Canon Optura 600 Mini DV Camcorder Review

A Chip Off the Old Block

Here’s a camcorder with an imager that rivals the size of a single XL2 imager. If you’re looking for a small, compact player that has a plethora of features, the Optura 600 is looking good.

It’s nice to see that a smaller size camcorder doesn’t necessarily mean a smaller CCD under the hood. Canon’s Optura 600 packs some serious heat with 1/ 2.8" imager. Shooters who want more professional control over their camcorder will still have a manageable traveling size camcorder with this Optura update.

The Small of Things

The Optura 600 is a small and sleek camcorder with a metallic gray body. It’s relatively comfortable to hold, but people with large hands might find it more of a challenge to be settled. Once strapped in for a few minutes it feels more comfy.

This camcorder has no shortage of buttons, all within reach except for the menu button, which is in an awkward position next to the mode dial. To activate it without using your left hand, you need to swing your thumb around to the side of the camcorder. Given the menu button’s frequency of use, it would have been better located where it could be activated more easily, like where the function button is located. Then again, since there are so many buttons to activate the many features, having easy access to the menu button may not seem as important.

We were otherwise pleased with the design and we’ll admit that the menu button placement is a rather nit picky complaint. Furthermore, the Function button (which was the menu button on the Optura 500) offers some new features and functions that we gladly accept in its place.

Speaking of new things, the battery on the Optura 600 features a new design, rounding off the stylish look. This new design is expandable to longer-lasting batteries, too. What’s nice about this design is that it’s just like the Optura 500 and mounts on the side so that swapping out batteries is easy.

The Optura 600 features a 10x optical zoom and electronic image stabilization. The electronic image stabilization performed very well. It wasn’t fooled by pans or tilts and held steady at the long end of the lens. The zoom lever is rather small, but it’s fairly easy to manipulate the variable speeds. The manual focus can be touchy using the set dial and not as accurate as a focus ring, but having the control is beneficial. It’s also incredibly easy to switch between auto and manual focus.

Gain Up

An obvious strength to any camcorder at this level is manual audio adjustment. Canon has upped the ante by adding this feature to many of its high-end consumer camcorders, and we couldn’t be happier to see this move. However, on this camcorder, this feature won’t allow manual control for each channel separately. Independent channel mixing (left/right channels) will have to be done in post or through a field mixer.

The onboard mic is located at the top rear of the camcorder. This is not an ideal position, as we heard ourselves breathing a couple times during our test footage. You’ll definitely want to be cautious how close you hold this camcorder and how you move it about.

The mic picks up audio at fairly good distances outdoors under controlled environments. The audio sounds rich and full when the sources are projecting towards the camcorder. Sound starts to become less clear when people are speaking away from the camcorder. This is usually true for all mics, but it seemed especially true for this one. Also, note that there is no accessory shoe, so any mic you add will have to be creatively placed elsewhere.

Splendid Visuals

As mentioned earlier, the size of the 1/2.8" CCD in this camcorder rivals that of a single chip from the Canon XL2. In fact, with both camcorders in 4:3 mode, the Optura 600 has more effective pixels. That’s quite nice little spec you can brag to your friends about. Most importantly, it improves the overall resolution of video and stills.

In our lab test the results were quite surprising. The contrast chart reveals a nice, even contrast. The camcorder, like most consumer models, tends to underexpose in the auto mode, but not too much. The color chart reveals further pleasing results. There was very little noticeable bleeding between colors. The colors were very accurate, except for magenta, which skews toward red. The reds are oversaturated and the cooler colors are conversely undersaturated although they still remain true to their color. Overall, we are very pleased with the results from our test lab. In the field, the camcorder has noticeably strong resolution and beautiful color reproduction. Highlights and shadows maintained a surprisingly good amount of detail. In low light conditions, however, expect a more grainy resolution due to the boost in gain. Also, we took the time to use all the manual features and found that making fine adjustments with this camcorder was an enjoyable process.


Wrap It Up!

The Canon Optura 600 is a camcorder worth bragging about when it comes to the visual quality. While the onboard mic is not tops, the mic input and manual audio levels are not usually available on a camcorder at this level. This camcorder offers some of the best manual features while still maintaining a small, compact size that can travel easily and a price that’s not too far out of range.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Number of CCDs: 1

Size of CCDs: 1/2.8"

Pixels on CCD: 4,290k total

Video Effective Pixels: 3,500k total

Focus: Auto/Manual (using dial)

Shutter Speed: Auto/Manual

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/2000

Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/8

Lens f Stop: 1.8-3.0

Program Exposure Modes: 5, plus 6 scene modes

Optical Zoom: 10x

Focal Length: 6.1-61mm

Image Stabilization: Electronic

Manual White Balance: Yes

Viewfinder: 0.33" color 113k pixels

LCD Monitor: 2.5", 123k pixels

Progressive Scan: No

HD Modes: No

Video In: Composite, S-Video, FireWire

Video Out: Composite, S-Video, USB, FireWire

Mono/Stereo Recording: Stereo

Microphone In: Yes

VU Meters: Yes

Manual Audio Level Controls: Yes

Headphone Jack: Yes

Speaker: yes

Still Shot Media: SD Memory Card

Memory Card Included: 6MB SD

Flash: Yes

Wireless Remote: Yes

External Battery Charger Provided: No

Battery Type: Lithium Ion

Tape Loading Configuration: bottom

Onboard Video Light: Yes

Accessory Shoe: No

STRENGTHS

  • Big imager, beautiful results
  • Manual audio levels
  • Small and lightweight

WEAKNESSES

  • Menu button placement
  • New battery design (your old Canon batteries won’t work)
  • No accessory shoe

SUMMARY

This is a great camcorder for travelers or shooters who want more manual control.

Mark Montgomery is Videomaker’s Editorial Assistant.

$1,199

Canon

One Canon Plaza

Lake Success, NY 11042

(800) 828-4040

www.canondv.com

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