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Canon Camcorder Good for Shooting Family Vacations

Canon ES800 8mm Camcorder Goldstar GVR-DD1 VHS-8mm VCR Panasonic WJ-TTL7 Titler

Shootin' It

Canon ES800 8mm Camcorder
Canon U.S.A. Inc.
100 Jamesburg Road
Jamesburg, NJ 08831
$1199

The ES800 continues the ES line, Canon's series of consumer camcorders which started with the ES1000. This 8mm unit is ideal for family events such as vacations, weekend trips and camping excursions. However, it may also fit the needs of more sophisticated users--as a second camera in a wedding shoot, for example. The camcorder has adjustable shutter speeds making it useful in recording sporting events as well.

Physical characteristics of the ES800 closely resemble the earlier ES1000. The unit is lightweight and should not be difficult to carry for long distances. There is even spacing between control buttons and they have a good feel when operated. The zoom control is a toggle rocker switch rather than a flat rocker switch. The placing is perfect for the index finger, offering easy control.

The Works
Images make their way into the camcorder through a 12:1, 5.2-62.4mm, f/1.8 lens and fall on a 1/3-inch CCD. The zoom operates using three speeds which change very smoothly. Focus works automatically, or by using a focusing wheel found near the lens.

The ES800 offers optical image stabilization for shots that are less than steady when handheld. A flick of the switch turns it on. Don't use it with the camcorder mounted on a tripod as it may cause the image to wander.

The Program AE (auto exposure) knob offers four different combinations of iris and shutter speed, each geared to work best with a certain type of shot. The "A" position returns everything to automatic. A small button in the center of the knob also adjusts the camcorder for back lighting by opening the iris about one stop. This small button will hold the iris open until you let it go.

The stereo microphone sends its signals to stereo AFM tracks on the tape. The expected video and audio connectors are at the rear of the unit, beside a door that slides open to reveal the shutter control. This offers a selection of seven shutter speeds from 0 up to 1/10,000 of a second; the selected speed appears in the viewfinder. Also found here are buttons for autofocus off/on, counter reset, and tally on/off. The last button controls a single-page titler that will store a title you create with the VCR transport buttons.

Up front under the mike is the video light. This switchable light is useful, even in full darkness, to about ten feet away. It helps in both enhancing colors and providing overall illumination. When the light draws its power from the standard BP-E77K battery (rather than an external belt or other power source), it limits shooting time to about twenty minutes.

The ES800 also offers a 0.7-inch color LCD viewfinder featuring 103,000 pixels. While this doesn't reach the resolution performance of many B/W viewfinders, it is more than sufficient to focus by and offers a check of color quality at all times. The viewfinder housing has a thumbwheel adjustment for the viewfinder diopter.

Raising the viewfinder all the way up reveals the Control-L connector underneath. This allows use of the ES800 in any editing setup using Control-L as an editing transport protocol.

Easy to Use
The ES800 is easy to use, but is not without flaws.

There were some image problems. Playback color saturation seemed limited, although this did not show up on the viewfinder.

The auto exposure system works rather slowly when going from light to dark areas. It favors dark areas, letting any bright areas go to peak (white). However, in very bright lighting the iris simply can't shut down far enough, rendering washed out colors and skin tones and an overall bright image.

Shutter speeds don't seem to affect the image until reaching 1/500 of a second. Above 1/4000 of a second, the picture gets too grainy to make shutter system use worthwhile. Still, the shutter helps a lot in making action easier to see.

The manual focus works well up to about 2.5 feet but gets fooled a lot when outdoors. When things are close the auto focus seems to work much better.

The ES800 has a few other quirks, like the rather useless titler. It has only one white font in one size, which looks washed out and crude like many very early PC fonts.

Two things stand out as very useful items on this unit. The image stabilizer works well within a given amount of camcorder shake. There is a limit to the corrective effect beyond that amount, especially when the lens is in the telephoto position. In fact, it simply offers a taste of image stabilization in most cases. I like that, because it results in a smooth image that doesn't look corrected.

Finally, it surprised me how much the little video light added to the color and clarity of the recorded video. Shots that were completely grainy due to lack of light looked perfect with the movie light. It seems useful several feet beyond the ten stated in the manual. But as I said earlier, it's a battery killer.

The Verdict
The problems I have pointed out with this unit would probably keep serious videomakers and prosumers from considering the ES800. It's possible that these minor flaws only existed in the evaluation unit I tested. Sports or family event videomakers can probably overlook these things. The value of the image stabilization system, the video light, the color viewfinder system, and the Control-L circuitry are worth considering.

If you're looking for a backup camcorder for your top-of-the-line professional unit, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you want an easy-to-handle, decent shooting little unit that will bring back memories of the Bahamas, don't overlook the Canon ES800 8mm camcorder. It might be just what you're after.

Technical Specifications - Canon ES800 8mm Camcorder

Format
8mm
Lens
Three-speed 12:1 optical zoom, f/1.8, 5.2-62.4mm focal length
Focus
Auto or manual
Iris
Auto, or 4 position Program AE control
White Balance
Auto, no override
Inputs
Composite video (1 x RCA), L and R audio (2 x RCA)
Outputs
Composite video (1 x RCA), L and R audio (2 x RCA)
Edit Protocol
Control-L
Other Features
Fade, remote control, diopter control, titler, color viewfinder LCD, image stabilization.
Dimensions
4 1/8 (width) x 4 1/8 (height) x 7 9/16 (length) inches
Weight
1 pounds, 15 1/2 ounces (with tape and battery)
Video performance (approx.)
Horizontal resolution (camera)
300 lines
Horizontal resolution (playback)
245 lines
Performance times
(30 minute tape)
Pause to record:
instantly
Power up to record:
4 seconds
Fast forward/rewind:
1 minute, 55 seconds

Eight to VHS

Goldstar GVR-DD1 VHS-8mm VCR
Goldstar Electronics Int'l, Inc.
1000 Sylvan Avenue
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632
$899.95

Goldstar, long associated with high-quality VCRs, camcorders and monitors, makes this first try at a dual-cassette deck design. The GVR-DD1 combines an 8mm playback deck with a VHS recorder. While the basic idea is a copy or dubbing deck, Goldstar takes the idea a little further, adding a sprinkling of features that turn the unit into a basic editor.

The deck aims at the enthusiastic consumer who understands the advantage of using small, lightweight 8mm camcorders for shooting and ending up with a final tape that plays on almost anyone's VCR (VHS). Adding the ability to do simple editing at a price cheaper than many individual VHS VCRs makes this a unit worth consideration for video consumers and hobbyists.

The GVR-DD1 has a very smooth appearance, and once you have loaded your tapes in the deck, you can close the front access door and still operate it. This fold down door covers only the basic transport controls, making the deck very simple to operate when doing simple copying or playback.

Set the Controls
All controls are of the soft rubber style, but they offer sufficient resistance to indicate when you have really sent a command.

The heart of the GVR-DD1 system is the remote control. This little box duplicates the basic transport controls along its top, but a doorway lifts up to provide the controls for the real power of the unit. Located here are controls for tracking and channel selection for the unit's on-board tuner. A switch controls the input from the 8mm side to either the TV tuner or a set of A/V inputs on the front. A display button places information on your monitor screen (only one monitor needed) which indicates function of the VHS recorder, channel and date/time/day.

More important is the menu display button. This offers setup of timer programming, clock, calendar and tape type. One other menu offering is titling; when you push this button, a display of white squares fills the screen. Each square represents a title letter space. There are a choice of four letter heights and widths to modify the single font choice. Upper case letters, numbers from 0 to 9 and basic grammar marks are available in white only.

This is a rudimentary titler at best which works for the VHS side only. You must start the title at the beginning of an edit. The manual says that pressing the menu button will fade the title off the screen, but it cuts off the screen rather than fades. The title program works only as a use-it-or-lose-it system, without storage for completed titles.

The most important controls on the remote are four gold labeled buttons dead center among the rest. These are the Program, Begin, End, and A Edit/One Touch Copy buttons. Once you've pressed the Program button, a five-event assembly editing list fills the screen. To use this list, you search your 8mm tape for the start of a scene you want and press the Begin button. Then you find the end of the scene and press the End button. This process repeats until you complete the five-event list. Once you finish the list, you press the A Edit/One Touch Copy button and the edits perform automatically. You can stop the edit at any time by pressing the display button. Further use of the Display button will allow you to edit or eliminate different parts of the event list. The resulting accuracy is about six frames (the GVR-DD1 uses no time code).

If you feel more at home with making each individual edit as you go along, you can do this by placing the VHS side into record pause at the place you want the edit inserted. Put the 8mm side into play, then search for the beginning of a chosen scene; when you find it, pause the deck. Hitting the A Edit/One Touch Copy button will then perform the edit. You stop the edit by hitting the button again. You can insert other video or audio over the top of the present signal, but you can't insert both at the same time.

The deck also has a large LCD panel which indicates most of the functions taking place, including a counter that bases its hours, minutes and seconds on a count of recorded images. This means that if any part of your tape is blank, the counter won't work. The unit also has a switchable microphone input on the front. The incoming mike signal either mixes with the present audio track or records alone.

On the 8mm side is a single One Touch Copy button. Load your tapes in each side of the GVR-DD1, hit this one button, and you're making a dub. You can also do basic crash assembly editing directly from the deck's transport controls in the event the remote does slip behind the couch cushions one day.

The rear panel of the unit features the VHS audio and video inputs, as well as F connectors for incoming antenna signals and TV hookups.

An Easy Deck
You will find nothing difficult about using the GVR-DD1. All controls are fully accessible and the remote control is almost self-teaching. This is good because while the included manual is quite complete, it is sometimes vague in its explanations.

Considering the lack of time code and the slippery counter, the GVR-DD1 works well as a simple editing machine. Time code always helps with editing accuracy but with mixed formats only one side can benefit, so it is not unusual to see it left out. Still, the edits this unit makes are very clean and accurate up to around +/- 6 frames--not bad for a consumer deck.

The random operation of the counter is not excusable. The main use of a counter is to help people find the proper locations on tape to start dubs or edits, or to help search for footage, especially when no other counting system like time code exists. For the counter to drop out to zero whenever there is a space of tape with no footage makes it useless. Goldstar really needs to fix this on future models. It is also unfortunate that external units like special effects generators or switchers are not insertable between the two sides of the GVR-DD1. You'll have to do your effects elsewhere.

Picture quality is on par with other 8mm and VHS decks. The 8mm side plays back quasi Hi-8. This usually means that you can play Hi8 tapes and get regular 8mm quality, but I noticed a slight resolution increase of 40 or so lines when doing this. Color reproduction is fine and accurate, with color balance between the two transports being nearly identical.

Thumbs Up
Without question I like this machine. I don't like the lack of connections between the sides; I want to be able to stick in my effects generator. The built in titler, bad as it may be, helps this problem.

Still, the overall quality of the unit is quite high. If I were in need of a system to do quick and simple editing between 8mm and VHS, I wouldn't hesitate to use Goldstar's GVR-DD1 8mm/VHS recorder.

Technical Specifications - Goldstar GVR-DD1 8mm/VHS dual deck

Format
8mm (Quasi-Hi8 playback), VHS
Video Inputs
VHS: Composite (x2)
Audio inputs
VHS: Mono (x2)
Video Outputs
VHS(E-to-E for 8mm): Composite (x1)
Audio outputs
VHS(E-to-E for 8mm): Mono (x1)
Remote control
All deck controls plus TV channel and volume, setup menu selections, tracking controls, input selections, and advanced editing controls.
Other features
5 event assembly editor, front panel display, one page titler, audio and video dub, quick one touch editing.
Dimensions
3 7/8 (height) x 17 1/2 (width) x 15 (depth) inches
Weight
18 pounds

Spell It Out

Panasonic WJ-TTL7 Titler
Panasonic
One Panasonic Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094
$399.95

The Panasonic WJ-TTL7 is an optional titler for the WJ-AVE7 Digital Video Mixer. Together, these products are for the serious videomaker who requires a variety of visual effects and titles for event, business or other forms of prosumer and professional videos. We probed the WJ-AVE7 in our March 1994 issue, so it's time to look at the WJ-TTL7 titler.

A Little Box
The WJ-TTL7 is average in size compared to similarly priced models, which means rather small. Still, the buttons don't give a bunched-up feeling the way many other titlers do. All power and video signals hook up through a single cable to the WJ-AVE7.

You get started by pressing the Make Title key and then pressing the Page key until the page number indicated on your screen is the one you want. Whatever you create on the screen automatically gets stored as that page.

You type in letters by using the big cursor arrow keys to position the cursor on the space and line where you want a letter. There are keys to delete single letters, lines of type, or whole pages.

The WJ-TTL7 offers a total of five different fonts, including two plain ones which you can italicize and an additional cartoon-like italicized font. A Size key changes letters between one of three sizes. You can also widen or thin the letters by changing one of three horizontal and/or vertical sizes. In fact, any single letter can look over 100 different ways.

Eight basic colors are available for the fonts. You can use the same color for a whole page, or a different color on each line of type. As with sizes, however, you can't change colors on the same line.

Two black edges or three styles of drop shadow are available from the Edge button of the WJ-AVE7. You simply keep pushing the button until you find a style you like. These effects will apply to the current page only.

The WJ-TTL7 offers 10 pages to make and store titles on. Once you make and store your titles, you can use the numeric and display keys to call up individual pages. You can use any or all of the 10 pages in a Roll (bottom of screen to top). Rolls can continuously repeat or play only once. Keys labeled S. Speed and F. Speed set the roll speed as the roll performs. The space bar stops or starts the roll at any time.

A Scroll is also possible with single pages only. Scrolls can come in from any direction and use digital effects such as wipes to appear or disappear. One interesting Scroll effect displays each letter until the full title shows, or reverses this process until the title disappears.

The WJ-TTL7 also has a built in Stopwatch. Three keys control its on/off, start/pause, and reset functions. You can use this to time sections of your videos for title insertions. Also, as the Stopwatch records to video, it might function in some cases as a poor man's time code window dub. It undoubtedly has many other uses as well.

When you're done creating your page, you press Title Out and the screen clears. Now you can press the numeric key for that or any other page you've made. Then press the Display key, and the page will superimpose over your video regardless of your mixer's set up. The term for this is downstream keying.

Hard Type
The WJ-TTL7 is a surprising little titler offering considerably more control over font sizing, colors, and effects than most titlers in its price range. It works very well and is a good addition to the WJ-AVE7.

But there are some limitations. The different fonts tend to look a lot alike, especially when using the same sizes. However, if you adjust the size and vary the colors, they should suffice.

The keys offer some resistance, but not really enough to assure you that your keystrokes have all registered. Generally this is not a problem, but if you miss a stroke, you won't know it until you read the title. A click or audible beep in future models would offer a lot of assurance here.

The Stopwatch addition is perhaps useful in some ways but limited in others. Since it records onto tape whenever used, you can't use it when doing actual edits unless you want it to appear on your final product. Further, neither the Crawl, Roll, Scroll, or Window Wipe will work while the Stopwatch is on; it only works on single pages. Actually, except for timing video scenes, its use is a mystery to me.

The thing about the WJ-TTL7 that really bothered me was a tendency for the background video to jump slightly any time white letters appeared in a title. This was true even when only a small portion of white appeared on a single line of type. The problem diminishes considerably as the background video gets lighter, but does not disappear altogether. Hopefully that was a problem singular to the unit I probed; otherwise, Panasonic needs to fix it.

Also, the connecting cable is too darn short! You can't separate the two units much at all with this cable. A well-designed editing tabletop might have the two units set up in any number of configurations, so the cable should be a couple of feet long, not twelve inches.

In spite of the flaws I have mentioned, I think this little unit works nicely and really makes the WJ- AVE7 a complete system. The WJ-TTL7 is easy to use after you go once through the simple and easy to read manual. If you're thinking about putting together an editing suite, I fully recommend that you consider the WJ-AVE7/WJ-TTL7 combination. If you already own the WJ-AVE7 and you're looking for a titler in this price range, take a look at the WJ-TTL7 first; you won't be disappointed.

Technical Specifications - Panasonic WJ-TTL7

Video Inputs/Outputs
By multi-cable from WJ-AVE7 (using composite and S-video)
Display modes
Still, Roll, Scroll, Crawl
Text sizes
Three
Fonts
Five
Font colors
8 colors
Additional Features
Three font width/height adjustments; Built-in stopwatch; Continuous roll, scroll, or crawl
Dimensions
1 1/4 (height) x 10 3/16 (width) x 5 3/16 (depth) inches
Weight
1.4 pounds
Tags:  March 1995
Doug
Polk
Wed, 03/01/1995 - 12:00am