The Canon DC50 comes equipped with a huge 1/2.7" CCD, which has a gross pixel count of 5,390,000 (effective pixel count in 4:3 is 3,980,000; in 16:9 it’s 3,680,000). An imager of this size, with this many pixels, promises incredible image quality.
At 3000 lux, the colors look great, with excellent balance and saturation. This was our conclusion last year with the Canon DC40. Canon typically delivers the best looking color in the upper-end SD camcorder market, and we’re pleased that this is still the case.
Overall, the image was a little cooler than last year’s Sony DCR-DVD408, though Sony’s image was crisper. The DC50 produced some haloing around high-contrast areas, places where color spilled over into areas it shouldn’t. Last year’s Panasonic VDR-D300 had the sharpest image in this group by a long shot. We expect that the VDR-D310 will offer the same advantage. Sony’s DCR-SR300, a 2007 HDD camcorder retailing for about $200 more, produced a sharper image, but the colors appeared less distinct. Notably, the SR300 tended to expose brighter than the DC50.
One camcorder we can’t comment on but should offer some stiff competition is Canon’s own HR10, their first AVCHD camcorder. Also recording to DVD, the HR10 shoots with the same size chip (1/2.7") but a CMOS rather than CCD. Though it's significantly more expensive at $1199 MSRP, Canon adherents will likely take it into consideration now that AVCHD editing solutions have become available. The camcorder will surely offer better resolution, and if performance from their past CMOS camcorders is foretelling, the HR10 will probably have a better picture overall, despite known AVCHD issues like noise and trailing.
The Canon DC50 offers additional picture quality controls. The controls – Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, and Soft Skin – can only be turned on and off. The camcorder also offers a fifth setting, Custom, which allows you to adjust four parameters – Brightness, Color Depth, Sharpness, and Contrast – to a degree of -1, 0, or +1. In Vivid mode, the image looks more saturated, but surprisingly, not by much. It seemed to affect the reds more than anything else.
In Neutral, the image actually appears a little closer to what you’d see in a pro camcorder. If you have any intention of color correcting while editing (admittedly, this is unlikely for DVD camcorder owners), the Neutral setting may prove best to shoot in.
The Low Sharpening mode might prove best for shooting in high contrast shots where you don’t want to draw attention to border lines. Here in the chart, you can see the black text against the gray background does not take on such a hard edge.
In Soft Skin mode, the image has a distinctly softer focus, perfect for hiding those premature signs of aging (what worry lines?).
Video Resolution* (5.28)
*Video resolution is tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart and observing the playback footage on an HD monitor. At best, the Canon DC50 produced a horizontal resolution of 325 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical resolution of 325 lw/ph. The camcorder showed the normal signs of moiré patterns in the areas of the chart exceeding 325 lw/ph but no discoloration that would draw undue attention. This is a problem often seen in lower resolution camcorders, particularly in the upcoming Canon DC220 review.
Low Light Performance* (6.24)*
When we dropped the light down to 60 lux, the image lost a moderate amount of color information. The DC50 proved to be sensitive (able to produce a sufficiently bright image), but the noise increase was more than we wanted to see. The result of the noise build-up is a soft focus-look. We saw similar noise issues with the HV20, a HDV camcorder, but because the resolution is so much greater in HD, it was not as much an issue.
Last year’s Sony DCR-DVD405 produced much more vivid colors. Though oversaturated, the image is preferable because there was hardly any noise (a rare case for a Sony, indeed). The Panasonic VDR-D300, also from 2006, has smaller chips than either the Canon or the Sony, and therefore failed to produce as well in low light. The image was dark and noisy.
The DC50 offers manual shutter control, which is almost always a help in low light – provided you don’t drop it too low. At 1/30th under 60 lux lighting, the color performance increased tremendously. If you can afford the slight motion blur that would occur with the slower shutter, this is recommended.
At 15 lux in auto mode, the DC50 lost a great deal more color information. While you can still make out basic tones, most people would find this an unsatisfactory image. The noise increased in a similar scale. All in all, 15 lux was a wash.
Shifting the shutter speed down to 1/30th, the 15 lux salvaged a fair amount of color, but the noise was still a problem.
The Canon DC50 managed to produce 50 IRE at 11 lux, an impressively low light level – though not surprising considering the large imager. Raising the light level to 60 lux, Imatest imaging software found the camcorder to produce a color error of 13.5, with a saturation level of 65.69% and a noise of 0.535%.
The Canon DC50 is equipped with Super Range OIS, the manufacturer’s optical image stabilization (OIS) system, to reduce the effects of camcorder shake on the image. OIS systems achieve this through an optical process that does not impact video resolution, often in the form of a gyroscopes built around the lens element. This contrasts with EIS (electronic image stabilization) systems that reduce shake through digital processing. The digital processing found in EIS systems does result in a slight loss of image resolution and are inferior to OIS.
We found the OIS system on the DC50 to be very effective. With our shake emulator device set to speed 1, roughly equivalent to the motion produced while hand-holding a camcorder and standing still, the DC50 reduced movement by about 75%. At speed 2, the more aggressive and high-speed setting, the DC50 actually reduced motion by a somewhat lesser degree: 60%. OIS systems typically lose some effectiveness at speed 2, but the DC50’s overall stabilization performance was respectable, though not stellar.
Wide Angle* (10.0)*
We tested the Canon DC50 in16:9 recording mode to determine its maximum field of view. To run this test, we pulled the zoom all the way back, disabled OIS, and manually focused the camcorder to ensure a stable shot. This DC50 produced a maximum field of view of 50 degrees, placing it in the average range among comparable consumer camcorders.
The Canon DC50 uses standard MPEG-2 compression to record standard definition video to 3.5" DVD at three quality settings: XP, SP, and LP. These qualities correspond to the maximum bit rate at each setting, with XP the highest-quality and least compressed recording option at about 9Mbps. SP mode is slightly lower in quality with a higher level of compression, at 6Mbps, and LP records at about 3Mbps.
Like the majority of DVD camcorders, the DC50 employs VBR, or variable bit rate encoding. VBR is an encoding method that adjusts the level of compression used at any given time based on the complexity of information in the frame. Lots of motion and a complex composition will result in less compression as the camcorder’s processor attempts to maintain picture quality. When the composition is simpler, the camcorder can use higher compression levels without losing apparent image quality. However, VBR compression does mean the actual recording time will vary somewhat from disc to disc. In XP mode, a single-layer DVD-RW or DVD-R will hold about 20 minutes of video while a dual-layer DVD-R DL will hold about 36 minutes. The figures for SP mode are 30 minutes single-layer/54 minutes dual layer, and for LP 60 minutes single-layer/108 minutes dual-layer.
MPEG-2 produces much more compressed video than MiniDV, which has a bit rate nearly three-times the max for DVD camcorders of 25Mbps. This means DV camcorder perform better, on average than DVD camcorders. At the high-end, camcorders like the DC50 have approached DV compression in terms of quality in recent years thanks to good imaging systems.
The Canon DC50 is compatible with standard 8cm single-layer DVD-R and DVD-RW discs and dual-layer DVD-R DL discs. Single layer discs have been around for some time, and they are inexpensive and readily available. Dual-layer discs were introduced in mid-2006 and nearly doubled the recording time possible on each disc (from 20 to 36 minutes in XP mode). They are more expensive than single-layer discs and a little harder to find – and buy in bulk.
Single-layer DVDs also assure the widest compatibility with home DVD players, though dual-layer (DL) discs can be played on many newer players. Compatibility with home players is indeed the biggest draw for many consumers to DVD camcorders, so if you do plan on making use of DVD-R DL discs, you should check up on your player’s specifications.
The Canon DC50 includes basic Windows-only software that allows you to transfer footage and imager to a PC and perform rudimentary video editing. We found this footage to be unusually difficult to work with, however. This may stem in part from the way the DC50 creates clips. While DVD camcorders from Sony and Panasonic create a single .MOD file for each video clip, this Canon uses a DVD-style file structure that includes three files for each video clip: a .BUP file, a .IFO file, and the master .VOB file.
The Canon files can be more difficult to work with than the single files created by other DVD camcorders and may require time-consuming hacks to get them into your favorite NLE (non-linear editing program). The bundled software includes Roxio’s MyDVD for Canon (editing, archiving, and footage transfer) and a Digital Video Solutions Disc (solutions for pre-Windows XP computers). MyDVD for Canon is a basic NLE that will offer many users all the functionality they need.
If you are an experienced video editor and use a more robust NLE like Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro, or Avid DV Xpress, you can work with DC50 material, but it will need to spend some time conforming the footage to the specifications of your platform/NLE combination.
Picture & **Manual Control***
Automatic Control (7.0)*
The Canon DC50 is a very good performer in Auto Mode, and putting this camcorder into cruise control is as easy as flipping the mode switch (located on top, just forward of the zoom rocker) from P to Auto. In Auto Mode, the DC50 takes care of most settings, but it is not as restrictive as Easy Mode on Sony’s camcorders. The options you retain access to are: the video light and clip review (via the joystick), video and photo quality settings (via the Function Menu) and Auto Slow Shutter, Digital Zoom, Zoom Speed, and Widescreen select, via the Admin Menu. This means that in Auto mode you have access to some basic camera setup features, but you can leave image adjustments like focus up to the DC50.
In full Auto Mode, the DC50 performs quite well. As it makes adjustments, the transitions happen smoothly and do not feel jarring as is sometimes the case. Focus is very quick and accurate in bright light. Exposure adjustments are also good but display a noticeable lag of about several seconds. Auto white balance was more accurate than on most camcorders – an area in which Canon and Panasonics tend to outshine the competition. While the DC50’s auto adjustments do not feel quite as refined as Sonys, which respond quickly and smoothly across the board, it produces a picture that has better color accuracy.
In addition to Auto Mode, the DC50 includes a wide selection of Scene Modes (Program AE modes that customize the camcorder’s automatic adjustments to suit a given lighting situation), that are available when the Mode switch is set to P. These modes can be accessed by selecting the top option in the Function Menu, followed by the Set Scene option at the far right side of the options display. The Scene Modes available on the DC50 mirror those on most consumer Canons and cover a useful range of recording options: Portrait (for recording nearby, static subjects), Landscape (distant static subjects), Sports (fast-moving subjects in bright light), Night, Snow (for recording subjects in bright, snowy landscapes), Beach (same as Snow but optimized for the beach), Sunset, Spotlight (for recording subjects in front of darker backgrounds), and Fireworks.
In addition to the Scene Modes, the DC50 includes Aperture Priority (A) and Shutter Priority (Tv) modes, which specify how the camcorder makes automatic exposure adjustments. The Scene Modes allow you to elect either automatic or manual control over focus but not to other image parameters. The priority modes allow you to access all manual controls except shutter speed (Av mode) and aperture (Tv mode), but it also allows you to keep the camcorder in auto after setting an initial shutter speed or aperture, respectively.
The DC50 also features a suite of Image Effects and faders, available in P Mode only. Image Effects includes presets that will tweak the character of the recorded image slightly including: Vivid (deepens color saturation), Neutral (tones down color saturation), Low Sharpening (decreases sharpness of edges and outlines, Soft Skin Detail (like Low Sharpening, but only in "skin tone" areas of the frame. Soft Skin-type options are perpetually troubling to us because they make certain assumptions about what constitutes "skin tone" that are by definition inclusive of only some skin coloration. Canon is far from the only culprit in what amounts to a racial bias in camcorder technology, but we wince every time we see this option featured. The last Image Effect allows you to create your own color preset along the lines of those above, but it is more a rudimentary manual control rather than an automatic preset.
Finally, under Digital Effects (the fourth option from the top of the Function Menu) are faders and filters. The faders include Fade-T (fade-in/fade-out) and Wipe, while the filters include Black and White, Sepia, Art (which give footage a posterized look), and most fun of all, Mosaic (Pixelvision-lite). In combination with full Auto Mode, the presets, AE and Scene Modes on the DC50 offer lots of options and respectable performance.
Overall Manual Control (6.5)
Canon’s approach to manual controls is quirky on both its prosumer cams, like the XH A1, and its consumer models, including the DC50. Some shooters prefer the Panasonic joystick interface, which differs from Canon’s in that it allows for true one-handed operation. Others would opt for Sony’s ingenious CamControl multifunction dials which offers a single controller operation key adjustments like exposure and shutter speed – but only in higher-end HD models. Canon offers yet another example of streamlined and compact interface design that combines fast access and simplicity.
To put the DC50’s manual controls through their paces, you’ll first need to place the camcorder in P mode, using the Mode Switch (on top of the lens barrel, just in front of the zoom lever). Next, locate the Function Button (labeled FUNC) on the upper left side of the lens barrel. This button is your gateway to the bulk of the camcorder’s image controls – in both the Function Menu, and the nested Administrative Menu. The Function Menu appears as an "L" on the LCD, with submenus stacked vertically on the left edge, and options for each submenu are listed horizontally across the base. The top submenu includes Program AE (P), Shutter Priority (Tv), Aperture Priority (Av), and Scene recording modes. P mode offers access to all of the camcorder’s manual controls, while the priority modes adjust exposure in tandem with your shutter or aperture adjustments. The Scene recording modes provide access to a few manual control options including focus but are essentially specialized auto modes.
In the Function Menu, you’ll also find white balance, Image Effects, Digital Effects, video, and photo quality settings, aligned from top to bottom at the left side of the display. At the base of the Function Menu list is the Administrative Menu icon where less-used camcorder settings are located. These include Auto Slow Shutter, Image Stabilization, and Markers.
A few important controls are even closer at hand in P, Tv, and Av modes. Pressing in on the joystick brings up a simple menu at the lower right corner of the LCD screen where you’ll find options for video light, effect activation, last scene review, manual exposure, and manual focus. The Canon manual control interface "L" takes a little getting used to, but it’s surprisingly intuitive when it comes to operation. It offers control accessibility that matches any comparable DVD camcorder on the market – though a few important items are missing.
Notably, we would have liked to see manual gain control (only seen on consumer Panasonics), color bars, and zebras. A LANC jack would increase the versatility of the DC50 – but Sony is the only manufacturer to provide this option on a handful of its high-end models. Finally, the joystick is a fine controller but not as good as a dial – or better still – a ring, especially for fine adjustments to focus. Yet again, you’ll need to spend a good deal more for either of those luxuries, which are found only on HD camcorders selling for a grand or more. In its standard definition DVD niche, the Canon DC50 is very competitive when you consider both the quality of its physical interface and manual control suite.
The Canon DC50 has a primary zoom controller, a secondary fixed-speed zoom controller on the LCD frame, and a remote control with zoom buttons. The primary controller is a nicely designed rocking lever at the top rear end of the body. It is positioned for comfortable hand-held operation, and it protrudes from the body enough to allow for good leverage and range of motion. The rocking lever-style zoom controllers are the best available on the consumer market, and this one is among the best in terms of sensitivity.
The primary zoom lever’s default setting allows for variable speeds depending on finger pressure, but it can also be set to three fixed speeds by selecting the Function > Menu > Camera Setup > Zoom Speed. Speed 1 moves at a slow crawl, Speed 2 is a bit faster, and Speed 3 moves the zoom at a constant medium speed. When any of the fixed speed settings are selected, they also govern the speed of the secondary zoom buttons. These buttons on the lower edge of the LCD frame are labeled W and T, and double as Rewind and Fast-Forward buttons during playback. The onscreen buttons offer a good alternative when the primary lever is difficult to use, as when holding the camcorder at a high or low angle. When the master zoom speed is set to variable, the onscreen buttons default to a fixed medium speed, equivalent to speed 3. The ability to select zoom speeds is rare among consumer camcorders and is a nice inclusion on this and many other Canons.
Zoom Power Ratio (10.0)
The consumer camcorder world is full of trade-offs. One trade-off is that as imager size increases, optical zoom power decreases. The odd result is that the most powerful optical zooms – ranging up to 40x - are found on bottom-end camcorders with 1/6" imagers. The Canon DC50 has a much larger 1/2.7" sensor that delivers much better image quality than entry-level models but only a 10x optical zoom. To achieve the same optical zoom power as an entry-level camcorder, the length of the lens element would have to scale up along with the imager – and the camcorder’s body would have to be much longer.
In addition to the 10x optical zoom, the DC50 has a digital zoom option that can be capped at 40x or maxed out at 200x in the Camera Setup submenu. Digital zooms magnify the pixels available at the peak optical zoom power of the lens, and for this reason, the resolution of digitally zoomed video drops quickly. The 40x cap is a useful option that guarantees image quality will not decline too far. At 200x, the image on this camcorder is very grainy, but the 40x image may be usable for some purposes.
When digital zoom is engaged at 40x, the horizontal zoom indicator that appears at the top left corner of the LCD is divided into a white optical zoom segment and a light blue 10x-40x segment. Maxing out the digital zoom adds a dark blue segment representing 40x-200x digital zoom territory. The colored segments are another useful quality control tool if and when you engage the DC50’s digital zoom – though we would have preferred a numerical zoom indicator as well.
We found the automatic focus on this camcorder to be better than most consumer camcorders in its price range, but there is no spot focus option as on Sonys. This makes a workable manual focus option all the more important, and the Canon delivers well for a standard definition camcorder. When the Mode Switch is set to P, depressing the center of the joystick brings up a small menu at the lower right corder of the LCD screen. Pressing down on the joystick toggles through the "pages" of this menu, with the manual focus select page labeled Focus.
Once you have reached the Focus option, pressing up on repeatedly on the stick toggles between auto and manual focus, with manual focus indicated by the appearance of the letters MF at the top of the screen. The left portrait and right mountain icons also become highlighted – and show that pressing in their respective directions will move the focal plane closer or further from the lens. While we prefer rotary focus controls, like dials or rings, this joystick works well enough – though again, a numeric, or at the very least a horizontal bar focus indicator would have been a useful inclusion. While this camcorder does not include a focus assist option, capping the zoom at 40x and moving into digital territory while manually focusing works in much the same way.
*Pushing in on the joystick activates this mini-menu with
exposure and focus controls. *
Exposure & Aperture (7.6)
The Canon DC50 offers two methods for adjusting exposure manually. In Program AE (labeled P in the Function Menu) mode, exposure can be adjusted in EV steps via the joystick on 23 step scale. In Aperture Priority (Av) mode, the aperture of the lens can be set to 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 f/8.0. After setting the aperture manually, it is then possible to leave exposure in auto mode or to make EV adjustments just as in Program AE mode.
The difference in Av is that whether the camcorder’s exposure is set to auto or adjusted manually, the aperture remains fixed, while exposure adjustments affect shutter speed and gain. It is not possible to set shutter speed and aperture independently on this Canon – however, the control options offered by the DC50 should foot the bill for casual shooters. In Av mode, you are able to make adjustments to both aperture and exposure very efficiently, and pressing the center of the joystick toggles between control over aperture and exposure.
Shutter Speed (6.35)
The DC50 allows shutter speed control in Shutter Priority mode (Tv) on a range that includes settings at 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, and 1/2000 second. Ads with Av mode, in Tv mode exposure can be set either to auto, or adjusted manually while shutter speed remains fixed. Exposure again is modified in EV steps, though in Tv mode it is aperture and gain that shift. When the camcorder is set to Av mode, pressing the center of the joystick toggles between control over shutter speed, and the options governed by the joystick menu including exposure. The ability to toggle between two vital image adjustments virtually instantaneously is a huge boon and one of the smarter aspects of the Canon manual control interface.
White Balance (7.5)
Canon tends to be generous in the white balance preset department, and the DC50 includes options for Auto, Daylight (sun), Shade (outdoor), Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Set (Manual). In keeping with its generally speedy interface, these presets are second from the top of the Function Menu, right below AE modes, labeled AWB if white balance had previously been set to auto. After selecting AWB, moving the joystick left or right moves through the horizontal display of presets, and the manual option is identified by a standard icon and labeled Set Eval. WB. Pressing the center of the joystick locks in the manual setting within anywhere from a fraction of a second in good lighting, to a few seconds in low-contrast environments. The manual preset is quite accurate, and the wide assortment of automatic presets makes the DC50 better than most consumer camcorders for matching the picture to any lighting condition.
*The white balance options *
The DC50 offers not manual control over gain, in line with the majority of consumer cacmorders. Only Panasonics allow independent gain control.
Other Manual Controls (3.0)
Image Effects - *Image Effects are found third from the top of the Function Menu and allow mild image color and sharpness tweaks. The options include several presets - Vivid (increases color saturation), Neutral (tones down color saturation), Low Sharpening (reduces in-camera sharpening along contrast lines and borders), Soft Skin Detail (softens 'skin tones' fora more flattering look - though these settings are geared towards only a *certain skin tone range), and Custom. Custom gives allows you to change Color Depth, Sharpness, Contrast, and Brightness through a +1, 0, -1 range.
The image effects menu
*Digital Effects - *The Digital Effects submenu lies just below Image Effects in the Function Menu, and bundles the camcorder's fader and filters options. The list includes Fade T (fade-in/fade-out), Wipe, Black and White, Sepia, Art, and Mosaic.
*Auto Slow Shutter - *When this setting is engaged, the camcorder's automatic shutter speed floor drops from 1/60 to 1/30 in low light situations.This has the effect of doubling the sensor's light gathering capability. The option can be found in Function Menu > Menu > Camera Setup > A. Sl Shutter.
*Wind Screen - *The Wind Screen option is located in Function Menu > Menu > Camera Setup > Wind Screen, with options for Auto and Off. This setting reduces the effects of wind noise on the onboard microphone.
*Markers - *The DC50 includes two types of marker overlays, each in either white or grey: Level and Grid. Level displays a horizontal line across the mid-point of the screen with a center hatch mark. The Grid option overlays a nine-box grid over the image, and is especially useful for composing shots according to the 'rule of thirds.' Markers are found in Function > Menu > Display Setup > Markers
*Scene Modes - *Canon's Scene Modes, more commonly known as AE Modes, include Portrait, Sports, Night, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Spotlight, Fireworks. Each Scene Mode is optimized for the lighting scenario described by its name.
Still Features (10.0)
The DC50 records digital stills in compressed JPEG format to a miniSD card or DVD disc in the following resolutions: 2592 x 1944, 2048 x 1536, and 1152 x 864 pixels. You can choose between Super Fine, Fine, and Normal quality modes, and simultaneous recording (snapping stills in video mode) offers two sizes—1280 x 720 and 1152 x 864 pixels.
The approximate number of 2592 x 1944 stills that can be stored on a 32MB miniSD card in Super Fine quality is 5, however, on a 512 card, you can attain 145 stills. At 640 x 480 in Normal quality, a 32 MB miniSD card holds 365 stills while a 512 card holds 6,040. The DC50 can store 415 stills in the highest quality and largest size on a DVD-R or DVD-RW in video mode. The Sony DCR-SR300 is capable of storing 9,999 2848 x 2136 size stills in the highest quality thanks to its 40GB hard drive, so keep that in mind when deciding between a DVD or HDD camcorder.
The DC50 is equipped with an embedded flash to the lower left side of the lens, which could lead to uneven lighting when pinned against top-mounted flashes found on models like the Sony HDR-UX1. Auto and manual flash control including red-eye reduction can be accessed by pressing the center joystick and toggling the joystick to the left, which beats wading through a treacherous menu. Exposure and focus can be adjusted in this mini menu as well. The video light is also accessible in photo mode but don’t expect any earth-shattering light.
You’ll find the same program AEs, white balance modes, image effects, and digital effects, offered in video mode, plus a few extras. In photo mode, the DC50 features a light metering mode in which three settings—evaluative, center weight average, and spot—measures the reflected light from the subject and calculates the optimal exposure settings. You can also take single snaps, continuous, high speed continuous, or automatic exposure bracketing, although there is virtually no difference between high speed continuous and high speed continuous speeds. A histogram accompanies each image when reviewed in playback displaying the pixel count on the y axis and the spectrum of shadows and highlights on the x axis.
The DC50 is PictBridge compatible, meaning the camcorder itself can be connected directly to a PictBridge compatible printer via USB. You can choose the paper size, type, page layout, and trimming settings, all operated by the joystick.
Overall, the DC50 is rife with digital still options.
Still Performance (5.94)
To determine the Canon DC50’s still performance, we shot a Gretag McBeth Color Checker chart and ran those stills through Imatest imaging software. At best, the camcorder produced a color error of 10.1, with a saturation of 115% and a noise level of 0.915%. In order to get this best score, we had to lower the exposure from the automatic setting, to -0.50EV.
At a glance, the stills appear to be very strong in their color, with good clarity. Still performance continues to get better in each generation of camcorders. While the colors are clearly oversaturating, this will likely please rather than upset casual shooters. Unfortunately, we score on color accuracy, and several camcorders this year have done better.
Still Resolution (31.38)
Still resolution is determined by shooting an Applied Image ISO 12233 resolution chart and running those stills through Imatest imaging software. At best, the Canon DC50 produced a horizontal resolution of 1534 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) – with a clipping of 0.71% and an undersharpening of 1.84% - and a vertical resolution of 1489 lw/ph – with a clipping of 0.92% and an undersharpening of 0.199%.
This is the best resolution to date for 2007, and may, in the minds of potential DC50 owners, help to offset the weaker color accuracy score.
Ease of Use (8.0)
Unlike last year’s DC40, the DC50 will invite a broader crowd seeking camcorder simplification. The DC50 has notably fewer buttons, a rear-mounted joystick, and a manual/auto switch. Canon has watered down the barrage of dials, switches and controls in favor of a menu-heavy operating system. The auto white balance has its own row, and the administrative menu can be accessed directly from the function menu. Mounting a joystick on the back of a camcorder allows for one hand operation, and once you master its directional configuration, manual controls will not seem as daunting. The manual/auto switch enables the shooter to actively choose whether they feel like cruising in autopilot or manning the controls.
Although the video/still mode switch in the back is in a bit of a tight spot, it won’t take long to acclimatize to the layout of the DC50.
At first glance, the DC50 will steep you in a cloud of oblivion—is it a DC40? DC220? DC230? All of Canon’s DVD camcorders are crafted from the same blueprints, save a few minor alterations here and there. They’re tall, thin, and shaped like a snail shell. The only black sheep in the family is the recently announced AVCHD HR10, which sports gaudy copper highlights and a two-tone gray body.
The DC50 is dwarfed when stacked next to the Sony HDR-UX1 or Panasonic HDC-DX1. It’s one of the smallest DVD camcorders on the market, which is probably the reason Canon has not revamped its architecture to a significant degree over the past couple of years. The UX1 is a delight to hold—thick, padded hand strap, even weight distribution, and whopping 3.5" LCD screen. On the opposite pole, the DX1 is a disaster to hold—massive DVD hatch, cheap hand strap, and preposterous junk in the trunk battery. The DC50 falls between the two. It’s definitely lighter and easier to hold than the DX1, but it lacks the solid feel of the UX1.
The DC50’s hand strap is thin and cheap but welcome to Canon’s fleet of consumer camcorders—even the HV20’s hand strap is pretty feeble. The inside of the strap is lined with soft fuzzy fabric, which lightens the blow in the comfort department, but not by much. The strap is slung too low. If you hold the DC50 normally, then let go of it, the camcorder flops to the side at almost a 90 degree angle to the palm of the hand. This is not the case with the UX1, which remains securely fastened even when the hand strap is loosely fitted.
The top ridge of the DVD hatch features a thin raised plastic strip that is not rubberized. On an 87 degree day with a hand full ‘o suntan lotion, the DC50 will gradually slip out of your hand, unless you can palm the entire body. The pinky has a tendency to stray into the lens’s field of view because of the DC50’s stunted length, and the index finger extends a good inch past the zoom toggle. If you shift the DC50 up in your hand, the grip becomes more unstable, but at least your fingers will rest upon the tape hatch and zoom toggle.
Now let’s talk about something admirable—the rear-mounted joystick. Sony has its annoying smudge-ridden touch screen menu, Hitachi opts for an ADD victim’s nightmare with its free-for-all menu button selection cluster, and JVC mounts their joystick on the LCD, giving the cold shoulder to viewfinder freaks. Canon and Panasonic hold the title with rear-mounted joysticks, allowing for one-handed menu operation and viewfinder-friendly shooting. The DC50’s joystick is small and takes some refinery to avoid inadvertent selections, but you’ll soon come to appreciate its versatility. We would have like to see the function button located on the back within the vicinity of the joystick, but it’s a bit cramped, due to the vertical mode button. The LCD screen is a wee 2.7", but at least it’s not a touch screen. Depending on the amount of automatic and manual features you select, the minute screen could accumulate a festival of icons, but the display button instantly purges them.
Aside from the issues we had with the grip, the DC50 is one of the most user-friendly DVD camcorders out there.
The DC50’s menu is nothing flashy when compared with the Sony HDR-UX1’s, but it’s heartier, more logical, and easier to use. Instead of bumbling around with a smudgy touch screen interface, all the action is controlled in the back using the rear-mounted joystick. This allows for one-handed camcorder operation and gives the shot setup process a nitro boost. You’ll see the same menu structure on almost every consumer Canon, even the current king of the ring, the HV20.
In the startup screen, you can begin making adjustments by simply pressing the center of the joystick—once you get the hang of its finicky movement. Here, a small sub menu appears on the bottom right side. Left cues instant playback, and right toggles the video light on or off. Image effects can also be toggled on or off by pressing up. Down scrolls through each different screen. The next menu screen displays manual exposure. Press up to activate the control, and left and right to adjust. Scrolling down once more displays the manual focus. Just like manual exposure, manual focus is activated by pressing up on the joystick and left and right to adjust. In auto mode, only instant playback and video light are available. To exit the submenu, press the center of the joystick again.
To access the function menu, press the function button above the LCD screen. A vertical list of functions appears, in addition to a horizontal row of options corresponding to the highlighted function. To select a function option, press the center of the joystick. At the top you’ll find the program AEs: P, shutter-priority, aperture priority, and fireworks. Next in line are the white balance settings: auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent h, and set. After that, you have your image effects: vivid, neutral, low sharpening, soft skin detail, and custom. Digital effects sit right below: fade-t, wipe, black and white, sepia, art, and mosaic. The video quality setting is next, offering XP, SP, and LP. You can also choose your picture size in video mode: fine/1280x720, and normal/1280x720. Now, onto the administrative menu, the last icon on the list.
Here you’ll find camera setup, composed of the following settings: auto slow shutter, digital zoom, zoom speed, image stabilization, widescreen, self timer, and wind screen. Next is disc operations with two options—disc info and disc initialize. The following icon represents the display setup, and here you can adjust brightness, LCD mirror, TV screen, marker, language, and demo mode settings. After that, you’ll find the system setup pane, featuring wireless remote, beep, power save, standby, and file number settings. Last is the date and time setup.
In photo mode, the quick joystick submenu is identical. In the function menu, the only differences are the light metering, shot, and picture quality settings. The administrative menu is almost identical except for the AF assist lamp, focus priority, ND (neutral density filter), and review options found in the camera setup. In addition, you can select what media to record to in system setup.
The DC50 is not a bowling ball, but it’s also not a feather. Weighing in at 480g (1.1 lbs.), this camcorder’s bulk will hamper a swift stroll through the local American Legion parade. With dimensions of 62 x 90 x 130mm, the DC50 will not fit in a pocket or small bag. We recommend a padded carrying case to protect your $899 investment. Also, due to its specific battery type, the DC50 is incompatible with any battery aside from the one it comes with. It would be wise to purchase another battery or two for those long field trips.75 minutes can go by pretty quickly, and with 20 minutes of recording time in XP mode on each DVD, you’d better stock up in the DVD-R department as well.
LCD and Viewfinder (5.0)
The 2.7" LCD screen has a 123K resolution, but it still manages to provide a colorful image, thanks to the DC50’s 1/2.7" imager. Along the bottom of the LCD panel, there is a row of playback controls: rewind, fast forward, start/stop, and stop/playlist. The rewind and fast forward buttons also double as a zoom toggle when the camcorder is in recording mode, but nothing beats the buttery top-mounted zoom toggle. As mentioned earlier, the LCD hinge is not the burliest design and is susceptible to hyperextension if too much pressure is applied to the LCD screen. You’ll find the same hinge on the ZR line, despite the $500 price gap. Flipping open the LCD screen has never been easier, thanks to the cavernous battery slot located at the base of the DC50. Canon is killing two birds with one stone utilizing this design.
For what you are given, the DC50’s viewfinder is acceptable to say the most. Canon is notorious for equipping their consumer camcorders with deplorable viewfinders—read the ZR830 and ZR850 reviews. The DC50’s 0.27" wide, 123K resolution viewfinder provides a great image. It extends approximately 1/2" from the back of the camcorder and is angled up for ergonomic viewing. We would have preferred a retractable viewfinder with a rubberized eye cup instead of the DC50’s immobile hard plastic growth, but compared to Canon’s other models, this one is an improvement. It’s a good thing the DC50 employs a LCD cavity battery chamber, for the viewfinder would be rendered useless with added bulk in your face.
Battery Life (9.15)
The Canon Dc50 ships with the BP-208 battery. We tested this battery for duration by continuously recording with the LCD open and no manual controls engaged. When the disc needed changing, we plugged the DC power in, removed the battery, swapped discs, replaced the battery, removed the DC power, and hit record again. (Yes, you can be thankful that you don't have to run these tedious tests yourself.) When all was said and done, the battery lasted 91 minutes and 52 seconds (1 hour, 31 minutes, and 52 seconds).
The DC50 does not provide you with many options here. The dual channel built-in stereo microphone mounted on the facade is the only sound recording device available. There is no microphone jack or accessory shoe. Canon doesn’t even slap a headphone jack on the DC50, so you’ll have to cross your fingers during playback. Three arched grooves that represent the audio playback speaker are mounted on top of the viewfinder. Playback sound is tinny, amateurish, and even Hi-8esque. Oh, we went there. The DC50 is equipped with a windscreen feature, and after reading the next paragraph, you’ll never want to turn it off.
Recorded audio sounds mediocre and is accompanied by a flourish of background noise. That’s interesting. We had the same problem with the ZR models. The DC50 picked up every miniscule click, thud, and mechanical grind emanated from the whirring DVD-R disc. You can even hear the faint buzz of the DVD winding up for recording at the beginning of each clip. Canon has given us a great video image, but serious revisions must be made to the built-in microphone in order to mark the DC50 as a fierce, versatile contender within the burgeoning realm of DVD camcorders.
Playback on the DC50 is simple. VCR mode is selected via the mode switch located on the back of the camcorder’s nautilus-style crest. This cues a menu screen that encompasses thumbnails representing recorded video clips. Using the joystick, you can scroll though each thumbnail and select clips by pressing the joystick’s center or play button located on the LCD panel. Pressing the joystick’s center during playback brings up a small sub menu that controls clip volume and lets you skip to the next or previous clip. In order to fast forward, rewind, pause, or stop a clip, there is a strip of playback controls located on the LCD panel. Digital still playback mode is accessed by flipping the camera mode switch to the camera icon. Scrolling through images is done using the joystick, and you can skip 10 and 100 pictures at a time. A levels chart accompanies each image along with image size, F-stop, and white balance. Canon really hit one out of the park with the DC50’s playback controls and features.
The rear-mounted joystick is a dream in conjunction with the LCD-mounted playback controls. Camcorders that rely on side-mounted controls (Hitachi) force the operator to look at the LCD screen at an uncomfortable angle while they are bouncing back and forth between adjusting and viewing. Touch screen controls (Sony) obscure the viewing pane and are generally smudge-ridden, providing a bogus image. The DC50, like most Panasonics, eliminates those problems. Bravo, Canon.
The DC50 is lacking in the port department. A concentrated cluster on the left side of the camcorder is home to the USB terminal, MiniSD card slot, and AV in/out jack. Placing the USB terminal inside the LCD cavity requires the LCD screen to be open, and puts an added strain on the battery, so make sure the DC50 is plugged in before importing files. The gray plastic port cover hosting the Mini SD card slot and AV in/out jack fits flush within the camcorder’s body and pulls out to reveal two long, thin strips holding it in place. Be sure not to tug on the port cover too hard—we’ve snapped off a couple on past Canon models. In addition, it is difficult to pry open the port cover from the external edge unless you have fake nails or a miniature crowbar. When accessed from the LCD cavity, it pops open with ease. The DC jack is located in a peculiar location on the bottom right side of the camcorder’s body. Canon went with the round jack, which is more prone to pulling out than rectangular connections.
What’s in the Box?
The DC50 allows for instant shooting right out of the box:
-Compact Power Adapter
-BP-208 Battery Pack
-WL-D86 Wireless Controller
-Lithium Button Battery CR2025 for Wireless Controller
-STV-250N Stereo Video Cable
-IFC-300PCU USB Cable
-Blank DVD-R Disc
-Digital Video Solution Disk
-Roxio MyDVD for Canon Software
A battery upgrade would be wise and be sure to stock up on DVD-Rs as each one lasts under 20 minutes.
Other Features (2.75)
Video Light- Don’t expect a beacon of light here. The DC50’s video light, located on the right side of the front below the lens, is about the same strength as a penlight. It is accessed within the quick menu which is cued by pressing the center of the joystick.
Markers- For those fond of symmetry and even composition in their shooting, guidelines are here to help. While most camcorders offer only one template that splits the screen into nine sections, Canon lets you choose between a single horizontal center line or a nine pane grid. Both can be selected in either gray or white, depending on the brightness or darkness of the shot.
Digital Picture Effects- The DC50 offers a gnarly little array of radical digital picture effects: fade-t, wipe, black and white, sepia, art, and mosaic.
Quick Start- The quick start function allows you to shut the DC50 off immediately and turn it back on instantly with all of your saved settings. The quick start button is located underneath the display button above the LCD cavity.
Last year’s DC40 ($899 MSRP) is not very different from this year’s DC50, aside from a few minor alterations and a slightly smaller imager. The extra tenth of an inch doesn’t really come into play when you compare the DC40’s 1/2.8" chip to the DC50’s 1/2.7-incher, so expect strikingly similar video quality. Low light is about the same as well - not as good as we had hoped. The only other major difference is the DC40’s side-mounted joystick—a definitive handling factor. You’ll fall for the DC50’s rear-mounted joystick, capable of one-handed camcorder operation. Maneuvering the DC40’s joystick will just annoy you. The safe bet is the DC50. Of course, you'll be able to find great deals online for a one-year old camcorder, so if you want the DC50's quality and can settle for poorer handling, the DC40 may be worth looking in to.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Sony DCR-DVD408 ($700 MSRP) is its colossal size when sitting next to the DC50. The DVD408 emulates the look of the Sony HDR-UX1, however, the DVD408 has no cam control ring and only records in standard definition. The DVD408 also has an infamous touch screen menu, which is great for consumers but not at a minute 2.7" size. You’ll dig the DC50’s rear-mounted joystick instead. As far as the imager, expect more noise from the DVD408 in lower light based on Sonys of the past. We really liked what we saw from last year's DCR-DVD405. Canon has had some pretty interesting low light issues as well, but it has the edge as far as size is concerned (1/2.7" vs. 1/3"). The Sony is cheaper, however, and you can probably find it online for an even better price. This is too close to call. We'll have to wait for a full round of testing on the DVD408.
This is going to be brutal. Hitachi is like the nerdy kid who means well but receives a face full of sloppy joe on a daily basis. The DZ-HS500A ($799 MSRP) is a hybrid camcorder combining the luxury of DVD with a 30GB HDD, not to mention an SD card slot. It sounds great, but why equip your top hybrid model with a tiny 1/6" imager, convoluted menu button farm, and electronic image stabilization? The only thing the DZ-HS500A has going for it is…well…that fact that it’s a hybrid. The DC50’s 1/2.7" chip, rear-mounted joystick, and OIS easily top the DZ-HS500A’s sad set of offerings. You know the winner here.
The Sony HDR-UX5 ($999 MSRP) is basically a DCR-DVD408 that records via the AVCHD format instead of standard definition. That being said, you can expect up to four times the video resolution but with increased motion trailing and artifacts. How will the UX5’s 1/3" sensor fair against the DC50’s massive 1/2.7" chip? From every angle, more or less, AVCHD is going to look better than standard definition. An individual camcorder's imager is going to affect color performance one way or the other, but the overall sharpness and level of detail that HD offers is undeniable. In addition, Sony's upper-end consumer camcorders tend to produce a great color pallete, which could compete directly with the DC50. The big question is whether you're ready for AVCHD or not. You need a robust computer and the latest Sony Vegas, Ulead, or Corel software to edit. You need an HDTV to take advantage of playback, and you need patience because the format is young and buggy. Not everyone is prepared. The UX5 does offer a hot shoe, however, and if you are a diehard camcorder add-on freak, then that could change the way you view the DC50. Regardless, you’ll save $200 with the DC50.
In terms of a Dada ready-made, the Canon HR10 ($1199 MSRP) - Canon's first AVCHD DVD offering - is a stunning piece. Those who crave a more conservative camcorder will turn away immediately at the sight of the HR10’s wonky copper highlights and two-tone gray paneling. Despite its Mad Max styling, the HR10 shares with the DC50 the same size imager, rear-mounted joystick, and, come to think of it, pretty much everything else. It’s safe to say that the Canon HR10 is the AVCHD version of the DC50. AVCHD freaks will most likely wait for the HR10 to hit the shelves as long as they can hit up mom and dad for an extra $500. That's a very big price gap - too big, in our opinion, considering the price of Sony's UX5.
Who It’s For***
*Based on the stellar video quality mashed with repugnant audio, the DC50 will prove ultimately faithful to the hardcore tourist documenting the activity of Old Faithful.
*The DC50 packs a lot in for the budget consumer: great video quality, menu control, and hybrid functionality. However, at $899, a microphone jack would aid the poor sound quality.
*Still Photo / Video Camera Hybrid
*Still photo fans will get a kick out of the onscreen levels, F-stop, and white balance during playback. There’s also a flash and an intricate photo menu. The fact that it’s a hybrid makes it all the more worthwhile.
*Gadget freaks will swoon over the Mini SD card, hybrid recording options, and internal lens cover. However, they will soon grow weary of the DC50’s straightforward design and bow down to the budding world of the AVCHD camcorder.
*Manual Control Freaks *
Shutter priority, Aperture priority, focus, exposure compensation, and more - this is as good as Canon offers in standard definition. Panasonic tops it with independent shutter and aperture.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists**
Serious Hobbyists: You’ll like the video quality. Pros: Need not apply.
Canon has given us their top standard definition DVD model for 2007, and it’s…OK. The handling is a bit off thanks to its thin, cheap, plastic hand strap and awkward finger placement. We did like the rear-mounted joystick and broad range of still features. The DC50 also performed very well in bright light, but it lost some steam in low light. Sound quality was poor, and a mic jack is sorely missing for a 'top-of-the-line' model.
With the AVCHD at such a nearby price, you should expect either more for your money at $800 or a lower MSRP. Panasonic had the right idea by offering their top DVD camcorder at a mere $700, which will likely deliver similar video quality with better manual controls. Sony's strategy is to flood the market with offerings at multiple price points, drilling a 'Sony... Sony... Sony...' mantra into shopper's heads. Canon has some of the best camcorders on the market for 2007, but we want to see a mid-year price reduction on the DC50 before we can consider it a great buy.
Meet the tester
Michael Perlman is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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