camcorders

Canon FS100 Camcorder Review

The Canon FS100 (MSRP $399.00) is one of three models in Canon\'s first ever line of solid state, standard definition camcorders. The other two models—the Canon FS10 and Canon FS11—can record to SD/SDHC memory cards, as well as built-in internal flash memory (8GB and 16GB, respectively). But the FS100\'s reliance solely on memory cards is just about the only thing setting it apart from the others. You have the same body design, the same lens and sensor, the same features, and the same internal processor—all of which result in the same video performance. It\'s a video performance that will be good enough for some users, but doesn\'t quite hold up to the competition. And it certainly can\'t be expected to compete with Canon\'s high definition camcorders.

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Performance

Video Performance* (3.0)*

On the outside, the Canon FS100 is an identical twin to the FS10 and FS11—and the similarities are more than just skin deep. These three camcorders also share the same imaging system, featuring a 1/6-inch CCD sensor. The gross pixel count is 1,070,000, which is slightly higher than you'll find on the average 1/6-inch chip in these low-end camcorders. Packing more pixels into yor sensor can improve resolution, but it can also diminish the camcorder's sensitivity in low light. (See Low Light Performance, below.)

As for the effective pixel count, that's not quite straightforward on the Canon FS100. All three Canons in this year's FS series employ their new Advanced Zoom feature, which manipulates pixels in order to boost zoom. This is a digital process, but does not degrade image quality the way that traditional digital zoom does. (See Zoom.) The resulting effective pixel counts are as follows:

Canon FS100 Effective Pixel Counts
  16:9 4:3
Optical Zoom 555,000 690,000
Advanced Zoom (Tele) 410,000 690,000
Advanced Zoom (Wide) 710,000 310,000
Still Images 600,000 800,000

Video performance was tested by taking the camcorder through our usual set of lab tests, and then taking it out of the lab for some 'real life' recording. Inside the lab, we shot a DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 3000 lux. While it can hardly be expected to compete with impressive, high definition camcorders, the FS100 certainly held its own among standard definition camcorders. The colors are very vivid, if not oversaturated, but this is now the status quo among consumer camcorders. The footage also shows a remarkable amount of sharpness and is clear of any major noise compression errors.

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The Canon FS100 at 3000 lux, automatic settings

We compared the FS100 to the JVC GZ-MS100, the Samsung SC-MX20, and the Panasonic SDR-H200—three competing camcorders that are all flash memory and standard definition. All four boost saturation to hone in on that vivid consumer aesthetic, especially in the greens. Only Samsung seems to be toning down the saturation, but the result is muddier overall. As for sharpness, the FS100 is good, but it can't quite stand up to the fine detail of the Samsung or the Panasonic.

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Canon FS100 at 3000 lux auto JVC GZ-MS100 at 3000 lux auto
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Samsung SC-MX20 at 3000 lux auto Panasonic SDR-H200 at 3000 lux auto

One side effect of the increased sharpness is that the compression artifacting is a little more evident. Those chunky blocks of discoloration that we see on all standard definition camcorders are less obvious compared to the less sharp JVC GZ-MS100 or the impressively smooth Panasonic SDR-H200. The Canon does, however, produce much cleaner footage than the Samsung SC-MX20.

The Canon FS100 also offers some one-touch color altering modes: Vivid, Neutral, and Soft Skin. The results are very subtle, but can be seen in our review for the Canon FS11.

Outside of the lab, we were very impressed with the FS100's ability to adapt to changes in light and color temperature. The automatic controls were all adequate and slow and fast movement looked good. These, of course, are only valid judgments when you compare the FS100 to other standard definition models. Don't forget that you can get a high definition camcorder, like the Canon HF100 for a few hundred dollars more—the result will be significantly better video performance.

When it comes to standard definition camcorders, however, the Canon FS100 is one of the better options. It certainly had better video than the Samsung SC-MX20 and rivaled the competition from other manufacturers. We'll have even more reviews from the competition in the coming weeks, when we take the Sony DCR-SR85, Panasonic SDR-H60, and JVC GZ-MG330 through the labs.

Video Resolution* (4.8125)*

To test video resolution, we shoot a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even, bright light. We then watch the footage on an external, HD monitor. The FS100 produced an approximate horizontal resollution of 350 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical resolution of 275 lw/ph. This is about average for a standard definition camcorder in this range. The Samsung SC-MX20 and the Panasonic SDR-H200 performed better.

Low Light Performance* (4.755)*

We put the Canon FS100 through the usual barrage of testing to see how the camcorder performs in low light conditions. First, we shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux. As to be expected, the FS100 lost a lot of color and fine detail at 60 lux. The camcorder makes a good attempt at retaining color saturation, but suffers from an abundance of noise—noise of the snapping, crackling, and popping variety. Worse, this noise is causing large chunks of discoloration that are visible throughout, but most noticable in the grays.

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*The Canon FS100 at 60 lux, automatic settings

*

Compared to the competition, the FS100 has good, strong color. We liked the color performance of the JVC GZ-MS100 better, but most of the other camcorders were either oversaturating the color (like the Panasonic SDR-H200) or producing dark and innacurate colors (like the Samsung SC-MX20). Unfortunately, the strong colors of the FS100 are viciously marred by blue and purple noise. The problem is exacerbated by the camcorder's compression, which sometimes causes the noise to be outputted in large chunks. The Canon FS100 looked considerably noisier than most of the competition, except perhaps the Samsung. Most of the other camcorders had brighter, cleaner images.

At 15 lux, the story was much the same. The Canon performed with decent color, but was even noisier. The discoloration is so distracting that the footage recorded in these conditions is virtually unusable. Admittedly, these conditions are the widow-maker for most camcorders. Nothing looks particularly good at 15 lux. But nearly every one of the FS100's competitors fared better.

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The Canon FS100 at 15 lux, automatic settings

Although this year was Canon's first foray into solid state memory camcorders, we were able to compare the FS100 to the standard definiton DVD camcorders from Canon's previous generation. The DC50, which employs a 1/2.7-inch CCD was much brighter and clearer. The DC210, which uses the same type of sensor as the FS100, looks to have about the same amount of noise, but is far less plagued by the distracting discoloration. The DC210 also produces a brighter image and more accurate colors. Whatever the reasons for these disparities, it's disappointing to see Canon take a step backwards in low light performance.

The second stage of low light testing is designed to test a camcorder's sensitivity. We connected the FS100 to a wafeform monitor, then steadily lowered the light until the camcorder was outputting a maximum of 50 IRE. The FS100 was able to output 50 IRE at 14 lux—this is slightly worse than the average for camcorders of this type. The Panasonic SDR-H200 had especially atrocious sensitivity, reaching just 24 IRE. Last year's DC210 from Canon was able to do a little better, with a sensitivity of 11 lux.

For the final stage of low light testing, we shoot an X-Rite color checker chart to determine color accuracy, noise, and saturation. The chart is lit at an even 60 lux and frame grabs are exported to Imatest imaging software. The lowest color error produced by the FS100 was 13.2—just about average for this type of camcorder. Saturation measured 65.59%, which is also an average score. Overall, the Canon's color performance was better than the poor showing from the Samsung SC-MX20 and the Panasonic SDR-H200, but wasn't nearly as good as the JVC GZ-MS100. (The JVC had an impressive 95.47% saturation, which rivals most high definition camcorders.)

The biggest letdown in the Imatest results was the abysmal noise score of 1.6%. We were disappointed in the Samsung's 1.5375%, but this is even worse. We hope that Canon improves the low light performance in its next generation of standard definition camcorders. They have a long way to go to catch up with the impressive low light performance of the JVC GZ-MS100 and should at least be performing as well as their camcorders from 2007.

Stabilization* (6.68)*

The FS100 is equipped with the same Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) featured in all of their standard definition camcorders. Electronic image stabilization uses pixels along the borders of the recorded frame as a buffer for camcorder shake. The result is a lower effective pixel resolution, so we recommend you keep the EIS turned off and rely on a tripod or steady hands to reduce shake. Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) is the preferred method—you'll find OIS on Canon's high definition camcorders and in the lenses of their SLR digital cameras.

We tested the effectiveness of the FS100's EIS using our custom camcorder shake emulator. At speed one (designed to simulate typical handheld shake), the FS100 exhibited an impressive 80% shake reduction. At speed two (a vigorous shake akin to a bumpy car ride), the FS100 proved less effective: just a 27.27% shake reduction. While the results at speed one are above average for these tiny standard definition camcorders, the shake two score is simply average. None of these camcorders do well at such high frequencies.

Wide Angle* (9.6)*

We tested the FS100's maximum wide angle measurement using a vertical laser. As with other camcorders, we set the camcorder to manual, disable the EIS, and pull the zoom all the way back. Interpreting the footage on an external monitor, we found the FS100 to have a maximum wide angle measurement of 48 degrees. This is an average score.

 

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Sections

  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Auto / Manual Controls
  4. Still Features
  5. Handling and Use
  6. Audio / Playback / Connectivity
  7. Other Features
  8. Conclusion & Comparisons
  9. Photo Gallery