Canon DC220 Camcorder Review
Auto / Manual Controls
Picture & Manual Control
Automatic Control (4.0)
Canons usually perform solidly in auto mode, and the DC220 upholds that consistent standard. Placing the camcorder in full Auto is done by switching the two-position Mode Switch on top of the DVD mechanism from P (AE) mode to Auto. It is also possible to select automatic adjustments on an a la carte basis while in P Mode. When the DC220 is in full Auto mode, you will retain the ability to review the last recorded clip using the joystick, select video and photo settings, and control Auto Slow Shutter, Digital Zoom, Zoom Speed, and Widescreen select. The camcorder takes care of all the other image parameters, from white balance to focus.
Automatic adjustments are smooth, though not quite as quick as some other consumer camcorders (Sonys are particularly fast and seamless in making automatic adjustments). Focus is accurate and fast in good lighting, and it holds up reasonably well in low light. Retaining good auto focus in low light is a trouble area for Sonys, while Canons often do this better. The DC220 also deals with exposure adequately, though this adjustment can take several seconds to stabilize. The overall color balance, controlled via auto white balance, is relatively accurate, and this is a strength of the DC220’s Auto Mode. Despite the fact that Auto Mode does not make all its adjustments with the refined seamlessness of a Sony, they delivered a balanced and good-looking picture under "normal" lighting condition.
In conditions that are notorious for surpassing the limits of full Auto Mode, such as low-contrast, backlit, or low light, the DC220’s ability to deliver a usable image flagged. This is inevitable given the fact that Auto Mode is calibrated to deal well only with a narrow range of common shooting conditions. The camcorder’s Scene Modes, often known as "Program AE" modes, are designed to optimize automatic controls to suit specific lighting situations that Auto Mode cannot deal with adequately.
Scene Modes can only be used by setting the Mode Switch is set to P, entering the Function Menu, and choosing the Set Scene icon. The Scene Modes include Canon’s standard suite: Portrait (for recording portraits or still lifes), Landscape (for distant scenes), Sports (for fast action in bright light), Night (very low lighting), Snow (for subjects against a snowy backdrop), Beach (for subjects on a brightly lit beach), Sunset (also works for sunrise…), Spotlight (for subjects against a dark backdrop), and Fireworks (very bright light against a black sky).
Additional automatic options available on the DC220 include Canon’s standard set of Image Effects and faders. Like Scene Modes, these are only available when operating the camcorder in P Mode. Image Effects alter the overall character of the image and include settings for Vivid, to increase color saturation, Neutral, to tone down colors, Low Sharpening, to decrease sharpness, and Soft Skin Detail. Soft Skin detail softens "skin toned" areas in the frame, and it is intended to produce more flattering portrait shots. We find options like Soft Skin Detail troubling because they are inevitably calibrated only for a certain range of skin tones. Adding a few skin tone settings would go a long way towards remedying what amounts to racial bias through exclusion. We will applaud any camcorder manufacturer that addresses this issue.
Overall Manual Control (5.0)
Different manufacturers approach manual controls on entry-level camcorders very differently. Panasonic offers full manual control on even its lowliest models, while Sony adds independent control over more image parameters at the top end of their line. Canon falls somewhere in-between, offering a fairly robust set of manual controls on the DC 220 but adding features (such as aperture priority) on its top-end models, including the DC50. This leaves the DC220 with a pretty good set of manual image control options that should keep most casual users comfortably in the drivers’ seat.
Like last year’s DVD camcorder, the DC220’s main control interface is a joystick, but it has migrated from the left side of the body to the back, just below the viewfinder. This is a welcome change because it enables you to operate the joystick easily with your thumb while hand-holding the camcorder. It also places the control squarely in your field of view, rather than around the corner. The joystick is used to navigate the menu and to make all manual image adjustments, from exposure to white balance setting.
The manual controls are available only in P Mode, and manual control options are grayed-out or invisible when the Mode Switch is set to Auto. Pressing the Function Button (labeled FUNC) brings up the Function Menu display screen, which is rendered as an "L" along the left and base of the LCD screen. Each icon on the left side of the screen contains nested options that "open" along the base of the screen. At the top left of the Function Menu are the camcorder’s primary recording modes: Program AE (P), Shutter Priority (TV), and Scene recording modes. P mode allows you to adjust exposure on a -11 to +11 scale in EV steps, while TV also allows you to select a specific shutter speed. The Scene option includes a wide array of AE recording modes that still allow manual control over focus but place exposure and shutter speed under automatic control.
The Function Menu also includes white balance presets, Image Effects, Digital Effects, video, and photo settings vertically aligned along the left edge of the LCD. The last Function Menu option is the DC220’s Administrative Menu. When this icon is selected, a new menu interface opens up, containing less-used image controls like Auto Slow Shutter and Markers, as well as the bulk of the camcorder’s setup and display options.
The joystick is the only control you’ll need to make adjustments to focus and exposure, review the last recorded clip, or activate an effect. When operating the DC220 in either P or TV mode, depressing the center of the joystick opens a small display in the LCD screen’s lower right corner. Pressing down towards "Next" cycles through the options, and pressing up engages control over a given setting like focus. This amounts to very fast access to a few key manual controls, and it is one of the best aspects of Canon’s control interface. Panasonics take the model a step further, providing instant joystick access to even more parameters including gain, shutter speed, and iris – but novices run the risk of confusion when faced with so many choices. Sony’s entry-level interface is completely touch screen-based. That makes it extremely easy to understand – but as a manual control interface, touch screens offer less precision and speed than joysticks (though dials and rings are better still). For casual shooters, Canon gets the equation right by offering quick access to basic manual controls and an intuitively-designed menu.
You can control the Canon DC220’s zoom using either the top-mounted primary zoom controller or via the secondary zoom control buttons on the lower edge of the LCD frame. The main zoom control is positioned nicely for index finger operation while hand-holding the camcorder atop the back end of the lens barrel. It has a rocking lever design, which we prefer over slider-type zoom, and it extends out from the body enough to allow for good leverage and control.
The zoom lever defaults to variable speed operation, with increased finger pressure resulting in a faster zoom. The lever can also be set to move at three fixed speeds by selecting the Zoom Speed option from the Camera Setup submenu of the Admin Menu. Speed 1 moves the zoom at a very slow crawl, Speed 2 is a little faster, and Speed 3 is about half the zoom’s maximum speed. Canon’s adjustable zoom speed option can be a useful tool, and it is a rarely seen option at the consumer level.
The Zoom Speed options also control the speed of the secondary zoom control buttons along the lower edge of the LCD frame. They are labeled W and T (think "wide" and "tight"), and are the camcorder’s Rewind and Fast-Forward buttons in playback mode. The buttons are useful when the camcorder is held at a high angle that makes the primary zoom difficult to reach and also allow fixed speed zooms even when the primary is set to variable speed.
Zoom Power Ratio (35.0)
The Canon DC220 is certainly not lacking in the optical zoom power category. At 35x, it is among the most powerful optical zooms on the market, surpassed by only a few entry-level Sonys with 40x zooms. Alas, powerful optical zooms are a fortunate byproduct of the small 1/6" sensors found on these camcorders. Larger sensors found on top-end camcorders produce higher-resolution video, but their optical zooms are much less powerful due to their large scale in relation to the entire lens element.
For all you surveillance junkies out there, the DC220 also sports a digital zoom that can be disabled, capped at 105x, or maxed out at 1000x. In contrast to optical zooms that magnify an image using lenses, digital zooms only create the illusion of increased magnification by blowing up the image at a camcorder’s peak optical zoom power. A digitally zoomed picture is literally a cropped and zoomed section of the frame, so at the 105x setting, the center of a 35x zoom has been digitally enlarged three times. Because digital zooms enlarge pixels, the video resolution and quality degrades quickly upon entering digital territory. If you must use this option, we strongly recommend capping the zoom at 105x to ensure that your video remains somewhat legible. To clue you in to where you are in the camcorder’s zoom range, a horizontal zoom bar near the top left corner of the screen provides a visual indication of where you are and what direction you are moving the zoom. When the digital zoom is engaged, a light blue segment is added to the bar for 40-105x territory and a darker blue segment is added for 105-1000x territory.
The DC220 can be focused manually when P is selected by the Mode Switch but not in Auto mode. Pressing in on the center of the joystick displays a small menu in the lower right corner of the LCD, and by tapping down towards "Next," you can cycle through options until you arrive at the Focus screen. To select Focus, tap the joystick up once to engage the control. The letters MF will appear at the top of the LCD to indicate manual focus mode, and portrait and mountain icons become active. Tapping left towards the portrait icon will move the focal plane closer to the lens and tapping left towards the mountain moves the focal plane further away.
Joysticks are middle-of-the-road manual focus controllers, offering better accuracy and control than a touch screen or buttons but much less than a dial or ring. Dials and rings are only found on a handful of high-end camcorders, however, all of them retail for at least double the cost of the Canon DC220. At this price point, a joystick is the best focal control you can get. In this camcorder’s favor, it’s very easy to engage the manual focus control even while shooting, via the joystick. The location of the joystick also means focus can be adjusted with one hand and without applying pressure to the LCD frame, which is more liable to shake the camcorder. JVC places the joystick on the LCD frame (which has some other handling benefits), while Sony’s focus control is the touch screen itself.
*Pushing in on the joystick brings up the
exposure and focus controls. *
Exposure & Aperture (5.5)
Exposure can be adjusted manually on a -11 to +11 scale in EV steps when the camcorder is set to either P or TV recording modes. In P mode, exposure adjustments affect both shutter speed and aperture, and the actual value of each parameter is not displayed. TV mode offers a bit more control over exposure, though this adjustment also occurs on the same EV scale.
TV mode allows you to assign a fixed value to the camcorder’s shutter speed and then make adjustments to exposure. Even though the exposure setting is not shown in f-stops, moving through the EV scale after the shutter speed has been set will only affect aperture.
Shutter Speed (5.85)
Shutter speed on the DC220 can be manually controlled only when the camcorder is in TV or shutter priority mode and then selecting it from the options at the top of the Function Menu screen. The shutter speed settings include 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/100, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, and 1/2000 second. Because exposure can be controlled after selecting shutter speed, TV mode offers the greatest degree of manual image control available on the DC220.
White Balance (5.5)
The DC220 includes basic white balance presets for Auto (labeled AWB), Daylight, Tungsten, and Manual. As befits an important image control, white balance presets are the second option listed on the left side of the Function Menu, making it easy to reach quickly when setting up a shot. It can be accessed after selecting the white balance icon from the list (labeled Set Eval.), and pressing the center of the joystick locks in the manual setting. In bright light, the adjustment works quickly, but in lower light it can take a few seconds for the white balance icon to stop flashing. The DC220’s manual white balance produced very good results and yielded better color accuracy than most comparable DVD camcorders. This seems to hold true for most Canon camcorders. As we stated in the Video Performance section, however, the overall color palette was quite saturated.
The Canon DC220 does not allow manual gain control over gain which is no surprise on an entry level consumer camcorder. Panasonics is the only manufacturer that has implemented manual gain control throughout their camcorder line.
Other Manual Controls (2.0)
*Image Effects - *Image Effects allow you to slightly modify the overall look of your footage by selecting one of four presets from the Function Menu. They include Vivid for more color saturation, Neutral for less color saturation, Low Sharpening for a softer look, and Soft Skin Detail, which softens 'skin toned' areas in the frame.
*Digital Effects - *Digital Effects are also located in the Function Menu and bundles the DC220’s fader and image filter options. These include fade-in/fade-out (labeled Fade T) and Wipe transitions, and Black and White, Sepia, Art, and Mosaic image filters.
*Auto Slow Shutter - *Auto Slow Shutter reduces the lowest automatic shutter speed setting from 1/60 to 1/30. When this setting is enabled, the camcorder will automatically drop the shutter speed as low as 1/30 in low light, effectively doubling the light gathering ability of the camcorder. Auto Slow Shutter can be found the Camera Setup submenu of the Admin Menu, labeled A. Sl Shutter.
*Markers - *The DC220’s Marker options overlay lines on the image that can be used as guides for framing shots. Markers appear only on the camcorder’s live display, and are not recorded to disc. The Marker options are Level and Grid, both of which can be displayed as white or grey lines. Level overlays a horizontal line across the middle of the display, with a vertical mark indicating the center of the screen. Grid overlays wireframe grid on the LCD that divides the frame into nine equal boxes, and is handy for shot composition according to the rule of thirds. The DC220’s Marker options can be found in the Display Setup submenu of the Admin Menu.
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