Arguably the biggest announcement of yesterday's Apple event was the inclusion of a video camera in the latest generation of the iPod Nano. That bit of news was only slightly unexpected: Rumors had circulated before Apple's event that the iPod Touch would be getting a camera or camcorder. Instead, it was the iPod Touch's tiny sibling that gained video-shooting capabilities.
The new Nano shoots standard-definition, 640-by-480 VGA video in MPEG-4 format. Missing from its skill set is the ability to shoot stills; the Nano's camera captures video only. Also disappointing is the fact that you don't get the full range of video-editing features that you do on the iPhone 3GS; on the other hand, you do get a nice range of fun video effects to choose from.
Shooting video with the Nano takes some getting used to. The lens and microphone are smack-dab on the flip side of where your hand would be when you're using the scroll wheel, so you're limited to shooting in landscape mode. Even then, your index finger will tend to make cameo appearances in your videos when you're pressing the iPod Nano's center button to start and stop recording.
Update: Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell points out that you can actually shoot video fairly easily in portrait mode by flipping the Nano upside-down. Thanks to the iPod Nano's accelerometers, the device automatically reorients the video to portrait mode, and your fingers are less likely to get in the way of the lens.
To test the iPod Nano's video chops, we shot identical footage with the Nano, the standard-definition Pure Digital Flip Mino, and the iPhone 3GS (which has a bigger lens and image sensor). Just to show how the Nano's video compared to that of a high-definition camcorder, we also shot the same footage with Kodak's Zi8, which is the first pocket camcorder to shoot full HD, 1080p video.
Here's the tale of the tape. (Keep in mind that source videos often look better before they're uploaded to YouTube.)
iPod Nano: Wide-Angle Test
Pure Digital Flip Mino: Wide-Angle Test
iPhone 3GS: Wide-Angle Test
Kodak Zi8 (1080p Mode): Wide-Angle Test