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Can camcorders take great stills?

Can camcorders take decent still photos?

I'm new to the world of hard disk camcorders and I want to get one that can also take a good photo. Most camcorders in the under-£350 price bracket don't seem to take photos or they are only 1 megapixel.

I'm assuming that either most camcorders don't take pictures that well or maybe I am not looking at the right models?


You're right, Craig, that most camcorders generally have low-resolution sensors. Some higher-resolution camcorders are available, like the 7-megapixel Sanyo Xacti HD2 or Toshiba Camileo Pro, but most are closer to 1 or 2 megapixels.

Video is recorded at a lower resolution than still images, for reasons of speed and memory. Higher resolution means more image information in each frame, which takes more processing power and leads to larger file sizes.

This lower resolution than stills cameras is why stills from video often look blurry, when the video itself doesn't appear to be.

Some camcorders are able to grab a still frame while recording video, which is a useful feature for making thumbnail images to represent the video, like on video-sharing sites such as YouTube. These are generally recognised as frames from the video, and so the lower quality is acceptable for this purpose.

Of course, as the stills camera megapixel naysayers constantly remind us, high resolution isn't the be-all and end-all, and your resolution requirements will depend on the way you intend to display the pictures. We'd recommend going for a camera that reproduces good colour, even if the resolution isn't so high. With some thought about how you want to show the images, a lower resolution camcorder can meet your stills needs.

If you're planning to display the pictures at least 50 per cent smaller than the original size, resolution doesn't matter much. Camcorders that give good colour and low noise can provide scaled-down stills that have comparable image quality to a higher-resolution camera or camcorder with noise or colour issues.

This is certainly true for online sharing, which has a pretty forgiving display ratio of 72 dots per inch. Printing, which is close to 300dpi, is less forgiving so a stills camera will almost always be the better choice if you want a hard copy.