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A few years ago, we reviewed Canon’s first Optura camcorder, an ambitious endeavor to combine the look, feel and capabilities of a still camera with a Mini DV camcorder. The company’s latest offering, the Canon Optura 100MC, shows promise.
This camcorder’s price level and feature set place it in the high-level hobbyist category. In other words, it’s in the price range that many Videomaker readers would consider expensive, yet not as high-priced as some of the better three-chip prosumer DV camcorders on the market. Its small size, point-and-shoot capabilities and still-photo features identify it as being designed for the hobbyist, yet advanced users will appreciate its full set of manual controls and excellent performance.
Sleeker and more stylish-looking than earlier Opturas, the 100MC was comfortable to hold, and offered easy access to most controls. The entire camera is small, but heavy and solid feeling. Small size makes some compact models in this category difficult to hold steady while shooting. Canon, however, offers excellent optical image stabilization.
To focus the unit manually, we pushed the tiny Focus/Data Code button at the rear of the camera, then rolled the wheel to adjust the focus in or out. The system worked well in our tests, but not as well as a true outer focus ring positioned on the lens might work. Auto focus on the 100MC was quick and the unit didn’t appear to be hunting around for sharp images.
Dominating the front end of the 100MC is a somewhat large lens assembly large, that is, in comparison to the size of the camcorder. Many compact camcorders in today’s market have tiny lens structures; Canon’s inclusion of plenty of glass in this lens helps to resolve a better image for both still and video. Indeed, our resolution tests showed that the camera approached the theoretical limits for the DV format and we can’t remember seeing such a sharp image in a long time.
The optical zoom ratio of the Optura 100MC is only 10:1, but the 200:1 digital zoom range combined with the high-resolution CCD kept the image looking pretty sharp out to around 50:1, where noticeable pixelation started to appear in the image. The zoom control on our test unit offered a wide range of zoom speeds, from very slow to quite zippy.
The on-camera mike, which is situated atop the camera, worked well when it was close to the subject (6 feet away), but isn’t well suited to pick up faraway sounds. Also, because it’s oriented upward, the camcorder tends to pick up noise (breathing, sniffing) from the camera operator. The microphone and headphone jacks are important features that Canon included on the Optura and should arguably exist on every camcorder.
On playback, the best thing about the Optura 100MC became immediately noticeable; it shoots outstanding video and still images. Colors were rich and vivid, details were sharp, and even contrasty scenes came out decent-looking. Problem colors (like saturated greens and reds) appeared clear and clean. We did notice that the auto white balance feature sometimes drifted a bit into more yellow temperatures under incandescent lights, but manual white balance was flawless.
The 100MC’s 2.5-inch flip-out LCD operated very well outdoors, but like most, if not all LCDs, it was difficult to use in direct sunlight. In such situations, the color viewfinder worked very well as a stand-in, and Canon’s inclusion of a large rubber eyepiece made it very comfortable to use.
The 1.3-megapixel resolution that Canon opted for has become a sort of bottom line for digital still photographers, because at this resolution, standard-sized 4×6-inch still prints look quite good. The 100MC’s automatic flip-up flash feature is nice, as is the included standard 8MB flash memory card. While the unit has no USB or serial connection for transferring still images to a computer, we applaud Canon for using standard MultiMediaCard and accommodating SD Card flash memory design. This allows compatibility with many inexpensive card readers, standard software drivers and other standard devices, like MP3 players, PDAs and other digital cameras.
We do have a couple complaints related to this camcorder. One, the tape ejects out the bottom, so when the camera sits on a tripod, you can’t change tapes without taking off the tripod mounting plate. Two, the manual white balance control is buried in a menu. Additionally, at this price, it would have been nice to see some sort of audio level control, which would greatly enhance the audio dubbing feature. All in all, we found it to be a nice camcorder at a slightly high price.
Format: Mini DV
Lens: 10:1 optical, 200:1 digital zoom, f/1.6-1.8, fl 4.2-42mm, 43mm filter diameter
Image Sensor: 1/3-inch CCD (1.33 million pixels; 680,000 pixels video)
Viewfinder: .55-inch color LCD viewfinder (113,000 pixels)
LCD Viewscreen: 2.5-inch color LCD monitor (200,000 pixels)
Focus: auto, manual
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/8000 sec.
Exposure: auto, manual, 5 presets (sports, portrait, spotlight, sand and snow, low light)
White Balance: auto, manual, 2 presets (indoor, outdoor)
Digital Effects: Negative, Art, Black and White, Sepia, Mosaic, 6 wipes and fades
Audio: 12- or 16-bit stereo
Inputs: composite video, stereo audio, S-video, microphone (1/8-inch mini), FireWire
Outputs: composite video, stereo audio,
S-video, headphones, FireWire
Edit Interface: LANC, FireWire
Other Features: 8MB flash RAM, built-in auto-pop-up flash for stills
Dimensions: 2.5 (w) x 5.1 (h) x 5.1 (d) inches
Weight (sans tape and battery): 1 lb. 7.25 oz.