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Although most of the research, development and certainly the rage of consumer camcorders seem to focus entirely on the digital models these days, there are still a good number of video hobbyists looking for affordable and simple-to-use camcorders. For these shooters, Canon offers the ES8100V, the only Hi8 model in Canon’s lineup for 2000.
The ES8100V is easy enough to use that almost anyone can quickly learn to shoot, and it includes enough manual controls to satisfy shooters who want to get creative. This is a good camcorder for those just getting started, and for casual shooters that don’t require DV quality.
Less is More
The ES8100V is a slimmer version of last year’s ES8000. It costs a significant $250 less than last year’s model, but users will forfeit a few features for that savings. The ES8100V has a slower top shutter speed than the ES8000 (1/1,000 vs. 1/4,000), no headphone jack, a smaller viewscreen (2.5-inch vs.3-inch) and lower number of pixels on the CCD (270,000 vs. 470,000). Evidently Canon has determined that people in the market for a Hi8 camcorder are more willing to sacrifice image quality and audio monitoring than the extra $250.
Ultimately, most casual shooters won’t miss the higher shutter speed, and most home audiences won’t notice the lower resolution associated with the decreased pixel count. However, anyone who seeks to use the ES8100V to record interviews, stage performances or dialogue of any kind will miss the headphone jack a feature that we feel should be standard issue on all camcorders. Even so, the ES8100 is a good camcorder for the price.
In the Field
The Canon ES8100V boasts a powerful 22:1 optical zoom lens, the longest optical lens available on a Hi8 model. If you get the urge you can choose the 500:1 digital setting, but as we have said before, long digital zoom options should not be a factor when selecting a camcorder. Most digital zoom functions are useless beyond about 40x. The optical zoom ratio is the feature to consider, and in this category, 22:1 is as good as it gets.
The zoom toggle is comfortably located for operation with the forefinger. The variable speed control worked well, we could slow it way down, and could control zoom speed with ease. Its fastest speed was a tad slower than what we would have liked, but overall, the zoom control provided good control and was not jerky.
The automatic focus system worked well, adjusting quickly and accurately even when we panned quickly. For those who prefer more control over their shots, there’s a manual focus option. To toggle between manual and automatic focus, you push the two focus buttons, located next to one another, simultaneously. Once in manual mode, you adjust focus by alternately pressing the two buttons, one to shift focus nearer, the other to shift it farther away. This means of adjusting focus worked better than we had anticipated, but not as good as we would have liked. Our thick-fingered testers had trouble with the small, closely situated buttons. We found it too easy to click inadvertently the two buttons simultaneously, accidentally sending the unit back into autofocus. In addition, when shooting with the LCD closed, like you might outdoors on a bright day, we found that the door got in the way of the focus buttons. Shoppers with big hands should take note.
The ES8100 features a 2.5-inch color LCD flip-out viewscreen that makes monitoring your shots easy. There is a small speaker for hearing sound on playback and an on-camera microphone that picked up ambient sound nicely. There’s also an external mike jack so you can plug in a microphone to get closer to your source.
The ES8100 sports Canon’s nifty FlexiZone system which lets you identify the portion of the screen you’d like to use for auto focus and exposure adjustments. Switch on the FlexiZone mode and a small frame appears on the screen. Position the box with the controller button and FlexiZone will adjust the cameras automatic settings for that portion of the screen. We shot a number of people sitting in a courtyard and positioned the FlexiZone box on a subject who was about 10 feet behind the main group. The system quickly adjusted focus and exposure for the part of the frame we had identified. This great feature works extremely well.
Other Controls and Features
The ES8100V has automatic and manual white balance, six different exposure settings, seven digital effects and six digital fade options from which to choose. Canon had the foresight to have the camcorder remember your settings when you turn it off. This is great. You don’t have to reset everything when you power back up.
To switch between shooting modes, there’s an exposure dial located at the front left side of the body. Users can switch between six different settings: Easy, Sports, Portrait, Spotlight and Sand and Snow.
Other buttons include the digital effects, fade and title buttons. We easily chose between the seven digital effects (see tech specs) by pressing the button. Once for on and once again for off. The same goes for the six fades: white, horizontal, mosaic, art, zoom and black and white. To fade in from white, we pushed the fade button until we found the white fade and then we hit record. The screen cut to white, then slowly faded in to our shot. The available fades worked well but we wanted more. For example, there was no fade to or from black, a common cinematic transition and a boon for in-camera editing.
Care to See a Menu?
The menu system is straightforward and mercifully brief. By pushing the menu button located on the side of the camcorder, we had access to a number of settings. It’s here where we turned the electronic image stabilizer on and off and switched from automatic to manual white balance. The menu is also home to digital zoom controls, allowing us to turn it off or chose 100:1 or 500:1 settings. We could also alter the on-screen display and tape analyzer settings.
The Eye of the Beholder
While we were disappointed with a few things that Canon removed from last year’s model, the ES8100V is a solid camcorder, especially for beginners. If you’re looking for a simple camcorder that can record good images, then this Hi8 camcorder could be for you. It has enough manual controls so users can grow with their craft.
Lens: 22:1 Optical, 500:1 digital zoom, f/1.6-3.8, 46mm filter diameter
Image Sensor: 1/4 -inch CCD, 270,000 pixels
Viewfinder: 2.5-inch color flip-out LCD screen, 0.4-inch b&w viewfinder
Focus: Auto with FlexiZone, Manual
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/1000
Exposure: Auto with FlexiZone, Manual, Sports, Portrait, Spotlight and Sand & Snow
White Balance: Auto, Manual
Digital Effects: 7 (16:9, Negative, Mirror, Mosaic, Art, Sepia, Black & White)
Inputs: External microphone
Outputs: S-Video, composite
Edit Interface: None
Dimensions: 4-1/2 (w) x 4-1/4 (h) x 7-7/8 (d) inches
Weight (sans cassette and battery): 1 lb. 13.5 oz.
Pause to record: .46 seconds
Power up to record: 6.5 seconds
Fast-forward/Rewind (60-minute tape): 2 minutes, 57 seconds