High-Def, Low Profile

We compare three high-definition compact cameras to see which captures the most cinematic footage

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New point-and-shoot cameras capture video in the 720p high-def format you’ve seen on TV networks such as ESPN. But all HD is not equal. The algorithm, or codec, that compresses the video onto a memory card affects the quality of the footage and your ability to edit it. We tried out three cameras, each sporting a different codec, to find the best mobile movie rig.

Kodak Easyshare Z1012
Codec: MPEG-4; 8 min. per gigabyte
Video was soft and full of artifacts — errors created during compression — such as jagged lines in place of straight edges. That’s a shame, since the color was generally good, and the 12x zoom lens is handy. The Z1012 can shoot up to 29 minutes of continuous video (versus 10 for the Sony and 15 for the Panasonic), and most software can play or edit the footage.
$280; kodak.com
Editors’ Rating: 5 out of 10

Sony Cybershot T500
Codec: AVC/HD; 12.5 min. per gigabyte
The T500’s sharp video had only minor artifacts, such as fuzziness along the edges in a cobblestone path. And it packs the most footage per gigabyte. High-noon sunlight didn’t wash out colors, but low-light footage was grainy — most likely a product of the sensor or processor, not the codec. One caveat: Only the latest editing software supports AVC/HD.
$400; sonystyle.com
Editors’ Pick
Editors’ Rating: 8 out of 10

Panasonic Lumix LX3
Codec: M-JPEG; 4 min. per gigabyte
The LX3 had the clearest low-light video, but it faltered in midday sunlight, with overexposed highlights and faded colors. (They looked better under soft lighting.) And objects weren’t quite as sharp as on the Sony. The M-JPEG video hogs memory cards, but viewing or editing it on a computer is easy; nearly all programs read the codec.
$500; panasonic.com
Editors’ Rating: 6 out of 10