Back in 1996, you could purchase a Hi8 camcorder for $2,500 and consider it a steal. Now you can get a Hi8 camcorder for less than $300 and it may or may not be a good buy. Camcorders like Canon’s ES8400V are riding a sort of digital-analog cusp. Analog is a dying breed and digital cams are priced as low as $599. If you’re looking for a camcorder for casually recording home movies and you don’t need a FireWire connection for computer editing, the ES8400V could be an excellent choice for you. If you’re looking for FireWire connectivity to your PC or professional quality images, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Features and Drawbacks
The ES8400V is one of Canon’s latest entries in the Hi8 category. It has an outstanding 22x optical zoom. We recommend switching on the included image stabilizer and using a tripod for long zooms, as it can be difficult to hold telephoto shots steady by hand. As we’d expect, the 800x digital zoom was useless for anything except highly pixilated, super-shaky footage, but fortunately, it could be turned off with a quick press of one of the custom keys. It was difficult to determine the exact point at which we started using the digital zoom when looking through the black and white viewfinder. The only indication that the zoom had gone from optical to digital was a light-blue color bar visible only when using the LCD.
The electronic image stabilization feature seemed adequate, but shared the common problem with most of these systems in that the image was cropped in slightly. Still, image stabilization is a real boon to most casual shooters.
The ES8400V’s built-in video light is a nice feature. It is controlled with an intuitively marked switch at the rear of the cam. While the light gives the resulting video a distinct spotlight or Cops look and has a range of about 7 feet, it can be a shot-saver in a low- or no-light situation.
There are six aperture pre-sets including Sun and Snow, Spotlight, Portrait, Sports, Fully Automatic and Canon’s own FlexiZone. FlexiZone technology allows you to position an on-screen box in any area of the viewfinder or LCD screen and set the automatic exposure to that lighting. It’s a very cool concept that works well and allowed us to expose bright sunlight out of a window and then switch the exposure to the darkened interior of a room without moving the camera at all. A handy backlight button exposes for detrimental light coming from behind the subject, and a fade function that fades the video to black.
There is a Photo mode, which records a still image to tape for six seconds. Shoppers should be cautioned not to confuse this feature with the high-resolution digital stills that are offered by other camcorders.
The camcorder also has the ability to play back footage on the European television standard of PAL60, which is the easiest PAL format to convert to from an NTSC signal. Overseas travelers may like this feature.
The camcorder lacks a microphone input and headphone jack, common omissions on lower-priced camcorders, but something we’d really like to see manufacturers include on all models.
Probably the most disconcerting things about our review unit was the rather loud grinding sounds it made as the tape mechanism engaged. The unit we examined also made noise when we operated the transport functions, like fast forward and rewind.
The built-in monaural mike on our test unit picked up motor noise that was audible on playback. A certain amount of motor noise is not uncommon with entry level camcorders. We encourage manufacturers to include microphone jacks so users can get a mike off of the camera (and, of course, a headphone jack for monitoring). Unfortunately, this particular unit has neither.
The ES8400V’s image quality was decent, but not spectacular. Most casual shooters will be satisfied with the quality of the video it records. It maintained nice color separation and detail when recording outdoors in diffused sunlight, and handled vivid reds and greens without becoming over-saturated. It lost almost all of the detail however, on white objects, both indoors with mixed lighting and outdoors on a slightly overcast day.
Canon recommends a minimum subject brightness of 100 lux. To get an idea of how much light is in 100 lux, consider that a candle one foot away from a subject illuminates it at roughly 10 lux. Approximating Canon’s suggested minimum brightness, the camcorder recorded acceptable, although highly grainy video images.
Auto focus did not adversely affect image quality. Some camcorders have such highly sensitized focusing abilities that the focus is easily fooled or distracted by moving subjects. This was not the case with the ES8400V. This is important, as most casual shooters rely heavily on automatic controls.
The ES8400V comes with a smallish 2.5-inch LCD monitor and a black and white viewfinder. Since the manual focus button was located on the inner panel of the LCD monitor, we had to open the LCD to activate manual focus mode and close it again if we wanted to take advantage of the black-and-white viewfinder for outdoor shooting in bright sun.
The ES8400V is a solid, well put-together camcorder. It’s got all the basics a beginner or casual hobbyist would need to get started. The most incredible aspect is its $299 price tag, including some nice bonus features such as a video light and PAL playback.
Lens: 22:1 optical zoom, fl 3.6-79.2mm, f/1.6-3.8, 46mm filter diameter
Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD (270,000 pixels)
Viewfinder: 2.5-inch color LCD monitor, .24-inch black and white viewfinder
Focus: auto, manual
Exposure: auto, manual, backlight and spotlight compensation, Sports, Sun and Snow, FlexiZone
White Balance: automatic
Digital Effects: 10 digital effects
Outputs: S-video (cable not included),
A/V to RCA
Edit Interface: none
Other Features: video light, PAL playback
Dimensions: 4 (w) x 4 (h) x 7.1 (d) inches
Weight (sans tape and battery): 11 lbs. 11 1/8 oz.
Pause to Record: 1.22 seconds
Power-up to Record: 6.74 seconds
Fast-forward/Rewind (60 min. tape): 5 minutes 58 seconds
Tested Horizontal resolution: 290 lines
- Built-in light
- FlexiZone exposure control
- No mic/headphone jacks
- Loud tape-engaging mechanisms
- Manual focus located under the LCD
- Quality Hi8 video recording in an affordably priced package.
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