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Competition at the budget end of the camcorder market is hotting up again and this year sees a crop of new machines selling for less than £600. Canon are setting the pace with the UC2000



Theyíre back, and with a vengeance! In the old days, a world-wide recession and a couple of currency crisisís ago, Canon camcorders regularly took the top-slot for features, value for money and performance. Lately their camcorders been -- shall we say -- a little lacklustre, but the UC200 puts them firmly back in contention. This stunning compact machine, with a retail price of less than £500, is more than just a well-specified budget model, it effectively redefines the bottom end of the market.


The big question is how have they managed to make it so cheap, and what corners have been cut? The low price appears to be part of an industry-wide response to sluggish sales. Canon, in common with several other companies, have brought down the price of so-called entry-level machines this year, to tempt new buyers into the market. However -- as we shall see -- they havenít sacrificed features, and we suspect the UC2000 could appeal to a fair few seasoned enthusiasts as well.   


Camcorders selling for less than £600 have traditionally been targeted at undemanding family users. Theyíve tended to been highly automated models, with limited creative facilities and even fewer convenience features. Canon have re-written the rules. To begin with the UC2000 actually costs less than £500, and several features wouldnít look out of place on camcorders selling for a couple of hundred pounds more.


Take the lens, for example. It has a 15X optical zoom, the most powerful on any machine under £650 (another Canon model...) Low light sensitivity is just 2 lux; thatís in normal use, not low-light or gain-up mode. It has a 4-mode auto-exposure system (sport, spotlight, portrait, sand & snow), a fader, backlight compensation, remote control and title generator, but the icing on this very tasty cake is a Control L/LANC editing terminal, a first on a camcorder costing under £500. For another £50 you can get the similarly specified UC3000, additionally this has a colour viewfinder and stereo hi-fi sound.


The only design feature that betrays the low price are the somewhat dowdy cosmetics, which bear a passing resemblance to several Samsung machines, who are their closest rivals in terms of price. The positioning of the controls is generally satisfactory, though the unlock button for the function/mode selector dial is awkwardly placed. The start/stop button and standby lock switches could have been better placed too; it takes a while for your fingers get used to them. Manual focusing is a bit odd at first. The tiny thumbwheel is positioned on the right side of the machine; this is quite good because it forces you to support the machine in the palm of the hand, but the AF enable button is placed some way behind, and pressing it, whilst shooting, results in a fair amount of shake. Itís hard to fault the features list but we canít help feeling slightly disappointed by the lack of an external microphone socket.



Low prices are all very well, but what if picture and sound quality arenít up to scratch? No problem, resolution on our sample was within a whisker of 240-lines. Initially there was a little noise in the picture but this dissipated after an hour or soís use, falling to more or less normal levels on good quality tape. Colour fidelity was fine, there was a slight tendency to emphasise reds but the auto white balance system was able to deal effectively with a range of light sources, including fluorescent and mixed natural/artificial light, without any problems. The AE modes work well; backlight compensation is a little heavy-handed though, and it can be a touch choppy at times, especially if thereís a lot of movement in the scene.


The top-mounted microphone has good all-round sensitivity, itís also quite well insulated from handling and motor noises too, though it will pick up whine from the zoom servo if thereís little or no ambient noise, when the AGC is wound fully up.



The usual advice we give to anyone on a really tight budget -- with just £500 or so to spend on a camcorder -- is to also consider older, discounted models. They often have a few more features, and/or better picture quality, rather than saddle yourself with a very basic machine. Thatís all changed. The UC2000  should stand most newcomers to video movie-making in very good stead, it does everything a good family machine should do, but with the performance and flexibility to go further, with that impressive range of creative facilities, plus the all important edit terminal. Itís a key feature, that will help newcomers progress beyond basic point-and-shoot recording, if -- as often happens -- they get hooked on video movie making. Recommended.



Itís still worth trawling through the ads for bargains; £500 buys a lot of camcorder these days, if you donít mind one of last yearís models, but as far as current machines are concerned the choice is still quite limited. The only serious competition -- in terms of price  -- comes from Samsung. Several other manufacturers are launching machines in the  £500 to £550 bracket this year, but on the evidence so far theyíre going to have a tough time beating the UC2000.



Make/model                               Canon UC2000

Recording format               8mm

Guide price                                £499.99



Lens                             f/1.1.4, 4-60mm

Zoom                            x15 

Filter diameter            46mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                       2 lux    



Long play (LP)                        no                   

Max rec time                        120 mins (SP mode only)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (Control L)


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes (4-mode)  

Fader                                        yes                  

Manual white balance no        

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  no        

Audio dub                                  no

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         no                                           

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               yes                                      

Accessory shoe             no        




time/date recording, record review, retake, tally lamp, title generator, backlight compensation



Viewfinder                       0.5in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, zoom position



Stereo                                       no        

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                no                    

Headphone socket              no        

Mic                                           unidirectional electret



Sockets                                    AV out (phono) Control L/LANC (minijack)

Dimensions                               113 x 111 x 251 mm                       

Weight                          0.85 kg (inc tape and battery)



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

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

Scart adaptor                 yes



Resolution                                 <240-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              negligible

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   good

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a



Value for money            9

Ease of use                   8

Performance                  9

Features                       9



R Maybury 1996 0306





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