It’s a bit of an over simplification, but broadly speaking digital still cameras and digital video cameras use the same basic technology. They both usually have a CCD image sensor, a compact but powerful zoom lens, electronic systems for autofocus, exposure metering and image processing, and both record the results onto a digital storage medium. In the case of video cameras this is usually digital video tape, while still cameras generally use removable flash memory cards.
Memory cards have been getting simultaneously more capacious and cheaper almost by the day, and for some time now it has been entirely possible to record quite long video segments directly onto memory cards. Indeed many digital still cameras can record video in high quality 640 x 480 resolution at a smooth 30 frames a second, so it’s hardly surprising that there have been several attempts to create a true hybrid, a camera that is equally well adapted for shooting both stills and video. However for some reason this seems to be proving inordinately difficult.
One of the most recent attempts is this, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M2. It features an unusual two-part swiveling design that resembles a mobile phone, and based on the specification alone it sounds promising. It has a 5.1 megapixel sensor, a 3x optical zoom Carl Zeiss lens and a 2.5in flip-and-twist LCD monitor, which should make it a pretty good stills camera, but it also shoots 640 x 480 resolution video at 30 fps with stereo audio, and records in the high-quality MPEG 4 format, so it should be nearly as good as a camcorder. It’s certainly got a camcorder-like price tag, costing a hefty £399.98 on the high street, and over £312 online. However despite this it still manages to get it all horribly wrong.
The big problem is the shape of the thing. Still cameras and video cameras have both evolved their current forms over many generations of ever-improving designs. They are the shape that they are because that is by and large the best shape that fits their function. A still camera is needs to be easy to hold steady, while a camcorder should be easy to move about smoothly. Unfortunately the design of the M2 achieves neither of these aims. It is shaped very much like the latest generation of mobile phones, which while ideal for making and receiving calls, is not best suited for taking photos. Sony’s own website describes the M2 as having “Ergonomic design with one-handed grip”. I can only assume from this that the person who designed it either has very oddly shaped hands, or has never previously encountered the word “ergonomic”.