Canon ZR830 Camcorder Review
Video Performance* (3.0)*
The Canon ZR830 shares its core imaging specs with the ZR800, the standard entry-level 1/6" CCD with 680,000 gross pixels. The effective pixel count changes depending on the aspect ratio and electronic image stabilization (EIS); in 16:9 with EIS on, it has approximately 360,000 effective pixels; in 16:9 with EIS off, it has 450,000; and in 4:3, it has 340,000.
These specs are virtually identical across entry-level camcorders of all manufacturers. The next model up, the Canon ZR850, has the same size imager, but it packs in 1,070,000 gross pixels. We thought that this would reduce certain aspects of performance (especially in low light), but the ZR850 trumped the ZR830 in every performance test. From the outset, we recommend stepping up to the ZR850.
At 3000 lux (bright-light conditions) the Canon ZR830 produced a better looking image than a lot of camcorders in this price range. Generally, we find that low-end Canons have the most favorable color reproduction. Sure, it’s more saturated than a pro or prosumer would want, but saturation is the name of the game for consumer camcorders. The ZR830 did a good job with the greens, blues, and reds, but the yellows really took a nosedive, leaning too much towards green. Our big problem with the ZR830’s image was the lack of sharpness. Everything appeared as if it were shot with a soft focus filter – great if you’re going for the silent films of the 1920s look, but on your new, large screen TV, this is going to look abysmal. Unfortunately, the more money you spend on your television, the more you’re going to have to spend on your home camcorder, as well. You want to keep those memories looking sharp, right? Welcome to the modern world.
The competition was no better and often worse. The Canon ZR500 from last year produced an image with stronger colors, but it was equally lacking in resolution. The Sony DCR-HC26 and the Panasonic PV-GS39, both from last year, produced exceptionally grainy images with strong saturation. The Canon ZR830 faired better. The only camcorder in this corral to do better that the ZR830 was the step-up ZR850. The ZR850 was far less saturated and less noisy. In this category, it was clearly the winner (and only $30 more).
Video Resolution* (4.4)*
The video resolution of the Canon ZR830 was tested by shooting a DSC Labs CamAlign chart showing line widths / picture height (lw/ph). At best, the camcorder produced approximately 310 lines of vertical resolution and 285 lines of horizontal resolution. This was not as sharp as the ZR850.
Low Light Performance* (4.15)*
The Canon ZR830 did not fare so well in low light. The ZR830 and ZR850 both have 1/6" CCDs, but the ZR850 packs nearly twice as many pixels into the same space. This means that the individual pixels have been shrunk down, which in turn should have meant a diminished ability to capture light. However, the ZR850 turned out to be more sensitive in low light, yet produce about the same noise and color accuracy as the ZR830 (see below for more details). Neither of them looked that good, however. Also, there was undoubtedly the appearance of an edge with the the ZR830, perhaps due to an increased in-camera sharpening at this light. The borders of objects appeared more clearly in the ZR830 than the ZR850.
Unfortunately, there is no Elura 100 to step up to this year, which did much better than both of these. Since the ZR800 has the same chip as the ZR830, plus the mic input, it's a very compelling choice.
At 60 lux, the ZR830 was very noisy and lost a great deal of color information from bright light. Like the ZR850, it had some difficulty finding the proper white balance, even with a manual setting. But, while the ZR850 was never able to rest on a manual white balance and had to settle on an automatic setting, the ZR830 could find the manual adjustment after about 7 seconds. Most of the color pallet between the ZR830 and ZR850 looked the same. You’ll actually be hard pressed to spot the difference unless you look every hard. We did, of course, (it’s our job), and found a clearer distinction between the greens in the ZR830. As stated before, this seems to be a result of increased sharpening in low light.
This year we have introduced a new low light testing method and scoring system, factoring in sensitivity, noise, and color accuracy. The Canon ZR830 was able to produce a peak luminance of 50 IRE at 15 lux. The light was then raised to 60 lux, the standard lighting in which we measure low light noise and color accuracy. According to Imatest imaging software, the ZR830 produced an average 1.31% noise, and had a mean color error of 13.1. Each of these metrics are factored into the final Low Light Performance score.
*All of this year’s ZR Series camcorders are equipped with EIS (electronic image stabilization) systems that reduce the effects of camcorder shake on the recorded image. Image stabilization systems are nearly universal on today’s consumer camcorders, and they are amazingly successful at steadying hand-held shots. Unfortunately, EIS does this by creating a virtual buffer zone at the margins of the video frame, which results in lower video resolution than you’ll get with EIS disabled. OIS (optical image stabilization) systems are better because they do not impair video resolution when they are engaged, but they are usually found only on higher-end camcorders.
We tested the Canon ZR830’s EIS system using our camcorder shake emulator. The shake emulator is able to reproduce camcorder shake at different levels of intensity. We tested the ZR830 at Speed 1, equivalent to the shake created while holding a camcorder and standing still; and Speed 2, equivalent to shooting from a moving vehicle. The Canon ZR830’s EIS reduced perceived image shake by about 50% at Speed 1, and 15% at Speed 2. These calculations were derived by measuring the reduction in motion between footage shot at each speed with EIS off and EIS on.
Wide Angle* (10.4)*
All of Canon’s consumer camcorders of 2007 record native 16:9 video which is a good thing, as more and more people are watching their home movies on widescreen TVs. In a nod to late-adopters, they also offer 4:3 video recording by pillarboxing the image. We tested the Canon ZR830’s wide angle capabilities in its native 16:9 mode, and it turned a 52 degree field of view.
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