Canon FS11 Camcorder Review
This year marks the start of Canon\'s entrance into solid state camcorders. The FS11 ($599 MSRP) is the top model in its standard definition line-up, featuring a 16GB internal memory and card slot for SD and SDHC cards. Below are the FS10 ($499 MSRP) with 8GB internal memory and the FS100 ($399 MSRP) with no internal memory. Overall, the FS11 is a solid camcorder. The video performance is good, though not great in low light. It handles well. Canon seems to have mastered the problem of making an extremely compact camcorder that is also comfortable in the hand.
Video Performance* (3.0)*
The Canon FS11 has the same imaging system as the FS10 and FS100. Inside, you'll find a 1/6-inch CCD. The gross pixel count is 1,070,000, which is a larger pixel count than the average low-end camcorder with a 1/6-inch chip. However, more pixels in the same amount of surface areas can sometimes result in decreased low light ability. We'll get to that later in the review. The effective pixel count of the FS11 is tricky to explain because it changes depending on the shooting mode. All the Canon camcorders mentioned above have a new feature called Advanced Zoom, which plays with the pixels to boost zoom. Here's a breakdown.
|Canon FS11 Effective Pixel Counts|
*Advanced Zoom (Tele)
|Advanced Zoom (Wide)||710,000||310,000|
We tested the video quality both in and out of the lab. First, we shot a DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even, bright 3000 lux. Under these conditions, the Canon FS11 looked pretty good. The colors are intensely vivid, which can be offputting, but is the standard for consumer camcorders. We compared it to the JVC GZ-MS100, last year's JVC GZ-MG155, and last year's Sony DCR-SR42. Overall, the Sony had the most even colors, though the Sony saturated the blues too much and the Canon pushed the greens too much.
Canon FS11 3000 lux auto
The Canon FS11 produced a respectable amount of sharpness in the areas of fine detail. In this regard, the JVC was about able to match the Canon. Most of the entry-level Sonys from last year, including the DCR-SR42, created more in-camera sharpening, which added the appearance of more detail without actually adding anything.
The camcorder also offers some one-touch color altering modes. The results can be seen below.
*Canon FS11 3000 lux Vivid
*Canon FS11 3000 lux Neutral
*Canon FS11 3000 lux Soft Skin
Out of the lab, the Canon FS11 performed quite well. We were pleased to see that, for its price range, the Canon FS11 produced great colors, sharp images, and quick, effective responses to changing lighting conditions. After looking at so many high definition camcorders this year, it's hard to overlook the fact that MPEG-2 camcorders like the FS11 have a lot of compression artifacting, which hurts the overall sharpness. If you can swing it, there are solid HD camcorders only a couple of hundred dollars more. What you'll gain is a huge increase in video quality.
Overall, if you're dead set on a standard definition camcorder, the Canon FS11 is among the better choices this year. We'll have reviews of competing camcorders, such as the Sony DCR-SR65 and Panasonic SDR-H60 coming soon.
Video Resolution* (4.81)*
The video resolution of the Canon FS11 was tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even, bright light. The playback footage was then examined on an HD monitor. We found the FS11 to produce an approximate horizontal resolution of 350 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical resolution of 275 lw/ph. This was better than average for a camcorder in this price range, but only by a little.
Low Light Performance* (4.98)*
The low light performance of the Canon FS11 was tested in three stages. First, we shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde at an even 60 and 15 lux, then compared them to like camcorders. At 60 lux, the FS11 lost a good deal of fine detail and a decent amount of color information. The noise is clearly evident to the eye, and flickers and pops like a swarm of mosquitoes. The colors are strongly saturated. It doesn't look bad, but it doesn't look great. Of the competing camcorders, the Sony DCR-SR42 looked decent, with better looking colors but more apparent noise. However, the JVC GZ-MS100 was the surprise low light performer. It's sharp and colorful, even if the colors are oversaturated. The noise is evident, but of a much finer grain that's easier to overlook.
Canon FS11 60 lux auto
Canon FS11 60 lux 1/30th shutter
We also looked at the Canon FS11 at 60 lux with the shutter speed lowered to 1/30th. There was virtually no change in image quality.
Canon FS11 15 lux auto
At 15 lux, the Canon FS11 lost a lot of fine detail. It didn't help that the camcorder had trouble focusing in this light. However, the camcorder does a decent job retaining some color information. To be fair, most camcorders in this price range don't do a very good job at 15 lux. The Sony DCR-SR42 and JVC GZ-MG155 looked terrible. The JVC GZ-MS100 looked to be the best of the bunch.
Canon FS11 15 lux 1/30th shutter
When we dropped the shutter to 1/30th, there was a very minor increase in brightness.
The second stage of the low light testing involved shooting the same chart under a light that was slowly and steadily lowered while connected to a waveform monitor. When the FS11 was able to output a maximum exposure level of 50 IRE, we note the lux level from the lights and mark it down as the camcorder's sensitivity. Ultimately, the Canon FS11 was able to output 50 IRE at 13 lux. The JVC GZ-MS100 and Sony DCR-SR42 produced the same sensitivity. The JVC GZ-MG155 was much worse, requiring 22 lux of light to produce the same exposure.
The final test involves shooting an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then outputting frame grabs from that clip to Imatest imaging software for data on color accuracy, noise, and saturation. We found the Canon FS11 to produce a color error of 11.8, a noise level of 1.4325%, and a saturation level of 72.08%. These scores are average-to-good when compared to the previously tested competition. The JVC GZ-MS100 produced much more accurate color and less noise. The JVC GZ-MG155 had less accurate color, but less noise. The Sony DCR-SR42 had worse color and more noise.
Overall, the Canon FS11 was a decent low light performer, but failed to stand up to the the JVC GZ-MS100.
The FS11 is equipped with Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), a shake reduction system that functions by utilizing pixels along the borders of the recorded frame to compensate for camcorder shake. This lowers the effective resolution of the image, which is something you generally want to avoid. The preferred system is Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), which operates by isolating and stabilizing the lens element from the body of the camcorder.
We tested the effectiveness of the FS11's EIS using our custom built camcorder shake emulator at two speeds, Speed One and Speed Two. Speed one simulates typical handheld shake, while Speed Two is akin to shooting out of the back of a bumpy car. The FS11 displayed an impressive 81.25% shake reduction at Speed One and a miserable 11.11% shake reduction at Speed Two. Pint-sized camcorders with EIS simply cannot handle high frequency shake patterns. The JVC GZ-MS100 was a nearly identical story at Speed Two, exhibiting an 11.1% shake reduction.
Wide Angle*** (9.6)*
We tested the FS11's maximum wide angle measurement using a vertical laser. The FS11 was set to Manual mode with EIS disabled and the Zoom pulled back fully during testing. The video was later interpreted on an external monitor in order to obtain a true wide angle reading. The FS11 displayed a maximum wide angle measurement of 48 degrees, which is average.
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