Review: Canon Optura Camcorder

$1,699

Canon USA

One Canon Place

Lake Success, NY 11042

(800) 828-4040

www.canondv.com

If you’re an intermediate to advanced videographer looking for a high quality, yet compact camcorder, Canon’s new Optura 200MC might be just what you’re looking for. Weighing in at about a pound and a quarter, the single-CCD design delivers very good-looking video. Notable and important features include an optical image stabilizer, plenty of manual controls and a full complement of jacks that can function as both inputs and outputs.

Compact but Big

The 200MC has a different button configuration and a slightly different lens compared to its older brother, the Optura 100MC (reviewed in the March 2002 issue). Behind the lens is a 1/4-inch, 1,330,000-pixel CCD (used for high quality digital stills). When you’re recording video, only 690,000 are active. The 100MC’s heavy, solid feel remains.

The Optura 200MC’s grip rotates to about a 45-degree angle to accommodate your right hand. This means two or three of your fingers wrap around a comfortable, rounded vinyl strip in front of the unit (depending on whether you need to make focus adjustments), your index finger controls zooms and still shots, and your thumb handles the mode switches, menu controls and start/stop buttons. You can use your left hand to navigate the exposure and focus controls. Behind the viewscreen lies the Record button, the other tape transport controls and the still-shot features such as flash controls, index screens and slide show.

We were pleased to find that most of the important controls are accessed with buttons on the body of the camera. White balance and shutter speeds are the only important controls accessed through a menu system. The auto/manual focus button and exposure controls are accessible directly (pressing the button puts the camera in exposure lock, and allows you to adjust the exposure from that point.)

The Optura 200MC comes with a remote control that emphasizes VCR functions, but is somewhat light on camera control. You can enter the menu, make zoom adjustments and start and stop the camera, but that’s about it. If you want to do any audio dubbing, level adjustments or slow-motion playback, you must use the remote. We found the remote more useful in the edit bay than in the field.

This is a single-chip camera?

The optical system yielded image quality every bit as good as the Optura 100MC. The picture was sharp and clean through its 10x zoom lens. The optical zoom is variable and smooth.

Focusing is intuitive – just put the camera in manual focus mode with a single button press and twist the focus ring around the lens. The auto focus was quite good, too, responding accurately at a respectable speed.

The optical image stabilizer did a fine job, but it did its very best work when we weren’t zoomed all the way in. Pans and zooms were not a problem for the Optura 200MC. There was no noticeable loss in image size with the optical stabilization, which is something that frequently occurs with lower quality (and more common) digital stabilizers.

The densely packed CCD did a great job with contrasty scenes as well as with vivid colors. White balance was easy to set once we found it in the menu. We found skin tones to be outstanding, and textures were well-defined.

We weren’t sure how good the audio would be with the stereo mike right on top of the unit, but we were pleasantly surprised by the absence of motor noise. Even so, we’d heartily recommend putting the Optura 200MC’s mike jack to good use.

Canon includes a couple of night modes on the 200MC, which it emphasizes as being full color. This sounds better than it is. The Super Night mode simply lowers the shutter speed to a few frames a second and illuminates the scene with a tiny white light LED. We did not find it to be useful at all. The picture was grainy, the auto focus didn’t work and the video was extremely jerky. While you might not like the green-hue of the infrared night mode on other camcorders, at least it gives you full frame rate, invisibly illuminated video, which we have found to be very useful in no-light situations.

It’s Great, But

The Optura 200MC loads tape from the bottom. If you haven’t guessed yet, we really don’t like this all-too-common feature. The reason for this is obvious if you’re a tripod user (and you are, aren’t you?) – when it’s time to change tapes, you have to take the camcorder off the tripod, unscrew the mounting plate and then open the tape door to actually eject the tape.

Overall, the Optura 200MC is a solid performer. You might choose the 200MC for the video quality alone.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: fl=4.1 to 41mm, f/1.8, 10:1 optical zoom, 34mm filter

Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD, 1,330,000 pixels (690,000 effective for video)

Viewfinder: 1/2-inch color, 113,000 pixels

LCD Viewscreen: 2.5-inch color, 200,000 pixels

Focus: auto, manual

Image Stabilization: optical

Maximum shutter speed: 1/8,000 sec. for video, 1/250 for stills (auto/manual)

Exposure Control: auto, manual

Program AE modes: 8

White Balance: auto, manual

Digital Effects: 18

Audio: 12-bit or 16-bit stereo

Inputs: FireWire, S-Video, composite video, stereo audio, mike

Outputs: FireWire, S-Video, composite video, stereo audio, headphones, USB (for stills)

Edit interface: FireWire, LANC

Other Features: SD card slot and USB port for digital stills (8MB SD card included)

Dimensions: 2 3/8 (w) x 4 5/8 (h) x 4 5/8 (d) inches

Weight (sans tape and battery): 1 lb, 2 3/4 oz.

Performance Times

Pause to Record: 0.81 seconds

Power-up to Record: 8.52 seconds

Fast forward/Rewind (60 min): 2 minutes 16 seconds

Tested Horizontal Resolution: 500 lines

STRENGTHS

  • Excellent video quality

  • Optical image stabilizer

    WEAKNESSES

  • Tape loads from bottom

    SUMMARY

  • Great features and great performance.

  • Very good overall.
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