Canon ES970 8mm Camcorder
Panasonic PV-L958 VHS-C Camcorder
Cool-Lux U-3 Tri-Light On-camera Light
Pinnacle Studio DC10plus Video Digitizer
Edirol V-5 VideoCanvas video mixer/titler
Easy Editing Camcorder
Canon ES970 8mm Camcorder
One Canon Plaza
Lake Success, NY 11042-1113
The Canon ES970 is a top of the line 8mm camcorder for the entry to mid-level home video producer. The ES970 is a low priced camcorder that has some outstanding and unique features. The ES970 has the longest optical zoom lens and the fastest high-speed shutter of any 8mm camcorder currently on the market. And with features like an external microphone input, FlexiZone focus and manual shutter, the ES970 camcorder would be a good choice for the low-budget home video producer who wants the advantage of features commonly found on more expensive models.
Not a Follower
Rather than follow the crowd and use a digital zoom (which degrades the picture in order to extend the zoom range), Canon gave the ES970 a long 22:1 optical zoom. We found the image quality to be high throughout the entire zoom range. We were glad to see that the Canon's zoom control was fully variable, although the fastest speed could have been a bit quicker.
The ES970 has the unique feature of two "Custom Key" buttons on the left side of the camcorder. These two buttons can be set to operate as any of 16 functions in the VCR or camcorder mode. The camcorder comes with the custom keys preset to operate as a fade and Back Light Compensation (BLC) buttons. After testing the fade and BLC (both of which worked well) we changed the custom keys to work as manual focus and manual shutter. We found it easy to change the functions of the custom keys.
The Canon's focus system uses no focus knob or wheel. Instead, the ES970 uses Canon's FlexiZone control for selective focus. The FlexiZone system uses a small joystick on the back of the camcorder to move a small graphic box around the viewfinder monitor. The joystick can be programmed so different movements (diagonal right or left, for example) move the focus brackets in different directions (up or down, for example). When using manual focus, the camcorder will focus on whatever object is framed by the box. When we tested this feature we found that it worked well and took slightly less than two seconds to focus when we moved the box from a near object to a far object. The 8mm's autofocus also worked well. We saw no evidence of the camcorder hunting for focus, even when objects moved through the shot quickly. (It would only change focus if a large object entered the scene and stayed there for two seconds or more). In addition the ES970 has excellent macro focus capabilities.
In order to use the manual shutter we had to assign one of the custom keys to operate the shutter. From here it was a simple matter of pressing the button to change shutter speeds. Thanks to Canon's very accurate auto exposure system, when we changed shutter speeds while shooting outdoors, we noticed no change in the brightness of the image, even at the fastest shutter setting of 1/10,000 of a second.
The ES970 includes a neat auto edit function, which allows the user to build an edit decision list of up to eight scenes in the camcorder. The camcorder controls a VCR via infrared to record selected scenes to VHS. We used a Mitsubishi S-VHS VCR for our test and after a quick setup to program the camcorder with our VCR's infrared code, we edited together a short video from our in-camera decision list.
The ES970 is a simple to operate camcorder that, while it does not have fancy digital effects, has the basic feature that most home and hobbyist videographers need.
Lens: 22:1 optical zoom, 3.9-85.8mm, variable speed power zoom, f/1.6
Image sensor: 1/2-inch CCD, 270,000 pixel
Viewfinder: .55-inch color LCD
Focus: auto, manual (using FlexiZone control)
Maximum shutter speed: 1/10,000 of a second
Exposure: auto, four program AE modes
White balance: auto
Picture effects: fade
Audio: AFM stereo
Inputs: video, stereo audio, external microphone
Outputs: video, stereo audio, headphones
Edit interface: LANC
Other features: custom keys, FlexiZone control, auto editing, character generator
Dimensions: 4.19 (width) x 4.31 (height) x 7.25 (length)
Weight (sans tape and battery): 17.13 ounces
Video performance (approx.)
Horizontal resolution (camera): 265 lines
Horizontal resolution (playback): 200 lines
Pause to record: 0:1 seconds
Power up to record: 0:5 seconds
Fast-forward/Rewind (120 minute tape): 7:02 minutes
- Unique programmable custom keys
- Longest optical zoom on the market
- Exceptionally fast high-speed shutter
- No manual white balance
- No A/V dub
The Panasonic PV-L958 is an excellent VHS-C format camcorder packed with all the necessary features the entry-to-mid level hobbyist needs to create high-quality in-camera productions.
Most Wanted Features
The PV-L958 has features all videographers need, including manual focus, external microphone input, headphone output and high-speed shutter.
The basic design follows Panasonic's other VHS-C camcorders (see the April, July and August, 1998 Benchmarks). We found the controls easy to locate and operate. Although VHS-C camcorders tend to be bulky, the PV-L958 is designed to fit the hand well. Although the zoom control has only four speeds, we found the change from one speed to the next to be so smooth we thought the zoom was fully variable.
The Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) worked very well. When we zoomed to its full optical telephoto setting the EIS was able to hold the image so steady it looked like the camcorder was mounted on a tripod. With the EIS turned on, the image quality was still good, although the picture was enlarged slightly. If the EIS is used only in the telephoto mode, the enlargement of the image should not be a problem.
Auto vs Manual
The PV-L958's autofocus worked well. It took the PV-L958 less than two seconds to refocus when shifted to a different subject and it never hunted. It was able to lock the focus quickly and stay in focus. The manual focus is located under the lens and is activated by pressing in on the rotating knob. It was easy to locate and operate with the left index finger while supporting the camcorder with the left hand. We practiced making a few rack-focus shots and were pleased with the control over the manual focus. The PV-L958 has a great macro focus. We were able to hold objects right against the lens shade and the camcorder was able to focus on the objects, in manual or autofocus.
The auto exposure was able to keep the shots exposed well when there was enough light. When light was low, we just turned on the built-in light, which really helped in low-light situations. The only time we really had exposure problems was in backlit situations. Interestingly, the PV-L958 has three different levels of back light compensation. When we first tried using the back light feature, the setting was not bright enough to see a dark subject with a bright background. We pressed the back light button twice more and the image got bright enough to see properly.
The PV-L958 offers auto white balance that works well in almost all lighting situations, taking only about two seconds to balance depending on the amount of light available.
Fades and Wipes
The PV-L958 has a black fade and a white fade. It's nice to have a choice, especially when editing in the camcorder. The fades were easy to access. The camcorder also has diamond and box wipes that transition to one of eight colored screens, and a random wipe that has small pixels appearing scattered at various places on the screen until they take over and fill the screen with color. We noticed that the diamond and box wipes move from the outside in as long as you hold the fade button down. When you let go of the button, the wipe moves back out. When we pressed the select button while the wipe was in progress, the wipe stopped and stayed where it was. That means you could shoot with a colored border or diamond shape framing your shot. In addition to the colored screen wipes, the PV-L958 also features three wipes (vertical, horizontal and rectangular) from a still frame of video (captured and saved with PhotoShot mode, see below) to moving video. The PV-L958 can also apply digital filters (negative, sepia and four colors) to the image. All of these fades, wipes and digital effects give the videographer more creative opportunities, with absolutely no editing necessary
Still Pics Too
The PV-L958 has a still camera mode called PhotoShot. It saves images in two resolutions, normal and fine. Images are stored in memory (in JPEG format) instead of on tape. The camcorder's memory will store approximately 30 frames in the normal mode and 15 in the higher resolution format. The camcorder comes with software and a cable, which allow the user to download pictures directly to a 486 or faster PC running Windows 95, through an RS-232C serial port. Using the PC connection feature, the user can snap a picture for titles, load it into the computer and, with the Adobe PhotoDeluxe software included with the camcorder, add titles to the image. The image can then be sent back to the camcorder and used for titles.
The PV-L958 is a great camcorder for hobby videographers who want to produce simple, but well-made, videos in the camcorder. We were especially impressed with it many fades and wipes and its digital PhotoShot.
Lens: 23:1 optical zoom, 300:1 digital zoom, 3.8-87.4mm focal length, 4 speed power zoom, f/1.6, wide macro, 52mm filter diameter
Image sensor: 1/4-inch CCD, 270,000 pixels
Viewfinder: .5-inch color LCD viewfinder and flip out 3.2-inch color LCD viewscreen
Focus: auto, manual
Maximum shutter speed: 1/10,000th of a second
White balance: auto
Digital effects: black fade, white fade, 10 wipes, seven colors
Inputs: external microphone
Outputs: composite video, mono audio, headphones, RS-232C
Edit interface: none
Other features: PhotoShot, security mode, time lapse, intelligent titler, message mode
Dimensions: 4.38 (width) by 4.63 (height) by 7 (depth) inches
Weight: 2.4 pounds
Video Performance (approx.):
Horizontal resolution (camera): 325 lines
Horizontal resolution (playback): 225 lines
Pause to Record: 1.7 seconds
Power-up to Record: 0:4 seconds
Fast-forward/Rewind (30 min. tape): 4:43 minutes
- Good image quality
- Very stable Electronic Image Stabilization
- Black and white fades
- No insert editing
Cool-Lux U-3 Tri-Light On-camera Light
412 San Pablo #200
Camarillo, CA 93012
When shooting indoors or out, many prosumer and professional videographers find they need a little extra light, especially when shooting handheld in rapidly changing situations. Most have found that a good on-camera light is the best solution. The U-3 Tri-Light by Cool-Lux is designed to be versatile enough to handle most lighting situations, including both indoor incandescent (tungsten) and outdoor daylight.
Three Lights At Once
The Cool-Lux U-3 Tri-Light is a small, three-lamp light array designed for mounting on camcorders with an accessory-shoe mount. The light has a standard light mount with an adapter for the accessory mount, which means that the light can also be attached to any standard light stand or can use any of Cool-Lux's accessory light mounts (see the November 1998 Benchmarks).
The U-3 uses 12-volt MR-11 photo lamps in a triangular pattern. The supplied power cord has a cigarette light plug on it and can use any 12-volt, AC or DC power supply with a cigarette lighter jack. Because of the need for an auxiliary 12-volt power supply, this light really falls into the realm of the prosumer and professional user. What makes the U-3 so versatile is the ability to switch each light on and off individually, varying the amount of light provided. It also has a built-in gel holder which will hold diffusion and color gels. The U-3 also has a master power switch to turn the entire array off.
Put to the Test
We tested the U-3 Tri-Light with a Sony CCD-TRV65 Hi8 camcorder. The TRV65 is a mid-sized, midrange camcorder good for use by both home video producers and prosumers. For power we used a generic 12-volt battery pack with a cigarette lighter plug on it. Cool-Lux makes both battery packs and battery belts that will power the U-3.
The light mounted on the camcorder without a problem. While it did tend to make the camcorder a bit front and top heavy, it was not too awkward to shoot with. The light array pivots up and down on the mount, which is necessary to aim the light more precisely at a subject. We were also able to pan the light sideways. The bulbs were quick and easy to insert and remove (once cooled). There is no protective cover over the lamps, which makes lamp changes quicker and easier. However, that also means there is nothing to protect the lamps from damage or to protect fingers from hot glass should a lamp shatter. The gel holder mounts on the front of the light with a bracket that keeps the gels about 3/8 inch away from the housing, so the gels won't melt. The bracket also rotates, so the gels can be moved out of the way without taking them off. This was pretty handy.
Shooting in the Sun
We tested the U-3 by shooting outside in the sunlight and indoors under incandescent (tungsten) light. We found the U-3 with daylight gels very useful when shooting in the sunlight. We set up a medium closeup shot of a model with the sunlight behind and slightly to the side of our subject. We put on a daylight gel and a diffusion gel and turned on all three lamps. The sunlight provided a backlight and the U-3 worked as a great key light. From a distance of four feet, the U-3 was able to light the entire subject; not just a circle of light on the subject's face. The color of the light matched the daylight.
We then moved our subject into a shaded area with more natural and even light. We turned off two of the lights to test the U-3 as an eye-light. An eye-light adds a sparkle to the subject's eyes. The U-3 added the sparkle and helped add just a touch more color to the face. We tested the U-3 with a daylight gel in many different situations outdoors and found that the U-3 always improved the shot.
Indoors the U-3 was just as useful. The diffusion gel helped to soften the light while still providing enough brilliance to fill a room. We shot an average size living room from one end with the lens set to a wide-angle shot. The U-3 filled the areas the room light missed, providing more even lighting. With the lens on wide-angle the light from the U-3 tended to fall off at the edges of the image. However, when we zoomed in and framed a medium and close-up shots of a subject across the room, the U-3 provided more then enough light.
We found the U-3 Tri-Light on- camera light to be an excellent tool. It's a good choice for prosumer and professional videographers alike.
Lights: MR-11, quartz halogen lamps
Power: 12 volt AC/DC
Weight: 10 ounces
Dimensions: 3.75 (width) x 2.5 (depth) x 3 (height) inches
Construction material: aluminum
- Three lamps with individual control
- Gel holder
- Daylight gels available
- Requires bulky power supply
Nonlinear on a Budget
Pinnacle Studio DC10plus Video Capture Board and Editing Software
280 N. Bernardo Avenue
Mountain View, CA 94043
By now most of us know the trend in creating video is toward nonlinear editing using a computer. But not everyone has the financial resources or need to purchase expensive nonlinear editing products and high-powered machines. With the Studio DC10plus, Pinnacle Systems introduces a product targeted at beginning editors who want to break into nonlinear editing.
The Studio DC10plus hits its target market dead center, giving the average videographer and computer user a chance to break into nonlinear editing without breaking the bank. The Studio DC10plus is a low cost nonlinear editing product that uses the same editing software as Pinnacle's Studio 400 (see the September 1998 Benchmarks) combined with a new PCI video capture board. The Studio interface is very intuitive, making it easy to learn and use. The system also has a very fast learning curve, thanks to its well-designed and easy-to-understand graphic interface. The Studio DC10plus doesn't require a high powered or super fast computer to use. The minimum CPU is a Pentium 133, which is slower than many other nonlinear editing systems require.
The Studio DC10plus capture window features a unique "Diskometer" that graphically shows the total amount of hard drive space and how much is left available. It also tells you how many minutes of video will fit on the disk. The Diskometer also has buttons to let you change capture quality settings with one touch and then see how the new settings affect the amount of hard drive space needed. The Diskometer has slide-out control panels to change audio and video levels (brightness, contrast, hue, color intensity and sharpness). We found this very helpful for adjusting the video image before we captured it. The DC10plus capture utilities include a scene detector. The detector allows the user to capture all the footage as one long file and then scans the file for notable changes in the video. It marks the changes as new scenes and displays them as such in the scene album. The user can then just drag the individual scenes to the construction area.
The various nonlinear editing systems on the market today use a couple of different methods for capturing, organizing, storing and sending video files to an external source (like a VHS deck). Some capture and store each individual clip into a separate .AVI file. For a finished program, each individual clip is rendered with transitions and effects into yet another .AVI file. With this method, more hard drive space is needed because the clips are duplicated into the final file.
The Studio DC10plus uses a more efficient method than this. The software records all footage as a single .AVI file to start. When editing, the software uses time code addresses to note which parts of the footage are needed for the final product. When playing the final video, the software plays the required clips in the requisite order from where they already exist on the hard drive. No new .AVI files need to be created and only graphics and transition effects need to be rendered. This is an important space and time saving option. A drawback is that that transitions aren't saved and must be re-rendered each time you leave the program and re-enter. With simple graphics and effects, however, render time can be cut to essentially nothing. Of course the option exists to go ahead and render to a completely new .AVI file.
The Studio DC10plus will capture footage in three different preset frame sizes and a single custom frame size. The preset sizes are 320x240, 304x456 and 608x456. An image captured at the 608x456 setting appears full-screen when played back and viewed on a standard television because the program crops out edges of the picture that are not normally seen on TV. There is a custom setting for 640x480, but when we tried it the video turned out looking very blocky and digitized. The same footage in the 608x456 setting looked fine on the NTSC monitor when we played it back.
Pinnacle's Studio software allows users to shift back and forth between three different construction views: the storyboard view (which shows the order of video scenes); the timeline view (which shows the position and duration relative to the program time); and the text view (which shows the start and end times and duration of the clips in text).
The ability to shift views gives Studio DC10plus great flexibility. The storyboard view is the most useful for picking the initial order of the clips. The timeline view is most useful for working with lengths of the scenes and the total movie. To add transitions we picked a transition from the available choices in the transition album, dragged it and dropped it in between the clips. One drawback of The Studio DC10plus is that the software does not accept after-market plug-in programs for special transitions and does not include special effects such as slow-motion, fast-motion and reverse-motion. Pinnacle says those feature are in the works.
Audio editing with the Studio software is an easy and flexible process. Changing levels is a simple matter of dragging an audio-level line with a mouse to its appropriate point. It even includes a nifty music feature which lets you select the style (from a variety of options) and duration of music you want. The program automatically adds a seamless ending to the song (not just a fade out, a fully instrumented ending) at the length you select.
Pinnacle's new affordable nonlinear editing product fills a niche that has needed filling for a while by providing an affordable, full-screen, full-speed nonlinear edit system for the beginner. The Studio DC10plus is a great, inexpensive and easy to use nonlinear editing system for the hobbyist and home video producer.
Software: Pinnacle Studio editing software
Video input: S-video and composite (RCA jack)
Audio input: uses computer's sound card for audio
Video output: S-video and composite
Minimum System Requirements
Processor: Pentium 133MHz
Video display card: VGA card, DirectX 5.0 compatible, 256 colors minimum
Sound card: DirectX 5.0 compatible
Capture hard drive: E-IDE hard disk (for data rates up to 3MB/s)
Operating system: Windows 95/98
Processor: Pentium 133MHz or faster
RAM: 64MB RAM
Capture hard drive: wide SCSI AV hard drive (for data rates over 3MB/s)
- Rendering only required for transitions and graphics.
- "Diskometer" monitoring of hard drive space
- Easy audio level changes
- Transitions and graphics over video must be re-rendered after leaving and re-entering the program
Summary: A good, affordable digital capture system for hobbyists and home video producers.
For the Video Artist
Edirol V-5 VideoCanvas Video Mixer/titler
P.O. Box 4919
Blaine, WA 98231-4919
Perhaps one of the most useful tools for a video editor is a good video mixer and special effects generator. It is essential for A/B roll editing. The VideoCanvas by Edirol is a good video mixer for post production work. It seems to be designed for prosumer video editors, which is exactly where it would be best utilized. It includes a broad range of features for creative mixing and making titles.
The V-5 includes audio mixing and makes it possible to create decent titles with non-digital artwork shot with a camcorder. It has a GPI trigger to interface with most editing systems and will even accept MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) time code triggers.
A Break with Tradition
The V-5 breaks with the traditional look of most video mixers. There are no busses with buttons for sources lined up and a transition bar next to them. Instead the V-5 has a transition bar right in the middle that is surrounded by buttons. The transition bar, or fader as it's often called, moves from the main source at the bottom to the sub-source at the top of its travel. The sub-source can be changed between the video 1 input (which is the main source) the video 2 input and the PC input (which is a standard 640x480, 60Hz VGA input from a PC). There are eight preset effects available with buttons and 30 built-in effects that can be assigned to user buttons. There are 16 wipe effects assigned to buttons on the unit. The user can change wipe button assignments, choosing from 200 wipe patterns. The VideoCanvas also has the ability to capture images and save them in memory. This is a nice feature for making titles. The V-5 can save up to 24 captured images in non-volatile memory (the image stays in memory even after power is discontinued). Images can also be saved to an optional plug-in Edirol PC ATA memory card.
We supplied the output from two camcorders to test the V-5. The V-5 can quickly change the speed of transitions by just turning a dial, something we found helpful. Digital effects such as sepia, colorize, picture-in-picture and strobe can be combined, a unique feature for a consumer video mixer. The luminance and chroma keys can also be applied to the combined digital effects. We applied strobe and sepia to our sub-source, giving it the feel of an old movie. We could then dissolve from a normal, full-color shot to the same shot with the sepia and strobe effect, implying a move back in time.
The V-5 features a reverse and a one-way button for use with wipes. The reverse button reverses the direction of the chosen wipe. For example, instead of the vertical wipe moving from left to right, the reverse button will reverse the direction so that the wipe will move from right to left. The one-way button, on the other hand, causes the wipe to always move in the same direction.
We tried the picture-in-picture feature that reduced the sub-source and put it in a box on the top left side of the screen. We noted that the quality of the video in the box was good, but did look slightly digitized. While the box can be moved to many preset locations on the screen in many preset sizes, it cannot be moved independently to any location you want.
A Palette of Tools
There is a bit of a learning curve to be considered when using this unit. Some of the buttons and command procedures were a bit difficult to navigate at first. It took us a little while to get used to the procedures for adding color and edges to text, for example.
A function called character extraction can be used to make title graphics from black text on white paper (or vice versa) shot with a camcorder. Once the extraction levels are set the unit will extract the text and save it for further enhancement, such as adding colors, edges and shadows.
The V-5 has a unique feature called "tap" that lets the user apply a tempo to the effect changes. We used the strobe effect with the tap function to make the strobe follow the beat of a music track.
The V-5 VideoCanvas is a good post production tool that allows users to mix video and audio from two sources and the output from a PC. The mixer can create titles from printed material or from a computer output. It's a good tool for the advanced video hobbyist or prosumer.
Synchronizer: frame memory: 1 frame, renew sync signal
Video effects: 200
Digital effects: 30
Background/border colors: 58
Other features: GPI trigger, MIDI trigger.
Video: 2 S-video, 2 composite (RCA), 1 VGA (DB-15 female)
Audio: 3 stereo, 1 microphone
Video: 1 S-video, 2 composite (video out & preview)
Audio: 1 stereo, 1 headphone
Sampling rate: 14.3MHz, 4:1:1, 8-bit quantization
Dimensions: 15.75 (width) x 12.25 (depth) x 4.13 (height) inches
Weight: 8 lbs, 7oz
- Can apply more than one effect at a time
- Can store images in memory
- Titler creates titles from printed material
- Only two input sources
- A steep learning curve