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Lake Success, NY 11042
Looking for features? The Canon Optura 500 has a rich set of features for intermediate and advanced shooters. While it certainly isn't a pro level Mini DV camcorder, it can easily be misleading with some of the manual controls at your fingertips.
Out of the Box
The Optura 500 is definitely an intriguing design with the battery and LCD on the same side of the compact camcorder. The design requires you to hold the camcorder like a beer can rather than a football. Initially, it seems a little awkward, but after a couple of minutes you can find a comfortable position.
As you look around the camcorder, there's an amazing amount of controls, buttons and devices on every side. Most of the controls are easy to reach, with the exception of a couple on the right hand side of the camcorder. This isn't a huge problem, as the buttons are not critical enough to need more direct access to them.
The most impressive point to make about Canon's design is the fact they worked in every jack you could want on such a small camcorder body. There's S-Video, FireWire, USB, AV and a mic jack fairly accessible all around the camcorder. This is a nice feature and will enable you to connect this camcorder to practically anything without having to carry around additional hardware, like a docking station.
Steady As She Goes
The zoom rocker has variable speeds and will get you to the end of the 10x optical zoom at a slow crawl or a zippy zoom. At the long end of the lens the electronic image stabilization works fairly good. A lot of motion is still translated across the image, but it's mostly smooth and jitter free. We have seen better image stabilizers for 10x lenses and we wonder if this is an effect of Canon's electronic image stabilizer versus their optical one. Nonetheless, you'll find having a tripod handy always a good idea.
The audio controls are significantly important, as the audio levels can be adjusted manually. Unfortunately, adjusting each channel independently is not possible. The VU meter is easy to read on the 2.5" LCD screen and with a mic input option you should be able to get just the audio you want hear. The biggest issue in regards to audio is that there is not accessory shoe. Attaching a shotgun mic or any lighting devices will be a lot more difficult, if not nearly impossible.
The Optura 500, however, does ship with a supplied Ring Light Adapter that channels the video light from the front of the camcorder to the Ring accessory. This accessory will help evenly cast a bit of light into your images. It can be extremely useful in low light situations.
There is also a still camera flash on board. For stills, the camcorder can record to tape of memory card. When using the supplied 8MB SD memory card, images can be captured at a maximum resolution of 1632×1224. Sporting a 2.0-megapixel still imager, the photos are pretty sharp.
The onboard microphone is located on the top back end of the camcorder, right on the viewfinder. In our opinion this is not a great spot for a mic, especially if you plan to use the viewfinder. However, on the plus side, the mic is not subject to any zoom motor noise in this position. The mic itself performs well, but it struggles to pick up sound past 15 feet away. Past 15 feet, the sound drops off quite dramatically. Again, here's where an external shotgun mic would come in handy, but without the accessory shoe you'll have to think of a workaround.
Other than the onboard mic not having a lot of reach, the audio sound is very clear. It picks up rich, full tones at moderate distances. The Optura 500 also has wind screen and mic attenuator options available within the menu.
The Optura 500 doesn't fall short in the area of its video image. The details are easily visible, especially in macro shots. The colors are very nice, too. In our lab tests, the Optura 500 performed with flying colors. The color balance is great, as the reds are not as oversaturated like most camcorders these days. Additionally, the other colors have a decent amount of saturation too.
The auto white balance tends to be slightly warm, but using the manual white balance will eliminate this problem. The auto exposure slightly underexposes but not too much, which helps keep detail within the image. Overall, the Optura 500 has the optics to be a real winner in the semi-professional world, which is quite a feat for a single-chip camcorder.
If having a gaggle of features is important to you and you need a small camcorder that can travel well, the Optura 500 has a great deal to offer. Its audio and video capabilities are very attractive for intermediate shooters and the price is moderately reasonable, too.
Format: Mini DV
Number of CCDs: 1
Size of CCDs: 1/3.4"
Pixels on CCD: (k) 2200
Video Effective Pixels (k): 1230
Lens f Stop: f1.8-2.4
Program Exposure Modes: 5
Optical Zoom: 10x
Focal Length: 4.7-47mm
Image Stabilization: Electronic
Manual White Balance: auto/manual
Viewfinder: .33" Color 133k pixels
LCD Monitor: 2.5" TFT color, 211K 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
Still Shot Media: SD Multimedia Card
Memory Card Included: Yes, 8MB
Wireless Remote: Yes
External Battery Charger Provided: No
Battery Type: Lithium Ion
Tape Loading Configuration: Bottom
Onboard Video Light: Yes
Accessory Shoe: no
- Compact Design
- Manual Audio Levels
- Mic Input
- No accessory shoe
- Bottom Tape Loader
- Weak Mic
Lots of useful features for intermediate shooters and it's easy to use.
Mark Montgomery is Videomaker's technical editor.