean-looking, and definitely better than many prosumer SD camcorders that used to cost $5000 just a few short years ago! And all that with less than 200 bucks, and at a tiny package. Color grading was very easy, since the “flat” settings created a very nice image that scaled well with color grading.

Check the video below (switch to 720p quality).

Right-click to download an un-processed sample video (14.5 MB), with its original 24mbps video encoding. The only thing I did to it was to re-wrap it to MP4 (from MOV, without lossy video re-encoding), just so it becomes compatible with the PS3 and the XBoX360. You see, that’s where you can really appreciate its quality: on your TV. I just played this unprocessed file on our plasma HDTV via the PS3, and it looked like a million bucks! No one would ever believe that what they see on screen was shot with such a small camera.

If you prefer to watch it on your computer, it’s best watched with any player, except Quicktime (it uses the wrong gamma value with h.264, making videos look washed out). If you must use Quicktime, then load the clip in it, click “Window” from the main menu, “Show Movie Properties”, click on the “Video Track”, then on “Visual Settings”, and then change “Transparency” to “Straight Alpha”. Then, enjoy.

And here are two frames, directly out of the 720p stream, without any post-processing adjustments either.

Now look me in the eye and tell me that you need a better HD camera than this, if you’re just a video art enthusiast. In my opinion, this is the cheapest camera on the market today that has the ALL of the MOST NEEDED video features to do art! It has exposure compensation and locking, and it has color control, so it doesn’t make your footage look like cheap video. Only thing missing is 24p support (in addition to its 30p), but if you’re just doing visual video art without audio, then you can always slow-down your video 20% to 24p to give it the movie look (this trick has worked wonders for me).

Auto-focus works well. Manual focusing is not present as it is in the SX200 IS, but that’s easily fixed by focusing at a temporary object in front of the lens at the desired spot. Only real disadvantage of the SD780 IS is that it’s not good under very low light. Thankfully, I don’t plan to use this camera indoors.

UPDATE: One more video!

UPDATE 2: A 30-sec excerpt for a music video I shot with this cam.