By Joe Paone
Samsung SCD5000 DuoCam
4.13-megapixel digital still camera
Memory Stick slot
I’m reasonably sure that the first attempts at combining chocolate and peanut butter, jazz and rock, even beef and beer, weren’t perfect or definitive attempts, but they remain significant all the same because they broke the mold. Perhaps we should add Samsung’s SCD5000 DuoCam to that list of significant, if not perfect, combinations, as it performs the unprecedented task of melding a digital camcorder with a four-megapixel still camera.
“Now wait,” you say. “Don’t most camcorders come with a digital still camera, too? What’s the big deal here?”
Well, yes, most camcorders come with digital still camera functionality, but the still camera is usually just a low-performance, “nice-to-have” add-on feature of the camcorder. The digital still function in such camcorders generally provides substandard resolution (usually one megapixel or less), and thus less-than-optimal results for photography. If you’re at all serious about taking snapshots, you’d probably want to tote your digital camera along with you on a trip, rather than rely solely on a generic camcorder’s lackluster still camera. (The same goes for emerging, very cool “four-in-one” devices, like the tiny, $399 Panasonic e-Wear product, which serves as a camcorder, camera, MP3 player and video recorder in one little box. It’s intended to be a jack of all trades, but a master of none.)
The DuoCam seeks to put the camcorder and the digital still camera on more or less equal footing by building in separate image capture chips for each function. To appeal to the more discriminating photographer, the DuoCam camcorder supports a separate lens and CCD entirely for digital stills — a healthy 4.13-megapixel photo CCD, in fact. That’s at least four times as much resolution as most camcorders’ built-in photo CCDs, and just a megapixel or two shy of the resolution of leading stand-alone cameras. It can produce images with 2,272×1,704 resolution, which completely blows away the average camcorder’s still camera function. Even cooler, there’s a pop-up flash built-in, and a 3x optical zoom. Pictures are saved to a Memory Stick card; video is stored on a MiniDV tape.
Still, the DuoCam doesn’t “feel” like a camera. The look and feel is definitely that of a camcorder. But Samsung’s design is the best possible that I can imagine given the dual-lens requirement.
You might suspect that the DuoCam, as a result of these dual lenses, would be bulky. But it isn’t—it weighs only a little more than a pound (without the battery attached and the tape inserted), and it’s surprisingly easy to hold. In fact, it’s easier to hold than some low-end MiniDV camcorders I’ve used. The dual lenses are actually housed together in one rotating, swiveling body. You rotate to the appropriate lens, which is then exposed, while the other lens is tucked away inside the device. It’s an ingenious design, and while it takes some getting used to, it’s much preferable to the alternative, which would be to have the lenses fixed side by side.
As for the DuoCam’s MiniDV camcorder, it produces good video. You have a 680×480-pixel CCD, a 10x optical zoom and an 800x digital zoom to play with (and the zoom was much easier to harness than that of some other camcorders I’ve tried). Both the camcorder and the camera have numerous software features you’d expect, although nothing I’d call notably deluxe.
The DuoCam sports a good, if unremarkable, two-inch LCD monitor, as well as a standard viewfinder. Connections include USB 1.1 and DV (FireWire, 1394) ports. The USB is for transferring stills from the Memory Stick to the PC; I wish it were the higher-speed USB 2.0. The four-pin DV is for transferring video to other devices, such as a PC, a DVD recorder or another camcorder. There’s also an A/V cable for connection to the TV, with composite and S-Video connections. Activated playback buttons are illuminated in blue—a nice touch.
The splendid ergonomics of the DuoCam’s design simply amaze me. It certainly is a conversation piece, a space saver and a convenience of the highest order. Still, serious photography snobs probably would rather buy an expensive stand-alone camera; the same goes for videographers and camcorders.
On the whole, chalk this innovative Samsung offering up to experience, because while this isn’t the perfect combination of a camcorder and a digital still camera, it’s a significant development in the digital video category all the same. Expect Samsung and, surely, others to build on this capital idea in the future.
November 1, 2003
Sections: Digital Imaging
By Joe Paone