CES is over, and this much is clear: the major camcorder manufacturers each staked out unique ground in the market by announcing devices to please various consumer segments. That is to say, no matter what you prefer in a camcorder – features, design or image quality -- camcorder manufacturers are targeting you in 2011.
Fun Feature Rich
Sony is known for incorporating unique features into its camcorders, both in the Bloggie and Handycam lineup (Golfshot, anyone?), and the 2011 Sony camcorders will be no different. The two chief improvements include 3D, which will make its way down to the Bloggie handheld, and a head-slapping, why-didn't-I-think-of-that feature found in the upcoming Handycams, an embedded mini projector.
Nothing has us more excited than the mini projector, which will be found on the Handycam PJ50V, PJ30V and PJ10 models. Optima teased its Pico projectors for smartphones at last year's CES, and we knew it was only a matter of time before they became small and inexpensive enough to cram onto a camcorder. It's just such an obviously useful feature – and surprising in the sense that an embedded display slightly undercuts Sony's Bravia HDTV line.
Of course, Sony will probably more than make up for lost sales with the Bloggie 3D, which can shoot and show glassesless 3D footage on its 2.4-inch display, or as 3D was intended to be viewed, on any 3D-capable 3D HDTV.
That Sony was able to create a 3D camcorder is impressive, and that the company was able to keep the price at $250 is even more so.
Just like 2010, we expect to have fun reviewing the 2011 Sony Handycam and Bloggie lineup in the coming months, but that doesn't mean Sony is off the hook on video quality. We'll see how well Sony's cameras shoot 2D in addition to the third dimension.
Video Quality First
Contrast Sony with Canon, a company forgoing fun features and concentrating its efforts in producing camcorders capable of shooting the highest possible video quality. How will they do this in 2011? By lowering the megapixel count.
So how does a lower pixel count equal higher video quality? Canon reps explained that a standard 1080-capable HDTV is only able to show approximately two megapixels worth of footage at one time (1080 x 1920 = 2073600). Anything more than that is overkill and leads to footage compression. A native 1080 x 1920/two-megapixel sensor has fewer pixels on a chip than a 10 megapixel sensor of the same size. This means the pixels are larger are more sensitive, which Canon claims results in better performance in low light and a wider dynamic range.
Canon is calling their image sensor the HD CMOS Pro, and it is found on the higher-end of Canon's consumer HD camcorders, including the Vixia HG10 and HF M40 models.
Even though it flies in the face of conventional wisdom that suggests the more megapixels the better, we'll buy it for now. But, we fully intend to find out if Canon's new sensor is all the company claims in our full review of the devices.
More CES Highlights
The other big names in imaging revealed devices, including Panasonic. We were heartened to see some of the features found on last year's incredible TM700 make their way down the line to Panasonic's mid-range models, the HDC-TM90 and SD90, including 1080/60p recording, which was unheard of on any consumer camcorder just a few years ago.
New to Panasonic's high-end 3MOS models (HDC-HS900, TM900, and SD800) is compatibility with the Panasonic 3D conversion lens announced earlier this year, and advanced touch controls, including Touch Zoom for quick and easy zooming and Touch Shutter for automatic focus and still taking with the quick subject tap in the touchscreen.
Samsung and Kodak also announced new pocket camcorders to compete with the Bloggie and market-leading Flip. For Samsung, the HMX-P300 sports a 3X optical zoom, which is a rare feature in pocket camcorders, while Kodak unveiled the tiny PlayFull and an update to the excellent PlaySport, also called the PlaySport – this time sporting shock resistant in addition to being waterproof.
Samsung also furthered its reputation for innovative design with the entry-level HMX-Q10 that can be rotated for either right-handed or left-handed operation. In addition, Sammy introduced Record Pause technology, which enables single clip creation even if the user pauses recording and then resumes.
DCR to Verify
DigitalCameraReview is excited by the 2011 camcorder slate's potential, but we also know not all camcorders are created equal. DCR will cue up the dancing skunk and work hard in the coming year to review these cameras to the fullest in order to inform your 2011 buying decision.