Camcorder Reviews

The Shape of Things to Come
Canon ES1000 Hi8 Camcorder
One Canon Plaza
Lake Success, NY 11042

It seems Canon’s popular L1 and L2 get most of the industry attention–this makes it easy to forget that Canon is a company committed to offering a full line of camcorders for all levels and pocketbooks. Their latest offering is the ES1000, a Hi8 unit priced in the upper midrange of the tinycam pack.
In physical makeup, the ES1000 departs from Canon’s earlier designs. This unit places the lens next to the transport, much like a Sony Handycam. Though just introduced, the ES1000 looks and feels familiar right off the bat.

The ES1000 spells the end of Canon’s UC-series camcorders, which boast an upright design with lens above the transport. Likewise, Canon will no longer make the lens-in-front E520 and E350. In the not-too-distant future, Canon’s line will include only the ES series and the L2.
In spite of its small size, the ES1000 has an impressive 12x zoom lens. With a short focal length of 5.2mm, the lens goes nice and wide. I’ve said it a million times: for most shooting, a wider lens is more useful than a high-power telephoto setting. Bravo, Canon.
Like the UCS-5, the ES1000’s zoom lens lever moves perpendicular to the lens axis. I think this scheme gives the user better control over the zoom speed. This is important with the ES1000–it has 8 zoom speeds in each direction. Even with the well-designed zoom lever, it’s hard to find more than about 4 speeds. Only by listening carefully to the zoom motor could I verify the 8 speeds.

These vary from a slow zoom that covers the range in about 13 seconds to one that snaps through it in 3 seconds. The motor steps through the intermediate speeds smoothly, giving the illusion of a true infinite-speed zoom. The Canon’s zoom system is one of the best I’ve used.
The ES1000’s color viewfinder sports a high-resolution LCD that delivers over 140,000 pixels. The image is quite good, and the nearly 300 lines of horizontal resolution makes it possible to manual focus consistently. LCD displays still have a long way to go before they match the resolution of monochrome, but the ES1000’s viewfinder is a definite improvement. There is no SportsFinder mode on the ES1000, which allows you to see the viewfinder from a foot or two away.

Canon’s “third-generation” optical stabilization system graces the ES1000. Improvements supposedly include less floating and better high-frequency compensation, but I couldn’t see any difference between this scheme and Canon’s second-generation system. They both work amazingly well at killing handheld camera shake.

Light Handling

The ES1000 has a built-in light that sits near the lens. With just 4 watts of output, it will fill in shadows or enrich colors in marginal lighting conditions. It’s not bright enough to use as a key light, but that was never Canon’s intent. Running the light cuts battery time roughly in half.
In addition to full auto, the ES1000 has four special exposure modes. These include sports, portrait, spotlight and sand and snow. All divide the image into 64 regions, setting exposure based on different weightings of these regions.

You select exposure mode with a knurled wheel on the left side of the case; this oddly-angled wheel is rather hard to turn. A backlight button sits in the middle of the wheel, gradually opening the iris an additional two stops. The ES1000 does not have a manual iris control.
Likewise, white balance is continuous auto only. The ES1000 reacts quickly to changing lighting conditions; it wasn’t easily fooled. When you power the Canon down or remove the battery, it stores the last white balance setting.
The ES1000’s fader is not linked to the trigger, meaning you can hold it down to lay black on tape for as long as you want. This sure beats faders that work only with the record/pause trigger.

Other controls fall under a sliding panel on the left side of the unit’s case: high speed shutter, autofocus on/off, title, counter reset and tally/IR sensor enable. The unit’s titler overlays two lines of 16 characters each. The white characters have black outlines, making them easy to see against most backgrounds.
One button the ES1000 doesn’t need is line in/out. Canon implemented an auto-sensing feature that detects signals coming into the unit when in VCR mode. If no signal is present, the S-video, composite and stereo audio jacks function as outputs.

To the Test

The ES1000 is comfortable and light, and quite enjoyable to shoot with. I had no problem working most of the controls, though the autoexposure knob and sliding panel do take some concentration.

Image quality is very good. Resolution is nothing short of excellent, as is color reproduction and accuracy. My only complaint lies with video noise levels: the Canon picked up more noise than I expected it to in moderate light conditions. Give the ES1000 plenty of light, and excellent images result.
It’s easy to dial in your image with manual focus, thanks to a knurled ring near the lens. The manual focusing system is responsive, but you may not need to use it too often. Autofocus on the ES1000 is very fast and solid, locking in on the subject with a minimum of hunting. Once locked, it doesn’t shimmy much.
Notably lacking from the Canon are headphone and external mike jacks. In my opinion, these are unforgivable omissions. Someone spending this kind of money on a camcorder probably cares about audio.

To make matters worse, the ES1000’s built-in mike picks up plenty of unwanted motor and button noises even in moderately loud environments. Coupled with the absence of an external mike jack, this makes the ES1000’s audio virtually unusable for serious videomaking. The built-in mike is also highly susceptible to wind.

Noise and wind aside, the ES1000’s audio sounds great. Stereo imaging is dramatic; sounds come across with a high degree of realism. It’s too bad Canon engineers didn’t spend the time required to lick the noise problem.
In its favor, Canon’s new ES1000 offers impressive image quality, rock-solid image stabilization and a nice color viewfinder. On the flip side, it boasts sparse manual controls, somewhat substandard audio and no RC time code. A winning package? You make the call.

Technical Specifications

Canon ES1000 Hi8 Camcorder

Format: Hi8 (8mm compatible)

Lens: 8-speed 12:1 optical zoom, f/1.8, 5.2-62.4mm focal length

Pickup device: 1/3-inch CCD, 410,000 pixels

Viewfinder: 0.7-inch color LCD, 140,000 pixels

Exposure: Auto

Program AE modes: Sports, portrait, spotlight, sand & snow

Focus: TTL auto, manual override

Audio: AFM hi-fi stereo

White balance: Continuous auto

Other features: optical image stabilization, alphanumeric titler, high speed shutter, infrared remote, record search, in-viewfinder zoom meter, black fade, 4W light

Inputs: S-video, composite video, stereo audio, LANC

Outputs: S-video, composite video, stereo audio

Dimensions: 4.25 (height) by 4.25 (width) by 7.5 (depth) inches

Weight: 2 pounds (sans tape and battery)

Video Performance (approx.): Horizontal resolution (camera)
440 lines

Horizontal resolution (playback): 400 lines

Performance Times: Pause to record 0.5 second, Power-up to record
4 seconds

Fast forward/rewind (30 min. tape): 1 minutes, 40 seconds

Up the Ante
JVC GR-SZ7 S-VHS-C Camcorder
41 Slater Drive
Elmwood Park, NJ 07407

In past years, some people dismissed the older VHS-family as a group of formats in decline. Not so, says JVC, having just released its most advanced S-VHS-C camcorder to date, the GR-SZ7. This unit ups the ante for certain areas of compact camcorder performance, regardless of format.
At 570,000 pixels, the GR-SZ7 has the highest resolution sensor of any consumer camcorder. Before you start imagining 600-line resolution specs, understand that the JVC never uses all of these pixels. Instead, the camcorder records just the central portion of the sensor whether electronic image stabilization is on or not. Hence the unit has true lossless EIS, with absolutely no compromise in image quality.

This power-packed sensor does have other benefits, especially in the area of digital zoom. With other camcorders, you see resolution loss the instant the camera section begins digital magnification. With the GR-SZ7, you can zoom out to about 15x without image loss. After that, blockiness of the image becomes noticeable. The JVC offers both 20x and 100x digital zoom modes, the latter not being very practical for serious video production.
The JVC boasts a very fast f/1.2 lens, which is photographic jargon for a lens that efficiently passes light. As a result, the GR-SZ1 has very good low-light sensitivity and no visible noise in moderate light.

The 10x lens has two zoom speeds, controlled by a zoom lever that lies perpendicular to the lens axis. This type of control is growing more popular with camcorder makers because of its smaller size. The JVC’s lever makes it easy to select and hold either zoom speed. The lens’ built-in cover is a nice touch, spelling the end of the dangling lens cap.

The GR-SZ7 uses an inner-focus system, relegating manual focus to a small knob on the front of the camcorder. This knurled ring is finger-friendly, making the JVC easy to work in manual focus mode. A button inset in the middle of the knob selects auto or manual focus.
The only other manual image control with its own button or knob is iris; you’ll find the rest in a menu. Any time while shooting, you can press the exposure + or – buttons to adjust iris. The JVC features a relative manual iris, meaning the auto-iris continues to function with the user setting acting as an offset. This system isn’t nearly as useful as a true manual iris.

Check the Menu

Instead of dotting the GR-SZ7’s case with countless buttons, JVC opted to use an extensive menu system to control most of the camcorder’s functions. And though the multilevel menu is more complex than any I’ve seen to date, it’s surprisingly easy to navigate.
In the simpler PRESET operation mode, the menu controls mike wind compensation, trigger alarm and zoom range. In the more advanced VARIABLE PRESET mode, the menu also includes gain up mode, fader/wipe, exposure and effects, picture control and white balance.

The JVC’s gain up selector is unique; it allows you to disable gain entirely, or use a combination of auto gain and slow-speed shutter. The latter option makes it possible to shoot in extremely low light situations, though with an increase in noise and slow-speed shutter smear.
JVC really pulled out the stops with the GR-SZ7’s in-camera effects and transitions. There are a total of 13 effects–these include old-time film, cinema, monotone, sepia, sports, twilight, 3 slow-speed shutter settings and 3 strobes.

The JVC offers 17 different fades, wipes and dissolves. Fades include black, white, mosaic and monotone. The various wipes, like corner, shutter and door use either a solid black screen or a still frame from the previous scene. Likewise, dissolve freezes the last frame from the previous scene to simulate an A/B-roll dissolve.

In the VARIABLE PRESET mode, you select which five transitions and effects you need access to while shooting. You then pick from these “favorite five” with the P.AE/EFFECT and FADE/WIPE buttons. You’ll want to get familiar with the effects, since some combinations of digital effects, transitions, digital zoom and EIS will not work together.

If you use the transition AUTO SELECT, the GR-SZ7 will randomly select a transition and match it for the outgoing and incoming scene. This is a great no-brainer option for adding variety to your transitions. The normal PRESET mode selects the five most common transitions and effects for you.
The JVC’s picture control provides adjustments for tint, color level and sharpness. These changes go to tape, so you should be sure of the settings before you record. The sharpness control will really soften up the image to the point where it looks like you have a lens filter in place. This could come in handy.
White balance modes include continuous auto, manual hold, sunny outdoors, cloudy outdoors and halogen. The GR-SZ7 has one of the smartest auto white balance systems I’ve seen. It actually monitors your zoom setting, making little or no correction at tight zooms. This is when you’re most likely to fill the viewfinder with a solid color and fool the auto WB. The JVC also monitors the infrared remote sensor to figure out what type of light you’re shooting in. Very clever.

SNAP SHOT is one noteworthy effect that doesn’t sit under the effects menu; it has its own button near the zoom lever. This effect animates a shutter closing and opening over your video, grabbing a still frame complete with Polaroid-like white border. SNAP SHOT even puts the convincing shutter click of a still camera on your audio tracks. “Motor drive” mode records a succession of snap shots to tape.


Other than requiring you to repeatedly push the + and – buttons when operating manual iris or piloting the menu, the GR-SZ7’s controls are easy to operate. I found the viewfinder and hand position to be comfortable and strain-free. The LCD color viewfinder offers adequate resolution–around 260 lines–for consistent manual focus.

Video quality of the GR-SZ7 is excellent on all fronts: resolution, noise performance and color reproduction. JVC has some pretty sophisticated signal processing going down in the GR-SZ7, and it shows. Color from the JVC was the best I’ve seen from a single-chip unit. I was consistently impressed with the video quality of this camcorder.

I wasn’t at all impressed with the JVC’s shifty autofocus and unpredictable EIS. The unit’s autofocus hunted almost constantly, even when both subject and camcorder were stationary. I shut autofocus off and left it off.
I hoped for rock-solid performance from JVC’s electronic image stabilization, since the unit’s sensor was designed with EIS in mind. Wasn’t to be. In some cases, I could see little improvement with EIS on. In others, it almost seemed to accentuate small movements, adding a noticeable shimmer to image. To my eye, the JVC system does much better with large movements than small ones–I sometimes found the unit to be steadier when I was purposely shaking the camcorder than when trying to hold it still.

The GR-SZ7’s audio performance was very good, with a natural sound quality and nice stereo spread. I noticed a slight buzz, not really a motor noise, in the audio all the time. The JVC has an external mike jack, but no headphone jack. Why not?
JVC ditched the proprietary A/V output jack of its previous camcorders, instead equipping the GR-SZ7 with true audio and video jacks. Another nice touch: the JVC’s audible trigger alarm. This beeps when engaging or releasing pause, and when using transport controls in Play mode. Note that the GR-SZ7 has no VCR mode–the unit will not record from line inputs.

Thanks to the best digital effects and transitions I’ve seen in any camcorder, the GR-SZ7 is a real kick to shoot with. With some planning, you can add a professional look to your videos in-camera. If you can work around the GR-SZ7’s quirks, this unit will deliver some stunning video.

Technical Specifications

JVC GR-SZ7 S-VHS-C Camcorder

Format: S-VHS-C (VHS-C compatible)

Lens: 2-speed 10:1 optical zoom, f/1.2, 5-50mm focal length

Pickup device: 1/3-inch CCD, 570,000 pixels

Viewfinder: 0.7-inch color LCD

Exposure: Auto, manual offset

Program AE modes: Sports, twilight

Program AE effects: Snapshot, motor drive, cinema, classic film, strobe, slow shutter, video echo, monotone, sepia

Number of transitions: 16 (4 fades, 11 wipes and 1 dissolve)

Random assemble editor: 8 scenes

Focus: TTL auto, manual override

Audio: AFM hi-fi stereo, linear mono

White balance: Continuous auto, manual hold, 3 presets

Other features: Optical image stabilization, infrared remote, record search, in-viewfinder zoom meter, backlit LCD display, audible alarm

Inputs: Microphone

Outputs: S-video, composite video, stereo audio

Dimensions: 4.5 (height) by 4 (width) by 7.25 (depth) inches

Weight: 1.8 pounds (sans tape and battery)

Video Performance (approx.): Horizontal resolution (camera)
440 lines

Horizontal resolution (playback): 400 lines

Performance Times: Pause to record 0.5 second, Power-up to record
6 seconds

Fast forward/rewind (30 min. tape): 7 minutes, 50 seconds

Open Wide
Fujix H128SW Hi8 Camcorder
555 Taxter Road
Elmsford, NY 10523

Known primarily as a film and tape manufacturer, Fuji is one of the latest entrants to the camcorder manufacturing game. The company brings some unique features and design ideas to a class filled with a lot of “me, too” products.
Previous Fujix designs featured an additional wide angle lens that snapped in front of the normal lens assembly. Instead of this dual-lens approach, the H128SW uses a single 12x zoom lens that goes really wide.

With a short focal length of just 4.5mm, the H128SW gives you the field of view you’d expect only from an accessory wide angle lens. You even get some fisheye distortion, with straight lines taking on a bowed appearance near the edge of the image. No more shooting family gatherings from the next room to get everyone in the scene.

Because it has an inner focus design, the H128SW has a power manual focus control. For some strange reason, Fujix opted to put the focus control clear at the back of the camcorder, above the battery. This position takes some getting used to. The knob itself sits recessed in a slot, and I found it hard to locate and operate in the heat of shooting. Thank goodness the Fujix’s autofocus scheme is fast and stable.
A traditional rocker controls the Fujix’s single-speed zoom. The speed provided is a good compromise for most situations. There are no other manual controls on the H128SW–iris and white balance are continuous auto only. There is no manual backlight control on the Fujix.

The H128SW has a color viewfinder, though it’s not one of the newer high-resolution designs. The resulting image looks pretty coarse, making manual focusing a bit of a chore. The viewfinder itself rotates easily–a little too easily, in fact. I found it moving away from my eye if I put too much pressure on it. Mid-shot, this proves distracting to say the least.

Menu, Menu, on the Screen

Many of the H128’s functions fall under an on-screen menu. These include high speed shutter, interval record, self timer, frame record and trigger mode. The latter allows the user to select whether the H128SW records between button presses, or only as long as the button is held down.
After pressing the MENU button, the focus knob cycles through the options. Perhaps this is why the focus control sits where it does.
A two-page digital superimpose function allows you to capture and display any high-contrast image. The H128SW has a number of nice transitions for the title pages, including wipes and dissolves. You can reverse the title, and superimpose it any of eight colors.

In addition to a built-in stereo mike, the H128SW has an external mike input. A wind switch reduces low-frequency response to lessen the effects of wind. Thankfully, Fujix saw fit to put a headphone jack on the H128SW.

Video performance of the Fujix is average, with strong, accurate color. Resolution is good, though to my eye the H128SW doesn’t look quite as crisp as some of its competition. Low-light performance is good, with little noise visible. Audio performance is impressive, with little motor noise and natural stereo imaging.
The Fujix H128SW offers a respectable combination of features and performance. Its wider-than-usual lens system makes it worth checking out for people that do a lot of shooting in cramped indoor spaces.

Technical Specifications

Fujix H128SW Hi8 Camcorder

Format: Hi8 (8mm compatible)

Lens: single-speed 12:1 optical zoom, f/1.6, 4.5-54mm focal length

Pickup device: 1/3-inch CCD, 410,000 pixels

Viewfinder: 0.7-inch color LCD

Exposure: Auto

Focus: TTL auto, manual override

Audio: AFM hi-fi stereo

White balance: Continuous auto

Other features: Digital title superimpose, high speed shutter, infrared remote, record search, interval record, self timer, fade, dual-mode record trigger

Inputs: S-video, composite video, stereo audio, external microphone

Outputs: S-video, composite video, stereo audio, headphones

Dimensions: 4 (height) by 4 (width) by 7 (depth) inches

Weight: 1 pounds, 12 ounces (sans tape and battery)

Video Performance (approx.): Horizontal resolution (camera)
430 lines

Horizontal resolution (playback): 400 lines

Performance Times: Pause to record 0.5 second, Power-up to record
3 seconds

Fast forward/rewind (30 min. tape): 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Loren Alld`rin is Videomaker‘s technical editor.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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