Digital Cameras and Digital Video Update

Welcome to the year 2000! Hopefully, youíve survived the Y2K scare/crisis. Iím sure there will probably be a few DOS applications that might not be 100% Y2K compatible still running but there are probably newer and better applications to take over for those old ones. If youíre a developer or consultant you might be busier than ever trying to help those customers that waited till the last minute or didnít do anything until January 1, 2000. Hopefully not!

Over the last couple of years weíve seen the cost of computers plummet and itís incredibly good news for you the consumer. Iím even amazed at how inexpensive you can purchase a 40GB hard drive for now. Iíve seen them for under $300 and those are even Ultra DMA 66 drives. You may be wondering who would ever need such a large hard drive. If so, read on. As more and more digital cameras and digital video cameras get purchased as they keep coming down in price, youíll definitely need these large hard drives just to keep up with your collection of photos and being able to edit your home video on your PC. Youíll also want to purchase a CD-R or CD-R/W drive to offload your hard drive and make backups of your photos when you fill your hard drive. Below is my latest take on the industry now in the world of Digital Cameras and Digital Video.

Digital Still Cameras

I wrote an article in September 1998 covering digital photography and video editing and a lot has changed since then. Digital camera technology keeps improving and 2 megapixel cameras are in reach of most consumers. Iíve seen them starting in the $500 - $600 price range. The top of the line 2+ megapixel cameras are still closer to $1000 and some are even higher. There are a lot of different features and theyíre not all created equal. One of the most important things to look for in a digital camera today though is the memory storage technology that it uses. This one item will determine how many photos you can take before needing to download your pictures to your computer. Memory cards are expensive and itís unaffordable to carry them around like rolls of film. The most common memory used by digital cameras is Compact Flash and SmartMedia. Some cameras do use floppy disks but at high resolutions you are going to be very limited as to the number of photos you can store on a single floppy. Therefore, Iím going to discuss Compact Flash and SmartMedia. These two technologies vary in shape and size and how much they can store. SmartMedia is currently limited to about 64MB while Compact Flash has reached 128MB. Compact Flash is more expensive, but since it can hold more data, itís your best bet to look for a camera that supports Compact Flash.

Downloading Your Photos to Your PC

So how do you get your photos to your PC from the memory cards. Well, youíll need an adapter for either of these two technologies in order to download your photos to your computer. They come in all sorts of flavors varying from floppy disk adapters to parallel port or serial port adapters and USB type adapters. If you have a notebook computer you can purchase a PC Card adapter to pop the card into your PC Card slot. This is probably the fastest way to download the images to your PC. Many cameras have a serial cable connection connection to download directly from your camera, but you will find it excruciatingly slow to use and will quickly find yourself wanting a USB or PC Card adapter. However, some cameras such as the Kodak DC260 Ė DC290 series have a USB cable connection which is much quicker than a serial connection. However, there is nothing like having an adapter that makes your memory card look like a hard drive that you can quickly and easily copy the image files right over to your hard drive.

Resolution and Image File Sizes

The newer cameras are taking higher resolution photos, which is great for printing larger photographs. Until recently printing photos larger than 4x6 or 5x7 was like printing a mosaic due to the limited camera resolutions. But with resolutions above 2 megapixels, 8x10 photos look great. Higher resolutions means larger image file sizes They can get pretty huge. Olympus has a new camera, the C2500L that supports both types of memory media and takes pictures up to 1712x1368. This camera is priced around $1500. It is a high-end camera and is an SLR. Kodak still has their high-high-end cameras that run around $16,000 but theyíre not for the average home user. You still wonít find a camera with interchangeable lenses for under $3000 - $5000 but you can always buy adapters for some of the digital cameras to add zoom or wide-angle features. A single picture at the highest resolution using non-compressed TIFF image files uses up to 6.8MB of memory. That means that an 8MB SmartMedia card will only hold 1 picture. Donít try taking a lot of pictures at a party this way. Luckily there is a JPEG compression option as well and image sizes can vary between 400K to 1MB in size depending on whatís in the photo and how well it can be compressed. There are also varying levels of compression for the JPEG option as well which will also play a factor in the size of the resulting image file.

Digital Video

Digital video cameras themselves havenít really changed that much since my article in 1998. However, the technology for editing that video has. The cameras have only gotten cheaper and more prevalent. This means that youíll be finding them more and more often being purchased for home use. They definitely provide a better image quality over analog video, and better yet, you can edit the video in a digital format from beginning to end with no real generation losses. In the video editing world there have been some major breakthroughs in technology that is allowing us to do some serious editing on a home PC. The biggest help to the digital video world has been the increasing size of hard drive space available in a single drive and the speed at which they transfer data. There are a lot of PCís today that tout the IEEE 1394 interface also known as FireWire or iLink. This interface is what is used to connect a DV video camcorder or DV editing deck to your PC or any other IEEE 1394 device such as a hard drive or another camera. This interface allows you to transfer digital video around to other devices without any loss in quality. When you make a copy of an analog tape to another tape you have a loss in quality known as a generation loss. Each successive copy results in another generation loss until your video so terrible you wonít want to watch it. Well DV and IEEE 1394 solves that problem.

Editing Your DV Video

FireWire technology allows you to transfer the DV video from your DV Camera or Digital 8 camera to your PC and then edit the video on your PC and then save it back to tape. Itís definitely a great tool especially when you just want to pull out certain clips from your video and make a shorter master tape that wonít be so boring to all of your family and friends. Thereís nothing like inviting your friends and family over to watch 11 hours of videotape from your vacation or honeymoon. Thatís why editing your video and packaging it up into a nice little presentation will help you keep yourself in your parentís will and keep your current friends. If you havenít tried capturing video onto your PC and are planning on do it this way be forewarned. YOU NEED A LOT OF HARD DRIVE SPACE!!! One gigabyte of hard drive space is required for only 4.5 minutes of DV video you capture onto your PC. Therefore if you have 2 hours of wedding video to edit you better have at least 26GB of very fast hard drive space available and then some. This is why itís not quite ready for the average consumer. But, in the future it will become more and more accessible. However, there are quite a few new video cards and video editing boards that are making their mark by using MPEG-2 video capture which requires less disk space for the same quality level of video as DV. So if your looking to store more video onto your PC for editing look for a card that does MPEG-2 encoding. C-Cube has a new chipset out that is being used by several companies such as ATI and Pinnacle. You can expect to get nearly 8 minutes of compressed video per gigabyte with the same quality of DV.

Once you get the video onto your hard drive you need a video editing software package to edit the video. Many of the capture cards and video boards that have capture capabilities provide this type of software with them. But another thing to watch out for is the time it takes to render transitions and such when editing your video. You better plan on having a very fast PC. A 3-second render of a 3-D transition can take upwards of 2 to 3 minutes depending on the speed of your PC and the type of transition. An Intel Pentium III is highly recommended for this type of work. A lot of the new releases of video editing software will be supporting the new streaming instructions on the Pentium III processors to help reduce this rendering time. There are some boards available such as Pinnacle Systems DC1000 board that support dual stream real time editing and are incredibly impressive. However, youíll be looking to spend about $3500 for a board of this type. So this board is not for a restricted budget. If youíre looking for some lower cost boards, look to some of the new accelerator video cards such as the ATI All In Wonder 128 card which can capture MPEG-2 video through an S-Video connector directly to your hard drive. However, it does not support DV input such as the DC1000 board with its DV I/O option.

So if youíre looking to do video editing on your PC stock up on lots of hard drive space, lots of memory and as fast of a processor as you can afford. Who knows, you may end editing the next classic like "The Blair Witch Project" on your home PC.


Rich Simpson is president of Mindís Eye, Inc., a software development and IT consulting firm. He has a degree in aerospace engineering and has been designing and developing custom and commercial database applications since 1986. For more information or to download software demos visit their web site at or send e-mail to or call 636-282-2102.



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Last modified: March 02, 2009