Optura 20 camcorder: $1,000
S830D printer: $300
One Canon Place
Lake Success, NY 11042
The gradual and incremental pace of improvements in consumer Mini DV camcorders can mask how far we’ve come in the last seven years. When we take a step back and look at the state of the industry, we suddenly notice that the quality to price ratio of the latest mid-range cameras is really astonishing. And there is no better example than the new $1,000 Canon Optura 20. Capitalizing on Canon’s still photography experience, this camera is an all-in-one that does not compromise either the video or the still image. Anyone looking for a reasonably priced camera that is a step above the basic introductory-level camcorder, should look closely at the Optura 20.
The Optura 20 is not the smallest camcorder in the world. We appreciate the tiny cams that we can put in our pockets and carry with us everywhere, but, honestly, they aren’t always the most ergonomic and can be uncomfortable to use. The Optura 20, on the other hand, would please Goldilocks: it’s not too small, it’s not too heavy, it’s just right. The design of this camera is different from the tall and narrow design of past Opturas and instead has a longer horizontal body style. Otherwise, the specs for this camera are nearly identical to the Optura 200MC, but this camera is much more comfortable to hold and easier to use as a result. All of the important controls can be accessed with the LCD screen closed. The viewfinder itself does not telescope away from the camera so your nose might bump against the battery, depending on the heft of your honker. Manual controls were simple to access and adjust and we particularly liked the wide focus ring that responded very deftly under our fingers. Our only other criticism of the design is (say it with me, folks): the tape loads from the bottom, so you’ll need to remove the camera from the tripod to change tapes. Otherwise, this is a very lightweight and comfortable camera to operate.
The quality of the video was as good as the last Optura we saw here, which is to say, very good indeed. The 16x optical zoom was sharp and clear and we found the image stabilization to be very fast.
Another complaint we’re getting tired of repeating: the default audio was set to 12-bit (32kHz). Besides being of lower quality than the alternate 16-bit (48kHz) setting, we find that this causes problems when creating DVDs.
16:9 widescreen is a feature we’re starting to see more and more often. Often this is wastefully implemented in many cameras with a fake 16:9 mode that is created by simply cropping the top and bottom of a 4:3 DV frame. Hollywood has created anamorphic widescreen movies for ages using an optical lens adapter, although Sony has an electronic 16:9 anamorphic mode on its low-end professional PDX10 (May 2003). The Optura 20 compromises by first cropping the top and bottom in a fake 16:9 mode and then stretches this image to fill the frame in an anamorphic fashion. While it is technically an anamorphic mode that will display properly on a widescreen television, it doesn’t add any width to your framing and it doesn’t even display properly on the camera’s own LCD screen.
The low-light performance of the Optura 20 was about what you might expect from a camera at this price: adequate but not spectacular. It will be fine for most home-shooting situations but images of dimly lit parties may look dark.
There is a white LED light just below the lens that will work in an emergency, but it is a very small and will only illuminate at close range and at about four frames a second.
Stills and Printing
The Optura 20 has a 1.33M pixel CCD that produces progressive 1280×960 resolution stills, which is plenty for high quality Web and electronic distribution. We appreciated the sophisticated auto focus and auto exposure modes, although we would have liked to have seen a popup flash of some sort. It is not unique to Canon camcorders, but we have recently discovered the usefulness of grabbing video stills from tape to the memory card, either while playing back the tape or even simultaneously while recording to tape.
The 1280×960 resolution is merely adequate for printing still images, but Canon really has a nice option for printing directly from the camera to their S830D printer ($300), which we also tested. The camera connects directly to the printer via a USB connection. While the printer lacks an LCD, you can use the camera’s screen to select the images you want to print and then control the printer directly with the camcorder (using the DPOF standard). In addition, you can even perform basic image correction (e.g. color adjustments) and simple cropping in-camera before sending the image to the printer. The S830D printer uses six ink cartridges and produced quality 4×6 borderless prints on photo paper at a maximum resolution of 2400×1200 dpi. The combination of camera and printer was incredibly fun and convenient. The printer also had a media reader slot that allowed us to print photos straight from a Compact Flash card (or Memory Stick, MMC, SD, SmartMedia). When connected to a computer, it also automatically acted as a removable drive and a normal printer.
With similar video features and specs as last year’s $1,700 Optura 200MC, the thousand dollar Optura 20 is a remarkable camera. Throw in the quality still imaging features and the fully integrated photo printing features and this camera becomes a total imaging package.
Canon Optura 20 Mini DV Camcorder
Format: Mini DV
Lens: fl=4 to 64mm, 16:1 optical zoom, f/1.8, 37mm filter
Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD, 1,330,000 pixels (690,000 effective for video)
Viewfinder: 0.33-inch color, 113,000 pixels
LCD Viewscreen: 3.5-inch color, 123,000 pixels
Focus: auto, manual
Image Stabilization: electronic
Maximum shutter speed: 1/8,000 sec. (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
Still Resolution: 1280×960
Still Memory: SD card (8MB included)
Still Flash: none
Dimensions: 3 x 7.3 x 3.6 inches (75 x 186 x 92 mm)
Weight (sans tape and battery): 1.4 lbs (625g)
S830D Photo Printer
Format: bubble jet
Ink Cartridges: 6
Card Slot: PCMCIA adapter for: CompactFlash, Memory Stick, SD, MMC, SmartMedia
Tested Horizontal Resolution: 490 lines
The Optura 20 is an altogether fine combination of video and still imaging at a very reasonable price.