Panasonic unveils new concept camcorder

Digital video cameras have boasted the ability to double as digital still cameras. For some time, however, users wishing to take advantage of this feature have always faced one major hurdle: despite technology shrinking the size of stand-alone video and still cameras, the former are always larger because of the bulky tape cassette deck they must incorporate .... until now.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., better known by its Panasonic brand name, introduced Monday a new concept digital video camera that has the ability to be separated into two pieces, so users can leave behind the cassette deck when they want to take still images.

The most immediate and obvious advantage this brings is in the areas of size and weight. With the tape deck and basic battery attached the camcorder weighs 570 grams, although this is cut to 360 grams when the tape deck is removed -- a 37 percent decrease in weight. Size also is reduced, with the height of the device cut from 11.5 centimeters to 7.7 centimeters with the tape deck gone.

An advantage digital video cameras have usually had over their still camera cousins has been in the optics, and that is true of Matsushita's new camera too. Fitted with a Leica Dicomar lens, the camera features a 10x optical zoom and digital zoom up to 100x -- in contrast, most digital still cameras offer optical zoom up to 2x or 3x.

The CCD (charge coupled device) pickup is a 1.0 million pixels and the camera offers two resolutions for still picture taking: 640-by-480-pixel VGA or 1200-by-900-pixel mode. Images can be stored in JPEG format on Secure Digital (SD) memory card and viewed using the built-in 2.5-inch LCD (liquid crystal display).

In video-taking mode, the camera can either record on a conventional Mini DV (digital video) cassette or directly onto the SD memory card. In case of the latter, video is recorded in MPEG4 at 176-by-144-pixel resolution which means a 64M byte SD card can store 65 minutes of video, according to Matsushita.

The company plans to begin selling the camcorder in Japan on September 1 at a price of 205,000 yen (AUD$3,195). Launch plans for other regions have not been decided.

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