The Canon DC40 features a 1/2.8" CCD, larger than any other single chip DVD camcorder on the market. This chip has 4.29 gross MP, with 2.74 effective MP in 16:9 with image stabilization on, 2.99 effective MP in 16:9 with the image stabilization off, and 3.5 effective MP in 4:3.
At 3000 lux, the DC40 had excellent color performance. Every color was strong but not oversaturated. The contrast was excellent, as well, with dark blacks and bright whites. The picture was not the sharpest, however. Most of its edges show some serious artifacts, probably due to bad compression. Diagonal and curved lines show a lot of stair-stepping. These problems are at least as bad as those in the Sony DVD405, which we complained about in that review. Noise was much worse than in the DVD405 and appeared to flare up around any areas of contrast. Note, in the zoomed image below, the noise that appears along the dotted line on the left and the sides of the resolution trumpets.
Comparatively, the DVD405 had roughly the same color performance, with more reds, while the DC40 has more greens. The DVD405 has more apparent sharpness than the DC40, but the stronger contrast between black and white makes the jaggies more visible in the DVD405.
A crop of the Canon DC40 (zoomed about 200%)
The same portion of the chart from the Sony DCR-DVD405 (200% zoom)
The Panasonic VDR-D300, which has three 1/6" CCDs, produced a much sharper image, with equally vivid colors, at only $100 more.
Last year’s DC20, with a 1/3.9" CCD, actually showed far fewer artifacts. Color balance was about the same, but the colors were slightly less vivid. The DC10, which had a smaller 1/4" CCD, produced an image with a more faded look. Its picture was also less sharp, though it did not have the artifacts that appeared in the DC40.
While Canon proved itself great at reproducing colors, it failed to make a sharp final product.
**Video Resolution ***(13.0)*
The resolution of the DC40’s stills were tested by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from that footage through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3 aspect ratio, the DC40 produced 455.9 lines of horizontal resolution and 284.3 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate total of 129612.37. In 16:9 aspect ratio, the camcorder produced 476.4 lines of horizontal resolution and 302.4 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 144063.36.
The chart below shows how the DC40 fared against the competition in video resolution.
**Low Light Performance ***(4.5)
*The Canon DC40 was tested, like all camcorders here, for its low light performance by shooting at 60 lux and 15 lux, both of which can be a challenge for a camcorder, which are not as sensitive to light as the human eye.
At 60 lux, the large 1/2.8" CCD was able to provide a fair amount light, but not as much as we expected. Low light has typically not been Canon’s strength, and the DC40 does not appear to be turning the tide. The main problem was brightness. Noise did not increase significantly. Color balance did not fail (that is to say, auto gain did not skew certain colors). But the colors, which were vivid at 3000 lux, fail to pop at 60 lux.
By contrast, the Sony DCR-DVD405 had very strong colors. This seems to be a result of strong gain, but the camcorder was able to keep the noise in check. The entire picture was brighter, overall, as well.
The Canon DC20, with a slightly smaller CCD, produced much duller colors. This is, in part, probably related to the difference in chip size, but the new DC40 also seems to have slightly higher saturation levels. The Panasonic VDR-D300, with three small CCDs, did not have a bright image at all, not did color distinction look that good.
The DC40 also offers shutter speed control in a Shutter Priority mode. This allows you to shift the shutter speed while the camcorder automatically adjusts the other exposure controls. At 1/30th of a second, the image was much brighter. While this setting would tend to blur fast moving objects, the blur would not be overwhelming.
At 1/15th of a second, the image became very bright and vivid, but at this speed, moving objects would blur significantly.
At 15 lux in auto mode, the DC40 has lost most of the color information. This is very disappointing for a chip of this size. The Sony DVD405 managed to push some colors through, thanks to heavy saturation. At this light level, it’s probably better to have some color rather than accurate color. The Canon DC20 was much darker, almost greyscale. The Panasonic VDR-D300 produced strong greens, but most of the other colors failed to show through.
At 15 lux with a 1/30th shutter speed, the image was brighter, and might be a recommended for users. At 1/15th of a second, the image looked great, but would only be useful for non-moving subjects (a still life of fruit at midnight, perhaps?).
Wide Angle* (9.4)*
The Canon DC40 DVD camcorder provides users with both 16:9 and 4:3 recording formats. Although we expected to see the same type of successful results found with Canon’s MiniDV camcorders, we were surprised to find otherwise upon testing. The Canon DC40 was tested in both 16:9 and 4:3 formats and, with both, this camcorder produced a 47 degree field of view. This is surprising and a bit disappointing: for $899, widescreen on a DVD camcorder should be standard. Unfortunately, the DC40 engages a crop and zoom technique that eliminates information from the top and bottom of an image when switched from 4:3 to 16:9. This cropping technique is actually the exact opposite of what should occur in 16:9 format.
The Canon DC40 compresses video onto DVDs in the MPEG2 format in three qualities: XP, SP, and LP. These qualities correspond to the maximum bit rate or the amount of data per second. XP likely records at the maximum bit rate for DVD compression, 9Mbps. The SP mode has a maximum of 6Mbps, and LP mode has a maximum of 3Mbps. We use the "maximum" because, as in many non-tape camcorders, the DC40 uses a variable bit rate. This means that the data rate goes up or down according to the amount of motion in the image from second to second. If there is little motion, the camcorder will refresh the pixels less frequently, thereby saving space and energy. If the image is constantly moving, the camcorder must increase the data rate. In XP mode, a standard DVD will hold about an average of 20 minutes of video. SP mode holds 30 minutes, and LP holds 60 minutes.
DVD compression is significantly reduced compared to MiniDV, which has a bit rate of 25Mbps. Of course, more goes into good compression than just bit rate, but it is a major factor.
In order to play back the DVDs on anything but the camcorder, you’ll need to finalize the discs. There are also two methods of finalizing the video: Video mode and VR mode. Video mode allows playback on most DVD players, but makes the discs forever after uneditable on the camcorder (of course, you can still edit it on your computer). VR mode gives you more in-camera editing flexibility (which is an over-rated feature anyway), but will render the footage unreadable by many home DVD players.
The DC40 captures video to 8cm mini-DVDs in the DVD-R and DVD-RW format. These are the two most popular formats for DVDs, and you’ll have no trouble finding them. Panasonics and Hitachis both accept DVD-RAM, which gives you more in-camera editing capabilities but cannot be read by many home DVD players.
The Canon DC40 is a DVD camcorder, which means it has some inherent editing difficulties. As with most camcorders, the company provides some rudimentary editing software. What you may not know is that this is virtually the only software that you can use to extract footage off the DVDs. Sony and Panasonic DVD camcorders create .MOD files, which, through an awkward process, can be manually changed to .MPG files. The audio track is lost, but the file can then be imported into quality editing programs like Adobe Premiere.
Canon, on the other hand, creates three files for each clip, including .MOB files. These are much harder to import into editing programs, essentially limiting you to the bundled software, which includes The Digital Video Solutions Disc (with Zoom Browser as the chief program) and Roxio MyDVD. These programs offer all the basic editing functions, but the interface is maddeningly disorganized. Also, you get precious few options for output quality, a problem if you’re just looking to get the best possible footage ready for another, better editing program.
If you’re seeking more editing solutions, or are an experienced editor, you’re probably already aware that MiniDV is the most widely accessible format. Hard drive camcorders are next, but the quality is severely lessened. But the Canon DVD camcorders are problematic in this regard.
**The Front ***(8.5)*
The front of the Canon DC40 positions the 10x optical zoom lens in the upper right corner of the camcorder face. This lens has a 37 mm diameter, a focal length of 6.1 mm to 61.0 mm, and a maximum aperture of f/1.8 in wide angle. The Canon Video Lens rests directly above the in-camcorder microphone, which competently recorded not only the chirruping and sighing noises of the DVD but also the general noise of the camcorder. The DC in port is located slightly to the left and beneath the stereo microphone, in a somewhat awkward position. Above the DC in port, along the left side of the front face, are the Mini video light and the Remote sensor for the DC40. A vertical in-camcorder flash above these two features will cast a shadow across the front of the subject and cause uneven lighting. Camcorders like the Sony DCR-DVD405 DVD camcorder place the flash directly above the lens to overcome this problem.
**The Right Side ***(7.0)*
The right side of the Canon DC40 has one primary purpose: to contain the DVD compartment, which opens via a switch on the back of the camcorder body. The other feature on the right side is a strap for the right hand. This strap is undersized and uncomfortable, and has a tendency to allow the camcorder to flop in the user’s hand when shooting is hurried or the grip is momentarily lost. Straps on Sony camcorders are thick and plush, and allow for both steadier handling and confident shooting.
**The Back ***(7.5)*
The back of the Canon DC40 is so covered with controls and features that beginning users may be overwhelmed. A non-extendable, undersized electronic color viewfinder is positioned in the upper left corner of the back face, and a Dioptric adjustment lever is located directly under the hard plastic eyepiece. Beneath the viewfinder is an LED which will indicate the accessibility to card and the charge indicator. The Function button is located under the LED and above the Menu button. A third button, located beneath the Menu button, allows users to quickly print/share images without entering menu structures. To the right of these controls is a Power switch for the camcorder, which has LED indicators for camera and playback modes above it. A switch under these buttons moves the camcorder between movie and still image modes.
On the transition between the back and bottom of the camcorder, a USB port cover opens via a tab on its left edge. To the right of the USB cover is the switch for opening the DVD compartment. Above this switch is the connection point for the right hand strap. Moving up and slightly to the left is a long, unlabeled vertical button of polished silver. The lack of a label is confusing, particularly since this essential control is responsible for starting and stopping recording. Above this control, on the transition between the back and top of the camcorder, is another port cover which, when open, will reveal an AV out port.
**The Left Side ***(8.5)*
A 2.7 inch LCD is set into the left side of the DC40. This LCD has a resolution of 123,000 pixels and, once opened, will reveal three controls located along the bottom edge of the frame. These controls allow the user to alter the display information, backlight, and widescreen / play-list. In the cavity are several important features: the battery, which slides into its internal position neatly, the battery release button directly behind it in the lower back corner, the well-labeled finalize button above the battery release button, and a small inset button beneath the battery center that resets the controls and structure to the default state.
On the back of the LCD is a four-way controller, which has dual exposure and focus controls for the up and down arrows when the camcorder is not in a menu structure or playback mode. Above it is a cover which opens along its back edge. The memory card slot underneath can accept only MiniSD memory cards which, while space-saving, are extremely fragile. A mode dial on the back edge allows the user to move through shooting modes without having to enter an internal memory structure. Finally, on the transition between the left and top of the lens barrel are four controls for navigating footage in playback mode. These four buttons control play/pause, stop, rewind, and fast-forward. When not in playback mode, these controls allow users to activate the following settings: Digital Effects, Light, Flash/record review, and Drive mode.
The Top* (7.0)*
Features on top of the Canon DC40 are limited and located on the right side of the camcorder body. Near the back of camcorder body, in reach of the index finger of the right hand, are the zoom toggle and the photo button for the camcorder. Near the front, in the crease formed between the lens barrel and the right half of the camcorder, is the in-camcorder audio speaker for monitoring audio levels during playback.
Picture & Manual Control
Automatic Control (7.5)
Automatic controls on most Canons are good. Of course, Sony is the top performer in this category, but Canon puts up a fight. Shifting the camcorder into auto mode is as easy as turning the mode dial to Auto. Canon’s auto mode is not quite as stripped down (idiot-proofed) as Sony’s Easy mode: you are still able to change the video quality and still in the Function menu, as well as a number of features in the administrative menu (for a full breakdown of the menus, see the Overall Manual Control section below). Manual exposure and manual focus cannot be engaged.
The camcorder also offers a number of Program AE modes, settings that are tailored to aid in specific shooting situations. Each mode is represented by an icon on the mode dial. They include Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Slow Shutter, Night, and Special Scene. This last, mysterious setting contains all the other modes Canon wanted to include without clogging up the dial. To access these, put the dial in Special Scene and use the joystick to get to the Function menu (for an explanation of the menu, read the Overall Manual Control section below). Special Scene modes include: Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Spotlight, and Fireworks.
While the DC40 does not offer fully independent aperture and shutter speed control, it does have Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, which allow you to control one (either aperture or priority) while the camcorder automatically adjusts the rest of the controls. Both priority modes are also icons on the mode dial.
There is also a bank of Image Effects, found in the Function menu, that give you a small bit of control over image quality. They include Vivid, for boosting contrast and saturation; Neutral, for decreasing contrast and saturation; Low Sharpening, for decreasing sharpening along edges and outlines; and Soft Skin Detail, for softening the colors associated with skin tones of certain races (call Canon USA for full details on which races need apply). The final setting, Custom, allows you to create a custom setting with control over brightness, contrast, sharpness, and color depth (saturation). Each of these aspects has a sliding scale of -1, 0, and +1 – not an immense level of control, but not too bad. You’ll want to be careful using these: the control is not too fine, and you might kill the image with too much contrast, too little saturation, etc.
Overall Manual Control (7.0)
The manual controls on the DC40 are fairly good. There are two parts to the menu, each with a button on the rear of the camcorder. The Menu button brings up the administrative menu. Here are the controls that you will not likely need on the fly: auto slow shutter on/off, wind screen, zoom speed, menu language controls, and so on.
The Function button, just below the Menu button, brings up the Function menu, which contains manual controls that relate to image quality: white balance, image effects, digital effects, image quality, and still quality (for stills taken during video mode).
Navigating through the menu is done with the joystick control, probably the best possible control for a consumer camcorder. Canon, Panasonic, and JVC have all widely accepted them, while Sony remains bound to its touch screen LCDs. The DC40’s joystick is located on the rear left side, which has the unfortunate effect of curtailing one-handed operation. Unlike some of the JVC joysticks, however, the Canon’s is large enough to operate comfortably.
Animated gifs of the administrative menu (above) and Function menu (below)
The menus themselves are clearly organized and easy to scroll through. The administrative menu is the more straight-forward of the two, and the Function menu can take a little more time to get used to. One note on the admin menus that can be frustrating. Typically, when options are unavailable in a menu, they are in grey or white text, while the options that are available appear in black. On this menu, they are reversed; black text items on the menu are unavailable. It's a small but noteworthy confusion.
The joystick also has some double-functions. If you are not active in a menu, pushing up on the joystick will engage the exposure control (in EV steps). Pushing down on the joystick engages the manual focus.
The DC40 has one zoom control, a large, comfortable toggle on the upper rear of the camcorder. It allows for about 3-4 speeds, depending on the pressure exerted, from a very slow crawl to a fast clip. In the menu, you’ll find the Zoom Speed control, which allows you to fix the zoom speed – Speed 1, Speed 2, and Speed 3 – or let it remain variable (pressure sensitive). We like to see zoom toggles this big and comfortable, and one of the small luxuries afforded you by this pricey purchase. By contrast, the entry-level DC100 has a smaller, cheaper-feeling zoom control.
Zoom Power/Ratio (10.0)
The Canon DC40 comes with a 10x optical zoom and an additional and optional digital zoom with range limits of either 40x or 400x. With 1/6th inch single chip models, the zoom range can be far greater, and consumers will find cheaper ultra-zoom camcorders on the market with up to 32x optical zoom. The larger chip size found on camcorders like this one reduces zoom range but does increase image quality, accuracy, and resolution. Users should be careful when using the digital zoom feature, since image quality will degrade quickly at higher zoom levels. This inverse relation will become quickly apparent, even when at around 20x.
On the whole, the automatic focus is good. And, unless a camcorder has a focus ring, you’re probably better off leaving it in automatic. If, for whatever reason, you need to engage the manual focus, the DC40 can accommodate you. Pushing down on the joystick (if you are not in a menu) will bring up a small pairs of letters, MF, on-screen. This lets you know that manual focus is engaged. Moving the joystick left and right shifts the focus. There is no scale, plus or minus signs; or other visual indicator of where in the focus you are, aside from the actual subjects in the screen. While a 2.7 inch 123K LCD might be good for getting a rough idea of image quality, it is not large enough or sharp enough for fine focal adjustments. As we said before, you’ll probably want to leave the camcorder in auto mode. By comparison, Sony and Panasonic are not much better. The D300 relies on a joystick, and the Sonys have touchscreen controls, which take up a large chunk of the screen.
Exposure (Aperture) (4.75)
The DC40 offers two types of exposure control. By pushing up on the joystick, you bring the exposure lock control up on-screen. This is a sliding scale, controlled by the joystick, which goes from +11 to -11 and adjusts exposure in EV steps. Moving the slider on the scale and pushing up on the joystick again locks it.
The camcorder also offers an Aperture Priority mode, which allows you to set the aperture while the camcorder automatically adjusts the rest of the image quality controls. Aperture settings include: f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.4, f/2.8, f/3.4, f/4.0, f/4.8, f/5.6, f/6.7, and f/8.0. These modes do not provide the same flexibility as a fully independent control, but they are useful.
Panasonic offers fully independent aperture and shutter control via the joystick, which offers much finer control. The Sony DVD405 has touch screen-operated plus and minus buttonsm, which function much the same as the DC40, but take up a portion of the screen while you're looking at the picture.
*Shutter Speed (5.0) *
The DC40 does not offer independent shutter speed control. There is, however, a Shutter Priority mode, which allows you to adjust shutter speed while the camcorder automatically corrects all other controls. The shutter speeds include: 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, and 1/2000 of a second.
White Balance (7.5)
White balance is the first item in the Function menu. There are a number of white balance presets: Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Fluorescent H, as well as an auto setting and a manual setting. Manual white balance adjustments take several seconds; Sonys tend to be faster. However, once adjusted, the colors look very good.
There are no gain options on the DC40. At this price, and with such middling low light performance (see below for more), the DC40 really could have benefitted from one. But none of the Canon consumer camcorders offer it, and the DC40 is not breaking rank.
Other Manual Control (2.0)*
Level Marker* – The Canon DC40 offers a Level Marker Feature which creates a thin, horizontal line across the middle of the screen.
Still Features* (8.25)*
The Canon DC40 captures stills to MiniSD and DVD. No MiniSD card comes included, and even now, eight months after Canon released their first camcorders with MiniSD, many stores do not carry the cards, and many card readers don’t accept them. Many MiniSD cards come with MiniSD-to-SD converters, but that’s one more thing to pack and to lose. MiniSD prices are generally less expensive, on the other hand, than those of their larger SD card siblings.
Stills can be captured in four sizes, 2304 x 1736, 1632 x 1224, 1280 x 960, and 640 x 480. Each has three quality options, Normal, Fine, and Superfine. The camcorder does not take 16:9 stills.
The Function menu has many of the same options as in video mode. White balance operation is the same. The image effects are the same – Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Soft Skin Detail, and Custom. You can also use the same Auto Slow Shutter, Program AE modes, Shutter Priority mode, and Aperture Priority mode. The features that exist for still mode alone are pretty good for a camcorder.
There are multiple methods for auto focus and exposure. Focus Priority won’t let you take a photo until it finds a focus; if focus is difficult or you’re trying to speed up shutter lag, you may want to turn this mode off. There are three metering methods: the Evaluative setting considers the lighting of the entire frame; the Center Weight Average, as it sounds, provides more weight towards the center of the frame; and the Spot setting creates a small target in the center of the frame for the finest possible metering control.
There is also a neutral density (ND) filter, which darkens the picture equally throughout the frame, allowing you to open up the aperture more and get a shallower depth of field. For all these features, you do lose image stabilization and digital zoom.
The DC40 also gives you options for continuous shooting. A detailed table in the manual gives you all the speeds for continuous shooting, with and without the flash, in all the different resolutions. In its highest quality, 2304 x 1736, you can shoot 2.1 frames per second and take up to 10 images total. There is also an Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) feature, which takes three stills in rapid succession, one at the chosen setting, then one at a -1/2 EV step down and one at a +1/2 step up.
The list of still features continues. An auto focus assist lamp is available to help with focus. There is also a flash, which has an external button on the upper left side (it doubles as the VCR rewind button). The flash can be set to automatic, force on, red-eye reduction, and off.
Still Resolution* (11.7)*
The stills of the DC40 were tested for their resolution by shooting a standard ISO12233 resolution chart and running those stills through Imatest imaging software. In total, the camcorder produced an approximate resolution of 1170000.8.
The chart below shows how the DC40 stood up to comparable camcorders.
Still Performance* (7.0)*
The DC40’s stills did not have the color balance of its video. Many colors looked washed out, particularly the greens, which appeared overly yellow. The picture had a fair amount of fine grain noise, especially the black areas. It also showed instances of halos along areas of high contrast. For 4MP, it’s a sharp image, but this is not much of a substitute for a dedicated still camera.
The DC40 did, however, far exceed the DC10 stills, which had even less color (it was truly a flat, washed out image) and far more noise. The DC10 also had trouble making out small detail, and Moiré patterns appeared.
The Sony DVD405 produced rather muddy looking stills, but had more anti-aliasing, which made for smoother, better looking curves and diagonals. Finally, the Panasonic VDR-D300 produced a much noisier image. It failed to produce detail in the blacks and created much stronger halos around areas of contrast.
Overall, while the DC40 still ranked well against the competition, it is not a great stand-in for a point and shoot camera.
Ease of Use* (6.0)*
Canon DC40 users will experience a small learning curve as they familiarize themselves with the camcorder. To make things easy out of the box, there is a clearly marked Auto mode on the mode dial. This should be simple enough to let users point and shoot their way through an entire barbeque or baseball game. Those looking for a little more image quality control will need to shift the mode dial out of Auto. The Aperture and Shutter Priority modes (explained in the Manual Control section above) are great ways to dip a toe into manual control, like controls with training wheels. Program AE modes (explained in the Automatic control section) are also useful for beginners unsure of how to adjust exposure for tricky lighting situations. Learning to navigate the menus, however, may take a few tries. Patience will be rewarded.
The body layout is simple enough to invite exploration. Though the cluster of buttons on the back may look confusing at first glance, it's actually simple. One button starts and stops recording. One button goes to the main menu. One button goes to the manual control menu. One button is for direct printing of stills to a printer. And almost nothing on a camcorder is irreversible (except deleting your footage, of course) so don't be afraid to poke around.
Handling on the DC40 is not its strongest point. Last year’s DC10 and DC20 were definitely smaller and lighter. The body feels solid, which is more than can be said for many camcorders, and I would trust this to remain undamaged in small falls.
One of the DC40’s problems is not uncommon in camcorder design – the hand strap is too low and causes the body to tip to the left. The second, more serious problem is the crowded real estate along the back of the body. With so many buttons, it’s hard to reach all of them. Also, the ports that run along the back of the body – USB and AV-out – will get in the way of effective handling.
We do like the menu layout and, for the most part, the joystick control. The menu is clearly broken up between the controls you need right away (Function menu) and the ones you don’t (the main, or administrative, menu). Maneuvering through the menus is done with the joystick control, located on the lower left side. We believe the joystick to be the best possible control among consumer camcorders. A rear-mounted joystick would have made one-handed operation possible. This placement negates that option, but it still handles pretty well. The only confusion occurs when you get the joystick’s directions mixed up with your orientation to the control (i.e., the joystick’s right feels like "back" to the user, and left feels like "forward"). This disappears with time.
A final note on handling. This camcorder has serious problems remaining steady on a tripod. The problem seems to be that the screw hole is too shallow. When the mounting plate is screwed in, there is still enough space between the camcorder and the plate that the camcorder can actually spin around unencumbered. None of the other Canon DC series models had this problem. This is a serious detriment for any owners likely to use a tripod.
The Canon DC40 is larger and heavier than 2005’s DC20, and users will probably find this 1.1 pound camcorder to be a bit hefty when compared to others on the market. This camcorder measures 2.4 x 3.4 x 5.0 inches, excluding protrusions. While comfortable to carry in one hand for short periods, it will eventually become burdensome. The DC40 is no Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1 and users will definitely find it worthwhile to purchase a carrying case for this $899 DVD camcorder when traveling. A second strike against the DC40's portability is the non-expandable battery. Tucked away in the LCD cavity, there is no way to accomodate a battery other than the one it ships with. This means you'll either have to carry the power supply around or purchase another 76 minute battery.
The LCD for the Canon DC40 is located on the left side of the camcorder body and is connected to the camcorder body via a pivoting and swiveling hinge located along its front edge. It can be opened by pulling on either the back or bottom edge of the frame and, once open, the screen can be rotated 270 degrees. The LCD screen is a 2.7 inch widescreen display with 123,000 pixels, which tended to solarize quickly when rotated, a problem which will compromise the ability to monitor images competently. A backlight button on the bottom edge of the LCD frame will increase the brightness of the LCD. Toggling between 16:9 and 4:3 formats is accomplished by pressing the Wide Screen button, located to the right of the backlight button. When our DC40 model arrived by mail, we were quick to notice that one of the pixels on the LCD had already failed: although this is something that will vary from camcorder to camcorder, it doesn’t bode well in terms of manufacturing quality.
In addition to the LCD screen, there is an electronic color viewfinder located on the back of the DC40 in the upper left corner. This viewfinder is set into the camcorder body and angled slightly upwards. The small 0.3 inch viewfinder with 123K resolution has a clear crisp image that could be great if it was actually usable, but the unfortunate design and small size negates any positive attributes. Its position and inability to extend or shift away from the camcorder will result in the user struggling to make this secondary viewing device functional. One of the major benefits of having external controls on a camcorder is that alterations to manual controls, camera setup, and menu navigation can occur without the user opening the LCD screen. This is a distinct advantage over manufacturers like Sony, who use a touch-screen LCD interface for all controls, and will save on battery life and enhance functionality.
If the hard plastic eyepiece and terrible design can be overlooked, this viewfinder and its accompanying control benefits may be alluring to some users. Directly beneath the viewfinder is a small dioptric adjustment lever that is simple to engage and alter.
Battery Life* (7.6)
*The DC40 ships with the BP-208 battery pack, a slim battery that slips into the LCD cavity. This is a severely limiting portability issue, as the camcorder can take an expanded battery pack. You're stuck with the life capacity of this battery, or a second one, if you choose to purchase it. We tested the BP-208 for its life during continuous recording. The LCD was open, and the backlight on. No manual control or zoom was engaged. When the disc needed to be changed, the DC power was plugged in. In total, the battery lasted a total of 76 minutes and 53 seconds (1 hour, 6 minutes, and 53 seconds) - a truly sorry performance.
The audio on the Canon DC40 is something to consider very seriously when comparing this DVD camcorder to the competition. The Canon DC40 comes with an in-camcorder stereo microphone directly beneath the lens, but no way to connect an external mic. This is a fairly standard position for microphones, one which normally results in adequate recording quality that minimizes camcorder noise and handling faux pas which can occur with a top mounted audio unit. Unfortunately for the Canon DC40, these statements do not hold true. The stereo microphone on this camcorder picked up a nearly constant thrumming and chirruping noise as the DVD disc spun inside the compartment. In addition to this obtrusive racket, there was also the fairly constant noise of shifting mechanisms and other intolerable camera-spawned auditory interruptions that compromised recording quality to an absurd level. Although not helpful in overcoming the camcorder noise, a windscreen feature blocks lower frequencies via a high pass filter setting in the Camera Setup menu. A playback speaker is located on the cusp between the lens barrel and the cover for the DVD compartment.
VCR Mode* (8.0)*
One of the major advantages of DVDs over camcorders which use tape-media is the ability to navigate captured footage in a non-linear method that uses thumbnail images to enable quick navigation. The playback mode is entered by sliding the Power/Mode switch downwards when the camcorder is in shooting mode. When entered, the playback mode will immediately enable the user to view six thumbnail images simultaneously. Navigation and selection of these images is accomplished through the four-way/set controller located in the lower back left corner. Once the appropriate clip has been selected, the video will begin playing and users will be able to engage standard VCR controls through four controls located on the left side of the lens barrel: Play/Pause, Stop, Slow or Fast Forward, and Slow or Fast Reverse. To skip through scenes, users can activate the left and right arrows of the four-way controller.
When inserting the DVD before recording, the user will be able to shoot on either DVD-R or DVD-RW formats. The DVD-R format can only be recorded and limits users to shooting with the Video mode selected. Most common and recently produced DVD players can play back the Video mode footage, though users will be unable to edit it. The DVD-RW recording format allows the user to shoot in either this mode, the Video mode, or the Video Recording (VR) mode, which provides easier footage editing. The only problem with the VR* mode is that not all DVD players will play it back. It’s important to consider which mode and DVD format are to be engaged, since, following recording, these distinctions will be very important.
The VCR controls, located on the upper left side
*A screenshot from VCR mode. *
Ports for the Canon DC40 are located on the front, back and left sides of the camcorder. The MiniSD card slot is located on the left side of the camcorder, underneath a well labeled port cover constructed of the same material used for the camcorder. This port cover is located behind the LCD screen and is opened with a tab located along the cover’s back edge. This cover has an exceptionally long hinge that should enable easy access to the card slot.
On the back of the camcorder, positioned on the transition plane between this face and the bottom of the DC40, is a second port cover that is also made of the same plastic composite used for the camcorder body. This port cover is a hassle to open and access, which is unfortunate since it protects the essential and often used USB 2.0 port . Also on the back of the camcorder, although this time near the top of the body on the right side, is a rubber port cover that opens from the bottom to reveal an AV out port. It would be nice to have a similarly placed USB port that enabled such simple usage without complications or unnecessary handling.
On the front of the camcorder, in the lower left corner, is a DC in port covered by a rubber flap that can be opened along three of its edges. This port doesn’t have a great placement, and its small size and obtuse location may make it hard for some users to find at first.
Widescreen/16:9 Mode* (5.5)*
Switching between the 16:9 and 4:3 formats is a simple feat that won’t necessitate the user entering a menu structure. The widescreen button for the Canon DC40 is located on the LCD frame along the bottom edge of the screen. This button is well labeled and simple to use engage when the camcorder is in standby mode. While simple to activate, the crop and zoom style of the widescreen format won’t garner users with any additional information. However, there is no difference in the width of the field of view when switching between 4:3 and 16:9.
Scan Rates/24p* (0.0)*
The Canon DC40 uses a fixed scan rate of 60i, a rate that is nearly universal within the consumer DVD camcorder market. Variable scan rates are limited to higher end prosumer and professional camcorder models: the consumer should, not surprisingly, expect to pay quite a bit more for these camcorders.
Other Features* (5.5)*
*Digital Effects and Faders
*The digital effects and fader options for the Canon DC40 are listed within the Function Menu structure and allow users a number of preset image alteration options. The only digital effect available when shooting still images is the Black and White effect. The fader options available with the DC40 are; Fade Trigger, Wipe, Corner Wipe, Jump, Flip, Puzzle, Zigzag, Beam, and Tide. In addition to these fader options the digital effects settings provide black and white, sepia, art, mosaic, ball, cube, wave, color mask, and mirror. The Canon DC40 also includes a multi-image screen feature that records four, nine, or sixteen still images on one split screen. Audio captured during this process is recorded normally and can be listened to during playback. These presets are simple to navigate and engage, and users will find their nostalgic cheese factor to be amusing at times, even when quality and results fall short of the mark.
Electronic Image Stabilization
The Canon DC40 does have an electronic image stabilization, which will certainly help with the10x optical zoom lens. While better than no image stabilization, however, electronic image stabilization will still result in sub-par performance and slightly compromised image quality when compared to an optical image stabilization system.
The level marker feature is located within the Display Setup sub-menu found when the Menu button is pressed. When turned on, it displays a horizontal bar across the center of the LCD screen. This enables the user to frame the shot more accurately.
Auto Slow Shutter
The auto slow shutter setting is located within the Camera Setup menu and will automatically engage slower shutter speeds down to 1/30th of a second for video and 1/15th of a second for still images. The auto slow shutter can only be used when the mode dial is in Auto or P modes; the flash must be turned off if capturing still images. Stabilization will be an issue with this feature, and users may find it necessary to brace the camcorder on a tripod or other surface. Images may also show trailing when shooting in this slow shutter mode.
Closed Battery Design
We have to mention this as often as possible, because new consumers might not know what a pain this can be. The DC40, like the other Canon DC models and the Elura 100, hides its battery in the LCD cavity. What might seem like a clever design is actually a big detriment to convenience. Camcorders batteries die quick, especially this one. And the closed battery design means that you will not have the option of buying a long-life battery. That means more to buy, more to pack, and more to lose.
The Canon DC20 was released in fall 2005 and provided users with a DVD camcorder that has a smaller imager size, smaller 2.5 inch LCD, and a lower image quality than the second generation DC40 follow-up. This camcorder does have some benefits over the DC40: a smaller camcorder body and fewer artifacts in video footage. Similarities between these two models include their writing to DVD-R/-RW, MiniSD memory cards for still format, electronic image stabilization, and a 10x optical zoom range. Similar manual controls include white balance, exposure, focus, and the same list of digital and image effects options. This camcorder can be found online for around $699, although availability is limited and some searching may be necessary to procure this model. Winner: DC40.
Available at around the same price as the Canon DC40 the Sony DCR-DVD405 provides users with lower noise levels, similar color performance, more in-camcorder sharpening, and an unfortunate tendency towards more pronounced stair-stepping than the DC40. The DCR-DVD405 has a larger imager size, hybrid capabilities, a better flash position, four-channel audio recording which is translated into 5.1 surround sound, and a 10x optical zoom. A touch screen interface provides a simpler control space, and the limited manual options will appeal to basic users not looking to move beyond the point-and-shoot method. The LCD on this camcorder measures a comparable 2.7 inches and has an identical 123,000 pixel resolution. The 405 is equipped with a superior electronic color viewfinder, due to a swiveling eyepiece that enhances functionality and comfort. An Active Interface proprietary hot shoe connects the camcorder to external flashes, video lights, and microphones, if equipped with the appropriate Sony brand hot shoe attachment. Our pick, the DCD405.
With a slightly higher price of $999 MSRP and a 3 CCD imager, the Panasonic VDR-D300 provides users with more manual control options in a simpler interface. The user of the VDR-D300 can choose between three formats: DVD-RW, DVD-R, and DVD-RAM settings to be engaged. Manual controls for the Panasonic VDR-D300 include focus, aperture, exposure, gain, white balance, and shutter speed. Setting options for manual controls like aperture, gain, and shutter speed are far more nuanced and wide-ranging, allowing even less advanced users to access and alter these settings competently and without worry. This DVD camcorder has hybrid capabilities and an equally poor position for its in-camera flash. The 10x optical zoom was controlled by a zoom toggle that was less subtle in transition, and the results weren’t as smooth or controlled as those found with the Canon. The VDR-D300 has an identically sized 2.7 inch, 123,000 pixel LCD screen and an electronic color viewfinder that is designed to actually be functional. The VDR-D300 has a cold shoe and a mic in port for alternate external microphone options. By far, the D300 is the favorite here.
The Hitachi DZ-GX3300A is a DVD camcorder being released by Hitachi in 2006. This camcorder comes with 10x optical zoom, a 1/3 inch, 3.3 MP CCD, four DVD formats which include DVD+RW, an in-camera flash, and an accessory hot shoe for $799. The external control layout is confusing and a bit cluttered: not nearly as streamlined as the Sony DVD camcorders or the Panasonic models. This camcorder does have manual control over exposure, focus, and white balance; while this is a good start, the Hitachi is unable to provide manual control for aperture, shutter speed, or gain. The LCD for this camcorder measures 2.7 inches and provides a widescreen display in addition to an electronic color viewfinder. In addition to the in-camera microphone, there is also a mic-in jack for external microphone options, a feature that this camcorder shares with the Panasonic and Sony models. For the mic-jack alone, this ties with the DC40.
Who It’s For
The plethora of external controls and cluttered layout will likely be an impediment for the beginning point-and-shoot user looking for simple design and an even simpler interface. The dual menu structure will take some getting used to, and options like aperture and shutter priority will likely go unused. Camcorders by Sony provide point-and-shoot users with a basic camcorder that produces strong results while remaining in full auto mode.
Budget Consumers* (3.5)*
DVD camcorders aren’t inexpensive, and the DC40 is no exception with its $899 MSRP. The compression levels produced poor image quality, the audio was terrible, the menus will be complicated for beginners, and the overall video results weren’t stellar. With this many setbacks, it seems inconceivable that the budget consumer would consider this DVD camcorder. Instead, users should consider a camcorder like the Canon Elura 100, which retails at half the price and with far better results.
Still Photo / Video Camera Hybrid* (5.5)*
The Canon DC40 does have still and video options, allowing the user to record images with resolutions up to 2304 x 1736 to MiniSD cards. Also included with this camcorder are preset shooting modes, 9-point AiAF, image effects, burst mode, auto exposure bracketing, built in red-eye reduction, and special scene modes. The only major problem with the still features on the DC40 was the in-camera flash positioned vertically to the side of the lens, leading to unflattering light distribution.
Gadget Freaks* (3.5)*
Although DVD camcorders are a relatively new product, the gadget freak will inevitably have already stashed two or three of these camcorders away and will now be on the hunt for the latest and greatest technology. For these consumers, the Canon DC40 has lost its first generation techno-sheen in comparison to newer technologies like consumer high-def and hard disk drive camcorders. You’ll find this market salivating currently over the HC3 by Sony or the SDR-S100.
Manual Control Freaks* (5.0)*
The Canon DC40 has numerous manual controls: extensive white balance alteration, exposure range, aperture priority, and shutter priority. While the manual focus failed to perform with success, the zoom control did provide nuanced control with quality handling. This camcorder comes with nearly everything and, although lacking a gain option, this model should appeal to the manual control user.
Pros/ Serious Hobbyists* (3.5)*
There is no reason for the pro or serious hobbyist to consider this as an option for shooting video. Terrible DVD compression leading to poor video quality, poor audio recording capabilities, poor viewfinder design, cluttered external design, and a host of other problems will cast this DVD camcorder in an unfavorable light for this sector of the video market.
The Canon DC40, at an MSRP of $899, is a tough sell. DVD camcorders grew up this year, moving from low-end consumer convenience toys to solidly performing camcorders. Sony and Panasonic took the biggest steps forward. The Sony DVD405, their top CCD chip DVD camcorder, has a lot great automatic controls, as well as good video quality. The Panasonic VDR-D300 has three CCDs working together to produce an exceptionally sharp image.
The DC40, on the other hand, produced colors that look great, but the compression (like Sony) is creating some problems with the video quality. And while Canon offers a goodly amount of manual control, it cannot match Panasonic’s bevy of controls, including independent aperture and shutter speed. Nor can it match the D300 and DVD405's fantastic video quality. Coupled with the closed battery design (no extra-long life batteries) and lack of a mic input, this is not standing up very well.
People interested in this camcorder are probably banking on Canon’s history as a manufacturer of superior optics. And it looks like they’ve pulled through on part of that promise. The color quality is excellent. A large CCD and a well-tested processor make sure of that. But something is getting lost in the translation from MiniDV to DVD. Despite the specs and price tag, this is not a substitute for an Optura. Bottom line, especially considering it's high price point, we can't single out a market niche that the DC40 really fits.
Meet the testers
Editor in Chief@davekender
David Kender oversees content at Reviewed as the Editor in Chief. He served as managing editor and editor in chief of Reviewed's ancestor, CamcorderInfo.com, helping to grow the company from a tiny staff to one of the most influential online review resources. In his time at Reviewed, David has helped to launch over 100 product categories and written too many articles to count.See all of David Kender's reviews
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