Review Under $400 Camcorder: Canon ES55 8mm Camcorder

Canon Says, Greetings Video Newbies

The Canon ES55 is an entry-level camcorder targeted at casual shooters and video newbies operating on a budget. Its sub-$400 list price will surely attract the attention of first time camcorder shoppers, and its features will allow future experts to learn the art of making video without having to spend thousands of dollars on a camcorder. Canon’s ES50 is the younger sibling to the ES55. The ES50 retails for $349. It is just like the ES55, but excludes image stabilization and photo modes.

Size Matters

The 8mm format has long been a favorite of casual video hobbyists, primarily due to its small size. Your local drug store sells 8mm tapes, and a single tape records up to two hours (120 minutes) of footage. Because the tapes are small, 8mm camcorders are too. The ES55 weighs less than two pounds and will fit easily into a backpack or picnic basket. Its size will make it easy to carry along for a day at the zoo or a hike in the mountains.

Pushing the Buttons

The ES55 is a sleek, sharp-looking camcorder. It fits nicely in the right hand and its weight is distributed well, making it easy to hold comfortably in one hand while shooting for extended periods of time. Your right thumb can easily operate the large Record/Pause button and standby toggle.

You can use the dial on the rear of the camera to place the camcorder in any of the six camera-operation modes (fully automatic, FlexiZone, Sports, Portrait, Spotlight or Sand & Snow) or into VCR mode for playback. You’ll find the VCR controls and eject button located on top of the unit. When in camera mode, the VCR buttons double as controls for fade in/out, backlight, digital zoom on/off, record search and counter reset. The back of the unit is also home to an on/off switch for the built-in light.

A sliding, spring-loaded switch adjusts the zoomslide to the left for wide and to the right for tight. Because of the design and position of the zoom control we found it somewhat difficult to maintain the speed of our zooms. It was also a challenge to start and stop the zooms as gradually as we would have liked. A wireless remote control that comes with the unit lets you start and stop your recording, adjust the zoom and operate the VCR controls without touching the camcorder.

You can access features such as image stabilization, titler and photo mode through an internal menu. To view the menu, you press the Menu button on the left side of the camcorder’s body, then rotate the selector wheel to navigate. It is here that we wished the unit had a flip out LCD screen. The only way to view the menu is to peer into the viewfinder with one eye. Fortunately, once we had made our initial adjustments, we had little need to return to the menu.

You’ll find two "custom keys" near the Menu button and selector wheel. You can program these custom keys to operate a number of functions. We opted to program the buttons to select and enable the camcorder’s built-in digital effects. Effects include art, sepia, negative, half mirror, full mirror, mosaic, pastel, emboss, color key-red/green/blue/yellow, 16:9, cinema (letterbox), slow shutter and strobe.

In the Zone

The ES55 has Canon’s patented FlexiZone autofocus/autoexposure. A joystick control on the back of the camcorder allows you to position a small box in the viewfinder to select the portion of the shot you would like the camcorder to use as a reference for adjusting the automatic focus and exposure. You can manipulate the joystick easily with the right thumb while shooting. Push the joystick in to lock the settings. The FlexiZone system performed well in our tests.

FlexiZone allows you a degree of control somewhere between fully automatic and fully manual. Casual shooters may never use it, but more advanced shooters will grow to love it. Our only complaint in regard to the FlexiZone control is really a complaint about the location of the camera’s shoulder strap. The strap, when attached, lies directly on top of the joystick and can interfere with normal use in some situations.

Flying on Autopilot

Next to price, automatic functions and ease of operation are the two most important things that casual shooters look for in a camcorder. The ES55 worked well in fully automatic mode. The automatic focus system adjusted quickly enough to satisfy us, but not so quickly that it was easily distracted by items passing momentarily through the frame. You can set the focus manually by rotating the selector dial on the left side of the camera.

The automatic exposure system adjusted smoothly and provided a fine image under most of our tests. We found that under certain circumstances it responded too quickly. For example, the image quickly darkened and lightened again when a white car passed through the frame. We easily remedied this by allowing the automatic system to adjust itself for the scene, then we pressed the camcorder’s joystick to lock the exposure setting.

The ES55’s electronic image stabilizer performed well in our tests, smoothing out the jitters while shooting handheld and at telephoto settings. The unit has a 500x digital zoom, but at that ratio the image was distorted beyond recognition and impossible to hold steady, even with the image stabilizer turned on. We recommend limiting your zooms to the 22x optical zoom.

The camcorder’s microphone worked well within eight feet of a subject speaking in a normal voice. The mike appeared to be well insulated. We did not note the presence of any motor noise and observed only minor operator noise (pressing of buttons, etc.) on playback. The ES55 has a mike jack for recording subjects out of the range of the on-board mike. Unfortunately, Canon did not include a headphone jack or speaker for monitoring audio, so you won’t know what kind of sound you record until you can cable the camcorder to a TV.


We found the ES55 to be a good value. It operates well in automatic mode, and offers a fair amount of manual control to shooters with an eye for the artistic. Considering what you do get for the price, the ES55 gets a thumbs up.


Canon ES55

8mm Camcorder

Format: 8mm

Lens 22:1 optical zoom (500:1 Digital), 3.6-79.2mm

Image Sensor 1/4" CCD, 270,000 pixels

Viewfinder color eyecup, no LCD

Focus auto and manual

Maximum Shutter Speed 1/1000

Exposure auto or manual with FlexiZone

White Balance auto

Image Stabilization electronic

Digital Effects art, black & white, sepia, negative, mirror half, mirror full, mosaic, pastel, emboss, color key-red/green/blue/yellow, 16:9, cinema, slow shutter, strobe

Inputs 1/8-inch mike

Outputs Mini-jack output of RCA video and

mono RCA audio

Edit Interface none

Other Features Built-in video light

Dimensions 3-3/4"(H) x 4"(W) x 6-3/4"(D)

Weight (sans tape and battery) 1 pound, 7-1/8 ounces

Video Performance (approx.)

Horizontal resolution (camera) 200

Horizontal resolution (playback) 150

Performance Times

Pause to Record 2 seconds

Power-up to Record 6 seconds

Fast-forward/Rewind (120 min. tape) Approx. 13 minutes



  • FlexiZone focus system
  • Price
  • Ease of use


  • No headphone jack
  • No flip-out LCD


  • The ES55 is a good choice for the novice who wants an affordable, easy-to-use camcorder.

ES55 8mm Camcorder
One Canon Plaza
Lake Success, NY 11042
(800) OK-CANON

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