12 reasons to shoot video using pocket size Canon HD cameras
This article outlines 12 benefits of shooting video using pocket sized Canon HD cameras with 720P CCD sensors only. Canon have a newer cameras available now with CMOS sensors capable of shooting 1080P video, but I will NOT recommend any of these cameras, mostly due to rolling shutter issues caused by the CMOS sensors they use. I have also become aware of the fact that some of these newer models won’t even allow the exposure to be locked.
12 reasons to shoot video using pocket size Canon HD cameras [with 720P HD CCD sensors]
At the bottom of this I article I have included a list of all the Canon compact cameras with 720P HD CCD sensors that I do recommend. So lets get this started…
01) They’re small and will easily fit in your pocket
This is possibly the biggest draw card for most current users of these cameras. Having a camera capable of professional quality results in your pocket will provide you with that extra sense of creative freedom while you’re out and about. No worrying about having to carry a bulky bag with you wherever you go. The accessories are small too. A couple of spare batteries will easily fit in the same pocket, or a separate pocket if you don’t want them knocking against the camera. As they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. And with something that will fit in a pocket, there’s really no reason not to carry it with you at all times.
Me personally, I take my Canon S95 everywhere I go. It’s always in my pocket. Most other people wouldn’t be without a mobile phone in their pocket. But me, no I leave my phone at home about 50% of the time, but will always have the S95 with me. There will always be interesting video or photo opportunities.
02) The freedom to shoot in public without drawing attention
When shooting short films or music videos in public places with a camera that fits in your pocket, you will most probably never be asked for a shooting permit. With such a small camera, nobody will ever suspect that you’re shooting video professionally. If anything, most people will assume you’re a tourist or an amateur trying out their new camera to see if it works. This won’t be applicable in all situations, as you may sometimes need a boom mic, but for shooting music videos and cut away footage, I can’t imagine there ever being a problem.
As an example, the opening part of this video was shot in a well known bar. We never had permission to shoot there at all. We just went there, the guys got changed into their suits in the toilets and I shot the sequence. What if the management had walked in while we were shooting? Think about it, a guy standing around shooting some video of his mates on a tiny pocket sized camera.. How can that be a professional video shoot? Where’s the real video camera, the lighting gear, the boom mic? Based on this experience, think of where else you could shoot at?
03) 720P files are a lot easier to deal with than 1080P, whilst still providing enough detail
Two years ago if you’d have asked me, I would probably have told you that 720P just wasn’t good enough, and that we should all be shooting at 1080P. But at the end of the day, there’s really not a huge difference. Play a 720P movie full screen, and it will still look good.
Personally, what changed my thinking here was when I first started shooting with the Canon Ixy 510 IS. Or more specifically, when I first used it to shoot music videos. It was an experiment really. The first video I shot had a number of flaws. At the time I had not yet figured out how to lock the exposure, and I hadn’t even adjusted the colour for a more filmic look. But people loved that video! The next one shot on that camera was better. Comparing this videos to others I had shot using my HV20 video camera and SG Pro 35mm adapter (which let me shoot with Nikon lenses), I didn’t really notice much difference in detail. If anything, the 720P footage looked more detailed.
Even compared to newer cameras that clearly offer more resolution such as Panasonic’s GH2, 720P still doesn’t look too bad. To my eyes, a lot of clips I’ve seen from the GH2 look too sharp. Or even fake in a way? I can’t pinpoint exactly why they appear that way. But at the end of the day, if 1080P HD output is required, you can always up-res the 720P footage. There a few plugins around that will let you do this. I’ve used the up-Rez plugin from the Boris FX BCC7 filter suite, and does a great job with the end result retaining all the detail and not looking too soft.
04) These cameras are cheap and will save you a lot of money
Lets say you’re starting a business shooting music videos. You could go out and buy a decent DSLR. A Canon 600D/T3i or 550D/T2i for example. You would be looking at paying somewhere around $800. Most of the time these cameras come with a kit lens. These are usually quite slow, starting at f3.5, when you really need something starting around f2.8 (the lower the f-stop number the better). For an extra $400 you can pick up a decent f2.8 zoom lens. So that’s $1200 so far, and without any extras such as spare batteries or a memory card. Need to shoot macro close up shots? That will be extra for a decent macro lens or close up filters. On top of that, you’re still going to have to deal with the problems associated with these cameras. Rolling shutter, an image sensor that will overheat, other artifacts such as moire and aliasing, and larger file sizes.
In comparison, lets look at what I consider to be the best pocket sized camera out there, Canon’s S95. They’re around $400. Look online for the best price. For the price, you’re getting a fast lens with an f2.0 speed at 28mm. In a comparison with a client’s Canon 550D + kit lens during a recent video shoot, the S95 was clearly a lot better in low light. That video was shot on the 550D, but my client has requested that any future video I shoot for him be shot on the S95. The camera will also enable you to shoot great looking macro shots without an additional lens. Now with the money you save on not buying a DSLR and a decent lens, there’s a lot more you can buy. A few options might be a good lighting kit for around, a 160 LED portable light panel, a decent audio recorder such as one of the Zoom models, a Lensmate adapter and filters, a reflector, and any number of other useful accessories. Spare batteries too are a lot more affordable.
05) Shooting hand held is a lot simpler due to the small size and weight of the cameras
Providing you know how to shoot correctly, in most cases using your whole body as the pivot rather than your wrists or elbows, you should be able to get some great hand held footage using a small point and shoot camera. Moving macro shots for example. I’ve been able to capture some great looking macro shots that just wouldn’t be possible with a regular handycam style video camera, or even a Flip style camera. Walking backwards with someone walking towards the camera too.
There are companies such as Zacuto who sell a hand grip style mount for point and shoot cameras. Their claim is that you can’t shoot decent hand held footage with the camera alone. Based on my own experience shooting with these cameras, I believe they’re wrong, and are most probably making that claim in order to convince people to buy their product. So my advice would not be to get caught up in such hype, as a device like that won’t improve your shooting. The same results you get from their device can be achieved shooting on a pocket sized tripod hand held. The most important thing to learn is balance. Learning to walk with a book on your head and shooting video at the same time will be a lot more beneficial. And as mentioned, learning to shoot using your body as the pivot, locking your arms tightly around the camera and not moving them. All movement should come from your body, although some elbow movement won’t hurt once you’re comfortable shooting this way.
I’ll add here that when shooting hand held, I leave the camera’s image stabilisation turned on. With the Canon range, apparently this works digitally, meaning that the edges of the image may be cropped to compensate for the movement. But personally I’ve never noticed any loss in detail, so my advice would be to leave it turned on. When shooting on a tripod you could turn it off, but even then, I don’t think the results would be any different. It’s definitely a lot better than the image stabilisation on most older camcorder style devices, even many of those that used optical stabilisation.
06) The CCD sensor will mean you never have to worry about rolling shutter or other artifacts caused by CMOS sensors
The CCD sensors in Canon’s range of small point and shoot cameras are one of the main reasons I’m such a big fan of them. They have recently released a number of models with CMOS sensors, but I will not recommend them at all due to their highly sensitive CMOS sensors that can cause problems such as those clearly visible in this video. Horrible right? Rolling shutter problems occur due to the camera’s CMOS sensor scanning the image from top to bottom over time. As a result, panning the camera quickly from left to right will cause the image to become skewed. Most cameras these days use CMOS sensors, and the rolling shutter artifacts don’t appear to be improving much on any of them. I’ve even seen rolling shutter problems occur in Red One footage shot using the newer MX sensor. Not good for such an expensive camera.
Photographic camera flashes and strobes are also a major problem with CMOS sensors. Due to the time it takes for a CMOS sensor to scan the image, a camera flash, lightning or strobe light will only fill half the frame. I actually shot a wedding once with my HV20 which has a CMOS sensor, and a number of shots were ruined by camera flashes only filling half the frame. The advice given when shooting with CMOS sensor cameras is to hold the camera steady in order to avoid any rolling shutter becoming visible. But in the case of cameras flashes and strobes, it just isn’t possible to avoid these problems occurring.
So once again, the CCD sensors in the small Canon cameras I use, I believe are one of their biggest advantages. CCD sensors capture the entire frame from top to bottom simultaneously. So skew from moving the camera side to side too quickly, or stretching from moving the camera up and down too quickly and camera flashes only filling half the frame, will never be problem on cameras with CCD sensors. An added advantage here is that for anyone doing any kind of 3D match moving where a live shot needs to be digitally tracked for 3D visual effects elements to be added, shooting on a camera with a CCD sensor will make the job a lot easier as skewed footage won’t be as accurate.
That said, there is one minor disadvantage when shooting with these smaller cameras that use CCD sensors, and that’s smear. This can occur when pointing the camera at a bright light source. A vertical flare will appear from the light source. It has become visible in few of my videos shot with these cameras such as this one, but it can be avoided just by being careful with where you point the camera. And to be honest, in many cases I don’t mind the look of it! Such flares also occur when shooting with expensive digital movie cameras such as the Panavision Genesis. As well as being used to shoot a number of big name feature films, the Genesis is also used to shoot tv shows such as Stargate Universe. Anybody who’s seen that show may have noticed a few vertical flares appear on lights from time to time. Not such a bad thing.
One other advantage of using a camera with a CCD sensor – In a video I shot for 206 Collab, there was one shot that called for some camera shake. This is something you wouldn’t attempt on a camera with a CMOS sensor. The rolling shutter skew and stretching caused by shaking the camera would make the shot look extremely ugly, much like the movement in the example I posted above. But the S95 with it’s CCD sensor, handled the shot perfectly, and it just looks like the camera shake you would typically see in any Star Trek tv episode or film.
07) Limitations of these cameras force you to be more creative
Many people will view the lack of full manual control as being one of the biggest disadvantages of shooting with small point and shoot cameras and will not even give them a second thought. With the Canon cameras I use there is an exposure lock in video mode, and that is pretty much all I use. During bright daylight, these camera will normally be forced into using a high shutter in video mode to compensate for the bright light of the sun. For video this look, similar to the look of the opening beach scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan, is not always desirable. On the S95 I use a filter adapter and ND filters to avoid the higher shutter speeds, as I wrote about in this article.
One of the other limitations with these cameras is that the focus is locked as soon as you start shooting. Although many consumers and product reviewers will write this off as being a flaw, I actually heavily applaud this feature! The alternative option would be continuous autofocus where the camera will attempt to adjust the focus automatically whilst the video is being recorded which can be very problematic. One example I can think of is a blogger I know of with a Panasonic GF1. The lens on his GF1 has continuous autofocus. In his videos I notice that will he’s talking, the camera will sometimes switch focus from him to something else at the back. But with the cameras I’m recommending here, if you focus on an object one meter away and start shooting, the camera’s focus will be locked at that distance for the duration of the video. For me this is a bonus, as I know how far I can stray from the subject before losing focus. If you need to be closer or further away, just shoot a second take and cut the two shots together when editing. As a result your video will look more professional.
The same applies to zooming. On most of these cameras zooming will be locked once you start recording a video. If you find that you can actually zoom whilst shooting, in most cases this will mean the digital zoom on your camera is turned on. This should be avoided at all costs! Go to the settings, and where you see a setting for digital zoom, turn it off. Digital zoom works by cropping the image, so you end up losing resolution. 720P HD can easily become VGA resolution video or worse, just by using the digital zoom. That said I view the lack of zoom as being a bonus. If you need to go from a wide shot to a medium close, simply shoot two separate takes at different focal lengths and edit them together. Once again, this will make your video look more professional. I have seen zoom shots used very effectively in many hip hop music videos, but at the end of the day you don’t need it.
08) Brilliant macro capabilities
I briefly covered this earlier. Essentially the macro (close up) mode in these cameras is very good. For shooting music videos I shoot in macro mode quite a lot. For close ups of faces, or other random shots, macro shots will usually always provide you with something interesting to work with. Due to a lack of shallow depth of field and blurry backgrounds shooting on smaller cameras such as these, grabbing a few shots in macro mode will give you that look with the nice blurry background.
In a recent video I completed, towards the end of the video I used a couple of shots where I set the camera to macro mode and focused on an object in the foreground, which put the artist who was standing in the background out of focus. It worked quite nicely and added interest to the video. The close up shots of his face in this video were shot with the camera set to macro also.
Another huge advantage of having great macro capabilities like this is when you need to shoot a small object such as a mobile phone. Using Canon’s S95 allows you to focus as close as 5cm away. My older Ixy 510 IS allowed focusing of only 1 or 2cm. The candle and mobile phone shots in that same video I just mentioned are a great example. And the speed at which you can grab shots like this on a camera such as the S95, will save save you a lot of time in the long run. Many camcorders do of course offer this capability too, but positioning them correctly to get the shot may not be as simple.
09) They’re able to be used in tiny places not suitable for larger cameras
Once again, there are some huge advantages here. When you think about it, there’s not really anywhere a small point and shoot camera cannot be placed. Video DSLR cameras are already quite popular for video now because they can be used in small spaces. An example being LucasFilm deciding to use the DSLR cameras for cockpit shots for the upcoming Red Tails movie. Point and shoot cameras are even smaller and a lot lighter! One example I can think of right off the top of my head would be attaching one of these cameras to a radio controlled car. That could provide some interesting footage, yes? Could you do this with a heavy DSLR or an average sized camcorder? Most probably not.
Another example would be mounting the cameras to the windscreen of a car using a cheap suction mount device that can be bought on eBay for a few dollars. This is exactly what I used in this video for all the shots of NJE in the car. I was driving and the Canon S95 was mounted upside down on the windscreen. The footage was later flipped in post using Cineform Neo HD whilst converting the files from h.264 mov files to the Cineform 4:2:2 .avi format.
10) Great image quality, and simple to colour grade
I must say, there’s just something special about the image quality and look you get from these little cameras. Over the past year I’ve worked with footage from my older Canon HV20, the Canon Ixy 510 IS and S95, a friend’s Panasonic HVX152 semi pro video camera, and more recently a Canon 550D DSLR. Out of all these cameras, the footage that looked by far the best [to my eyes] came from the cameras with CCD sensors. Those being the Canon Ixy 510 IS, S95, and Panasonic HVX152. The image appears to be more refined and solid looking, possibly due to the CCD sensor. Even more so, any digital noise that occurs appears to have a more filmic look to it.
The image quality from the older HV20 doesn’t quite stack up when compared to some of these new cameras. Eugenia proved this in her article here comparing footage from the Canon SX200, which shares the same sensor as my Ixy 510 IS. Footage from the 550D can look good, and I’ve seen some amazing shot using that particular camera. But once again, excluding shallow depth of field comparisons, I honestly don’t believe the image quality is on par with a camera such as the S95. Even more so when you look at the aliasing and moire artifacts very often visible in footage shot on the 550D (T2i), 7D, etc. As Barry Green wrote about in this article, the actual resolution is a lot less than the cameras shoot at. Up-res some S95 footage to 1080P and I guarantee the footage will look as good as, or if not better.
For colour grading I’ve never had any real problems with footage from the Ixy 510 and S95. Once you start tweaking the colours, not a lot is lost. With the HV20 I had problems quite often, and working with footage from the 550D, things weren’t the best there either. One thing I found was that high ISO noise from the 550D was a lot more difficult to deal with. With noise reduction especially, using Neat Video to remove all the colourful noise in the video. The noise was a lot chunkier, and Neat Video really struggled to remove it. The noise from the S95 is a lot finer, more like film grain, so is a lot easier to deal with. Most of the other cameras I recommend using here don’t so well at all in low light unfortunately, which is why I would recommend paying extra for an S95 if you plan on doing any kind of night time shooting.
11) Hardly anybody else is using them for video
Take a look around YouTube and Vimeo and you’ll be lucky if you find any professional looking videos shot using tiny point and shoot cameras, or more specifically, any shot using the Canon models I refer to in this article. A few of mine might pop up, or you might be lucky to spot a few Philip Bloom blog videos he’s shot using his S95. But overall, you won’t find too many. Why is this a good thing? Well essentially, in this day and age where every man and his dog are shooting videos on DSLR cameras, what you’re going to end up with here are more unique looking videos unlike the usual shallow depth of field videos everyone else is shooting. Comparing the footage from a camera such as the S95 to other non-shallow DOF footage from more professional cameras including the Panasonic HVX200, or even their newer HPX150, you’ll probably find the low light performance of the S95 to be better than these cameras. This would be due to the larger sensor used in the S95, yet again providing a more unique look.
Lets not forget the perception people have of these cameras. People are always amazed when they discover what is possible using these tiny cameras. I remember one time I visited Mr Zux for his birthday. He had a friend there who had shot a few music videos in the past. Decent videos too from what I saw. The guy had brought along all his camera gear. He had a Canon 7D, a number of L Series lenses, a Zacuto Z-finder, a variable ND filter, and a bunch of other gear. Adding up the cost of what he had, I’m sure he would have spent a small fortune on all that gear. We showed him this video shot on the Ixy 510 IS (SD 960 IS) and he was impressed! Now I will never forget the stunned look on his face when I pulled the Ixy 510 IS out of my pocket and said to him “Yeah, I shot it on this thing” 🙂
And of course I wouldn’t be writing this article if I didn’t feel so strongly about these cameras! I could easily go out and buy myself a Canon 600D (T3i) along with a nice Tamron f2.8 17 to 50mm zoom lens, which I have actually considered due to the digital zoom feature on the 600D. But no, I’m sticking with the S95. If Canon ever kill off all their CCD sensor cameras, I’ll buy myself a second S95, and maybe even more as spares. At least until any of of these camera companies eventually get around to releasing cameras with global shutter sensors (no rolling shutter artifacts).
12) They’re great for photos and timelapse videos too!
I’m really stating the obvious here, but these cameras were designed for photography. Anybody able to master the video capabilities of these cameras should easily be able to get some great photos out of them. And with the S95 especially, you have full manual control, and you can even shoot in RAW. These features alone have made the S95 and the S90 before it hugely popular with photographers. Visit any camera forum and you’ll see people raving about how good these cameras are. Of course the similar limitations apply to photography, and the lack of a larger lens and other features can force you to be more creative on the photo side of things too.
And lastly, in photo mode you’re able to shoot timelapse videos. Here’s a great video tutorial on how to do that with the S95. I’ve used much the same method in the past myself. I would set the camera to shoot continuously, roll up some paper, place it on the photo button, and then lock it down using a rubber band or some sticky tape. At night you can set a longer exposure time. Four seconds for example, and the camera will continue taking photos every four seconds for as long as the button is held down. Need a shorter time interval between photos? Just decrease the shutter speed. Shooting during the day, the camera may end up taking 2 or 3 photos per second, in which case, adding a couple of ND filters to block the light entering the camera will enable you set a longer shutter speed, hence increasing the interval between photos.
Below I’ve included a list of cameras that I would recommend. The requirements being that they’re small enough to fit in a pocket, the lenses are no slower than f2.8 at full wide angle, include lenses starting at 28mm or 24mm, are all capable of 720P HD, and all use CCD sensors. All the cameras I’ve listed below are by Canon. I favour these because they nearly record video at a bitrate of around 24mbps, or slightly less for the 24P framerate models, and allow you to lock the exposure when shooting video.
Canon Powershot S95 – 28mm-105mm, f2.0 to f4.9, 5cm macro, 24P video Please Note: This is essentially the only camera I would really recommend here. It’s the top of the range Canon compact camera. The price is around $400 (less if you shop around), but for you get it’s well worth it. The main advantages being the faster f2.0 lens, and the larger 1/1.7″ sensor. These both allow great results shooting in low light conditions. See this video here which was shot entirely at night to see what I’m talking about. Another advantage of this camera is that vertical flare artifacts which occur pointing the camera at a bright light, are minimal.
Unfortunately the low light performance shooting of the cameras below is not as good, although you shouldn’t have any problems shooting during daylight with any of them. But of course I would only recommend any of these cameras below if you’re on a strict budget and cannot afford an S95.
Canon PowerShot A2200 – 28mm-112mm, f2.8 to f5.9, 3cm macro, 30P video
Canon PowerShot A1200 – 28mm-112mm, f2.8 to f5.9, 3cm macro, 24P video
Canon PowerShot A3300 IS – 28mm-140mm, f2.8 to f5.9, 3cm macro, 24P video
Canon PowerShot SD3500 IS / Ixus 210 / Ixy 10S – 24mm-120mm, f2.8 to f5.9, 3cm macro, 30P video
Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS / Ixus 130 / Ixy 400F – 28mm-112mm, f2.8 to f5.9, 3cm macro, 30P video
Canon PowerShot SD940 IS /Ixus 120 IS – 28mm-112mm, f2.8 to f5.9, 3cm macro, 30P video
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS / Ixus 200 IS – 24mm-120mm, f2.8 to f5.9, 3cm macro, 30P video
Canon PowerShot SD960 IS / Ixus 110 IS / Ixy 510 IS – 28mm-112mm, f2.8 to f5.8, 2cm macro, 30P video