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Lake Success, NY 11042
There are a lot of fine cameras out there, but only a few knock our socks off every year. The Canon Optura Xi definitely left us with ten cold little piggies. With full manual exposure controls (with zebra stripes for monitoring the exposure) and manual audio controls (with meters for monitoring the levels), this is a camera for those of you ready to learn how to shoot like a professional.
3-CCDs or RGB color filter
We’ve talked with Canon about their RGB Primary Color Filter technology and how it approximates the performance of a 3-CCD camera and more or less understand what they are getting at. In the end, the performance is what matters however. We made a side-by-side comparison with six cameras from three different manufacturers, four 3-CCD models and two 1-CCD models, under identical conditions. All of our editors were able to pick out the two 1-CCD cameras, but only after close and careful examination of still image frame grabs, sometimes only after zooming in. We also can’t conclude that the number of CCDs was the most important factor, since all of our test cameras also had different lenses, among other things.
So we aren’t convinced that Canon’s RGB filter technology is truly equivalent to 3-CCDs, but the bottom line, as always, is the picture: the Optura Xi shoots a lovely, warm image with no noticeable color bleeding or artifacts, although color saturation was not as rich as we expected. The low-light performance was good for a camera of this size. Automatic shooting features, including image stabilization, consistently produced a good image, although it tended to underexpose a bit under office fluorescents.
Full manual shutter and iris controls are a critical part of what makes this camera so attractive. What truly makes these controls useful, however, are the zebra pattern exposure indicators. The zebra pattern (or stripes) is a set of lines that appear on your LCD or viewscreen to indicate overexposed (or nearly overexposed) portions of your video. This feature is unavailable on any other 1-CCD camera. If you are just learning or if you don’t trust your eyes, the zebra pattern is like an audio meter that instantly tells you when your audio is clipping. Many, many professionals rely on zebra stripes for exposure, although the best and most experienced shooters certainly do not.
It should go without saying that a camera in this class has a microphone and headphone jack, but we’ll say it anyway. More rare, but only slightly less important, the Optura Xi has an audio meter and full-manual audio gain control. A press of a button is all you need to do to toggle the onscreen audio meter on and off and a simple dial adjusts the gain with only a light touch. By getting the microphone as close to the talent as possible, you can turn down the gain, virtually eliminating the electronic noise floor that is inherent in any camera’s circuitry. The combination of microphone input, headphone jack, manual gain control and audio meters make this camera a serious tool for proper audio acquisition. Very, very nice.
The Optura Xi shoots decent stills if you need the convenience of an all-in-one camera, but they don’t compare to dedicated still cameras with the same number of pixels, such as our editor’s now-ancient Canon S10. The digital images should suffice for your Web site or video productions, but they are not really suited for printing.
We’re seeing more and more cameras that shoot a proper anamorphic 16:9 widescreen image, and you can count the Xi among them. The widescreen mode covered an expansive 48-degree field of view and looked great on our widescreen television. The only downside to Canon’s implementation is that the LCD and viewfinder do not display the widescreen image anamorphically, which means that you’ll be able to frame and shoot, but everyone will look unnaturally anorexic and squashed. Our final caution applies to anyone considering shooting 16:9 with any camera: you’ll need to assess your distribution options before you shoot. You’ll need a widescreen television to view the anamorphic output from the camera directly or you’ll need to edit and create a proper widescreen DVD so that your DVD player can handle the widescreen or letterboxed output. It’s not really all that hard and the results are wonderful, but make sure you think through (and research) the entire process before Day One of your production.
The Canon Optura Xi is one of only two cameras for less than $2,000 with full manual controls, zebra stripes and manual audio gain (the other being the Panasonic PV-DV953). It is certainly the best 1-CCD camera around and it was only through very deliberate imaging tests that we were able to tease out any differences at all between this camera and the 3-CCD models in our possessions, some of which cost twice as much as the Xi. If you’ve moved beyond the beginner’s phase, you will not be disappointed with the Canon Optura Xi.
D. Eric Franks is Videomaker‘s Technical Editor.
Horizontal Resolution: 485 lines
Field of View (4:3): 42 degrees
Field of View (16:9): 48 degrees
Format: Mini DV
Lens: F/1.6-1.9, fl=4.2mm to 47mm, 11:1 optical zoom, 46mm filter diameter
Image sensor: 1/3.4-inch CCD
Gross pixels: 2.2 million
Effective pixels: 1.23 million
Still Shot: 1,632 x 1,224
Viewfinder: 0.33-inch color
LCD viewscreen: 3.5-inch color (123k pixels)
Focus: auto, manual
Anamorphic 16:9: yes
Image Stabilization: electronic
Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/8
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/2,000
Iris: auto, manual
Electronic Gain: 11 levels
White Balance: auto, manual, presets (5)
Night Mode: slow shutter, white LED illumination
Audio: 16-bit (default), 12-bit
Microphone Input: 1/8-inch stereo mini
Headphone Output: 1/8-inch stereo mini
Inputs: FireWire, S-video, composite
Outputs: FireWire, S-video, composite
Edit Interface: FireWire
Other features: 8MB SD card
Dimensions (w x h x d): 80 x 90 x 201 mm (2.1 x 3.5 x 7.9 inches)
Weight (sans tape and battery): 1.6 lbs. (725g)
A fabulous camera with full-manual controls and features.