VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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REVIEW

 

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POP CULTURE

 

INTRO

The sharp-eyed may just catch a glimpse of Canon's other life, as a leading manufacturer of  SLR cameras, on the E300, their latest compact 8mm camcorder

 

COPY

Cross-fertilisation, or moonlighting still camera designers? The pop-up video light on the new E300 (and soon to be launched E500) is clearly inspired by the spring-loaded flash guns on Canon's highly regarded EOS SLR cameras, a timely reminder that still and video cameras are not as different as you might think...

 

In fact the two markets are very similar and in addition to well known companies like Canon and Pentax who are involved with both products, a large proportion of camcorders are now sold through what were traditional photographic outlets. There's a similar set of distinctions between simple-point-and-shoot compact models, and larger, more sophisticated designs aimed at serious and professional users; and both technologies support burgeoning accessory markets.

 

But we digress, the E300 joined Canon's  E series this month, slotting in between the E200 and E400 in terms of facilities, though as far as the price is concerned, at 700 the E300 is closer to the E600 which has stereo sound, and sells for 749. Those facilities include a 3-mode program AE system with backlight, spotlight and sea/sand options. These are designed to compensate or optimise for strong backlighting,  brightly lit subjects, and very bright scenes, where there is a lot of reflected light. As is usual with Canon equipment there's plenty of convenience features, including a title generator, IR remote control, edit search, edit erase, tape return, fader and those two Canon trademarks, the swivelling handgrip and sportsfinder eyepiece.

 

This is beginning to look like another Canon classic but they have unwisely strayed from the tried and tested in at least one respect and the E300's apparently normal-looking front-focus lens should, by rights, have a manual zoom lever. Instead, for some inexplicable reason it has been omitted. In its place is a little window showing the settings on the rotating zoom barrel; it must have some use but for the moment we can't think what it might be. We even have been tempted to let this pass, but the power zoom is dreadfully slow, you can speed it up by pressing and holding the zoom speed button on the side, but this has only a slight effect and only adds to camera shake.  Moreover, selecting the macro mode involves pressing another button, you guessed it, we don't like that either...

 

Earlier E-series machines were justly famous for having a few simple controls but the button count has been gradually creeping up over the last couple of years and the E300 has at least 25 to contend with, which rather dent's the 'E' for easy image they have tried hard to foster. Fortunately most of the buttons are only needed occasionally and the machine's auto systems take pretty good care of itself  most of the time. The controls are mostly  large, well-spaced and adequately labelled and ordinarily we wouldn't even have bothered to mention the fact but there is a small problem! It concerns four buttons,  which you may not even be able to spot as they're mounted on the backside of  the lens bulge. They're the same colour as the case, which doesn't help,  and the labelling is moulded into the panel, which makes them almost impossible to read.

 

LIGHT WORK?

Now for that video light. Canon were the first to supply video lights as standard accessories with their machines, and it has proved to be a very successful idea that others have since copied. Clip-on or built-in video lights have, of necessity only modest outputs because they draw their power from the camcorder's own battery. Typically they cut running times in half, which can leave some machines with only 15 minutes recording time. The one on the E300 is rated at 4 watts, which may not sound a lot, but it's fine for close-ups, or helping to brighten up dingy corners. The light switches on automatically when it is in the open position, and the machine is in the pause or record-pause mode. The beam pattern is a bit uneven in places but at least there are no apparent hot-spots. Talking of which,  the light itself gets quite hot after a few minutes and when the cover is closed all that heat has to go somewhere; hopefully it doesn't get anywhere near critical or meltable components but the plastic cover remains quite warm to the touch for several minutes.

 

Just time for a couple of  small pats on the back. Number one goes to whoever thought up the small plastic cover for the battery contacts. Few people who carry charged battery packs in their pocket, along with metallic objects like keys and coins, realise how dangerous this can be! The second one is for the excellent instruction book and comprehensive accessory pack which includes an RF converter; they're rapidly becoming an endangered species as manufacturers trim their margins. Admittedly most TVs these days have AV input sockets, but as anyone with an older set will tell you, they're an absolute necessity on 8mm camcorders whose tapes  haven't got the luxury of cross-compatibility with VHS video recorders.

 

PERFORMANCE

Picture quality is generally good, though the horizontal resolution on our sample -- a little over 230-lines --  is no great shakes. It's offset by creditably low noise levels, and good colour rendition. The auto-white balance system is clearly optimised for natural light, and there's little to complain about on recordings made outdoors. There's a mixed response in artificial light and tungsten bulbs produced a light red/pink caste on our test recordings; on the other hand fluorescent light, which is notoriously difficult for auto white balance systems to cope with, didn't cause any problems at all. The E300's deck mechanism was very stable, and hardly missed a beat, even when subjected to our ruthless 'tap-test'

 

The E300 has the standard 8mm mono FM audio recording system, The on-board mike appears to be semi-directional and quite responsive. Sadly there's no external mic socket which might disappoint more adventurous users.

 

VERDICT

Normally we have very little trouble coming to terms with Canon camcorders, the E300 has been an exception. To begin with it's nowhere near as good looking as its predecessors, the built-in light has given it a rather bulbous, top-heavy appearance. The lack of a manual zoom lever is irritating; it's understandable on machines with inner-focus lenses but this one has a conventional front-focus lens, and the little window that allows you to see the zoom collar trundling round is rubbing salt into the wound. The price is on the high side, and that's saying something for Canon who are renowned for giving value for money. Unless we had an overwhelming desire to own a lumpy camcorder with a pop-up video light we would be inclined to consider the E400 which looks like a much better deal!

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                   CANON E300

Recording format           8mm

Guide price                     700

 

OPTICS

Lens                               f2.0, 6.7-67mm

Zoom                              10x

Filter diameter               37mm  

Pick-up device               0.3in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)             2

 

VIDEO DECK

Tape speed (mm/sec)       20.051(SP), 10.026(LP)

Max. rec. time                 240 mins (LP mode)

Remote control                full-function IR

Main facilities                  auto/manual focus, 3-mode programmed auto exposure (backlight control, spotlight, sand & snow), auto white balance, fader, high-speed shutter (7-speeds up to 1/10,000th sec), time/date/age recording, built-in video light, record search, record review, edit-erase, tape return, title generator

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date/age, title, dew

 

AUDIO

System                            mono FM

Microphone                    omnidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                          audio and video out (phono)                    

Size (mm)                       122 x 115 x 257

Weight                            1.2 kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries, (nicad, lithium and alkaline), straps, AC charger/power supply, RF converter

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                   >230-lines

Colour fidelity              average

Picture stability            good

Colour bleed                 none

White balance              fair

Exposure                      good

Autofocus                     good

Audio performance      average

Insert edit                     manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor  N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         8

Ease of use                  8

Performance                8

Features                      9

 

---end---

(c) R Maybury 1993 1404

 

 

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