Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the must-record moments in my life on still images, rather than on video. My wife and I have spent many fuzzy, pleasurable hours leafing through trunkfuls of memories of building our lives together, times when the kids were cute and cuddly and not the hard, bony monsters they are today, marvel at the minuscule 1BHK apartment that we first moved into together that was invariably filled with the light and laughter of friends every evening, drowning out VJ Nonie’s sing-song chatter on the 14” Phillips TV. Birthdays, anniversaries (16 and counting), school concerts, festivals, holidays and all the stuff that you want to remember resplendently captured on 5x7 glossy paper.
Well, all that might change now that I’ve got my hands on Canon’s DC51 DVD Video Camcorder. When I pulled the DC51 out of the package, I was immediately taken aback by its dapper good looks. Silver and slim and very compact, it just feels good in your hand, and the rounded back of the camera mimics the curve of your palm and thumb as you work the controls. The camera’s controls are also very intuitive and I could easily figure out the basics. Using the Canon felt like using a camera—the controls are right where you’d expect them to be, clearly labelled, and easy to operate. I was amazed at all the things I could do with my right thumb: open the DVD hatch, turn it on and off, switch modes between camera and camcorder, or access a menu of the available features. There’s an adjustable hand strap that keeps the camera snug or lets it dangle around your wrist. In short, it feels like someone who knows cameras designed it.
Canon’s DC51 is part of a new wave of camcorders that record onto DVDs and I love this idea. Footage can’t be accidentally recorded over, DVDs are easier to deal with than tapes and navigation is easier, as recordings are divided into scenes. The DC51 is a DVD-based camcorder that incorporates a 5.39 megapixel CCD sensor and a 10x optical zoom. It delivers sharp and clear videos and the optical image stabilization worked very well. However, image stabilization only works at 10x optical zoom. On a recent road trip, I found the camcorder’s pitiful optical zoom to be one of the camera’s biggest drawbacks, especially considering its high megapixel count. The video only 200x digital zoom option is best kept for desperation measures as it degrades image quality considerably. While the camera also has a manual focus setting, I found the autofocus to be quite good, reacting quickly and accurately to sudden changes.
Also on board is the DC51’s simultaneous photo recording ability—it shoots photos to a miniSD card while capturing videos on disc. Quality is adequate at 5 megapixels, but despite features such as continuous shooting mode and the ability to auto-bracket a single photo at three different exposure levels, the functionality remains secondary to video recording, as would be expected.
Once you get used to the idea of recording on a tiny DVD, you start to appreciate the new medium and its advantages: pop the disc into the camcorder, shoot your scenes, sequences, short and long, finalize the disc in the camera to make it playable on the home DVD player—then pop it in and play your movies. If your video ambitions include editing, titling, soundtracks and the rest, the Windows/Macintosh software bundled with the camcorder will take you there.
The DC51 can shoot 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio video, but the 16:9 is widescreen in shape and not HD in resolution. The recording format is MPEG2 video and you can shoot still JPEG pictures as well, recording either to DVD. Stills can also be saved to a tiny miniSD card, loaded into the camcorder’s side. Video can be recorded to the DVD in any of three quality levels and type of disc used (Single or Dual Layer). Depending on disc type and quality selected, you can expect to record from 20 minutes to 108 minutes of video per disc. The three video recording qualities give you an enormous choice in recording times. Most will find little difference in quality between them. The disc finalizing process can be lengthy, so don’t expect to shoot, then immediately replay on a DVD player. When shooting video or stills, you can control exposure by auto, Program AE or via shutter and aperture priority. For a video virgin such as me, the auto mode worked very well in most scenes except for dimly-lit situations, a weakness that is anyway shared by most other camcorders.
The Canon DC51 is priced rather steeply at Rs59,995, but I guess that is the price for being an early adopter of technology. The thing with camcorders is they’re relatively new to the digital age. Today, it’s not just about shooting video and having good picture quality. Camcorders have to be compact and lightweight; have the normal features, such as zoom and widescreen formats; feature a good display and easy camera navigation to quickly play back just-recorded footage; come equipped with editing software and still have adequate picture quality. No one camcorder does all of these things well. So, it’s a matter of your priorities. If you care more about a camcorder that’s fun and easy to use, the Canon DC51 fits the bill. But if you want to be the next George Lucas, invest in better picture quality—but don’t expect a camera-like look and feel.
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