Canon ZR850 Camcorder Review



Video Performance* (4.0)*

The Canon ZR850 comes equipped with a single 1/6" CCD, though it manages to pack a little more resolution into that size than the other ZR models. While the ZR800 and ZR830 have a gross pixel count of 680,000, the ZR850 squeezes in 1,070,000. What effect, in theory, should this have? We expect to see a sharper video, but a weaker low light performance. More pixels increase the amount of information being captured but chances are that the pixels on the ZR850 are smaller and therefore catch less light.


At 3000 lux, the Canon ZR850 showed a strongly saturated color with a fair amount of fuzziness – essentially the same picture as last year’s ZR camcorders. There was a clear distinction between the ZR850 and the other ZRs from this year, however – saturation. The ZR850 was far less saturated than the ZR830. Mind you, this is only the difference between saturation that yells and saturation that screams; they’re both more skewed than any respectable high-end camcorder. While high contrast edges are not as sharp as they could be, the ZR850 managed to avoid producing a lot of noise, a rare feat for camcorders in this price class.

By comparison, last year’s ZR700 did not look as good as the ZR850. Like the lower-end ZR830, the saturation was a little too much to bear. Noise levels were about the same. The Sony DCR-HC26 was among the noisier camcorders we tested last year in the low-end, though it produced a more even green tonality than the Canon did. The Panasonic PV-GS39 was the most oversaturated of all and the noisiest. Noise was a huge problem for single-chip Panaosnic DV camcorders last year, though with the pending death of the medium, the problem will probably work itself out in the end.

Video Resolution* (4.86)*

We use a DSC Labs CamAlign chart designed to specifically gauge resolution in our camcorders, measured in line widths/picture height. At best, the Canon ZR850 showed approximately 325 lines of vertical resolution and 300 lines of horizontal resolution. This is about average for a low to mid-line camcorder.

Low Light Performance* (5.86)*

Our low light performance test has been revamped for 2007. Traditionally, we would shoot video of the color chart at 60 lux and 15 lux, and then compare the footage against other camcorders under the same conditions. Now, we have added a new component that we hope will add to the usefulness of the information. Using DVrack software, we lower the lighting in an even and continuous manner until the peaks on the waveform monitor are hitting 50 IRE. Then we raise the light to 60 lux to determine noise and colro accuracy. All three of these factors are inputted into the final score. For the time being, we will also continue to shoot at 60 and 15 lux to make comparisons with last year’s models.

As mentioned above, low light performance is based largely on the size of the individual pixels on the the CCD. While the ZR850 has the same 1/6" chip as the other ZR camcorders, this chip has a higher pixel count within that chip. As a result, we expect to see an increase in resolution and a decrease in low light performance.

The ZR850 was able to achieve 50 IRE at 11 lux. This turned out to have a better sensitivity than the ZR830, which was 15 lux. Both camcorders had about the same levels of noise and color accuracy.


At 60 lux, the Canon ZR850 and ZR830 were very, very similar. The ZR850’s brighter image could not really be distinguished by the human eye. The sharper image of the ZR850 was very noticeable. While both camcorders were very noisy, the ZR850 maintained better detail along high contrast areas. Both camcorders were unable to achieve a satisfactory color balance after manually setting the white balance. In fact, at 60 lux, neither one could settle on a manual white balance; the icon just kept blinking. Last year’s Canon ZR700 proved to be far more saturated than this year’s offerings, the image was brighter (which is probably good enough for most users). The Sony DCR-HC26, a 2006 camcorder, performed better overall at 60 lux. Unlike the Canons, the color balance looked correct. It did, however, have a lot of fine grain noise. The Panasonic PV-GS39, another 2006 camcorder, completely oversaturated the image in an attempt to mask its inability to collect adequate light. The noise was terrible and the lack of fine detail caused strong moiré patterns in the resolution trumpets.


At 15 lux, predictably, the Canon ZR850’s image was poor with an inability to focus, tons of noise, and a severe loss of color information. The story was the same with the Canon ZR830. Last year’s ZR700 was significantly brighter than this year’s Canons. The Sony DCR-HC26 and Panaosnic PV-GS39 both tried admirably to salvage some color by oversaturating, but images were awash with noise.

The Canon ZR850 produced a peak luminance of 50 IRE at 11 lux. The light was then raised to 60 lux to meausre noise and color accuracy. According to Imatest imaging software, the ZR850 produced an average 1.34% noise, and had a mean color error of 13.3. Each of these metrics are factored into the final Low Light Performance score.

Stabilization* (4.78)*

The Canon ZR850 utilizes an EIS (electronic image stabilization) system to reduce the jarring appearance of camcorder shake, especially when hand-held. EIS systems reduce camcorder shake through digital processing, and result in a slight loss of image resolution. While many users will find the benefits of a more stable image to outweigh the reduction in image sharpness produced by EIS, OIS (optical image stabilization) systems offer a superior alternative. OIS systems stabilize the image optically, often through the use a gyroscopic devices built around the lens element, and do not degrade image resolution. OIS systems are usually found on higher-end camcorders, though Panasonic has made it a standard feature across its 2007 consumer camcorder line.

We tested the Canon ZR850’s EIS system using a camcorder shake emulator, custom built for by Jay Duchin of Duchin Productions. The shake emulator is able to reproduce camcorder shake at different levels of intensity. We are in the process of standardizing our camcorder stabilization test.

We tested the ZR850 at two shake levels: Speed 1, equivalent to the shake produced while holding a camcorder and standing still; and Speed 2, equivalent to shooting from a moving vehicle. With a field of view of 12 degrees, the Canon ZR850’s EIS reduced perceived image shake by 75% at Speed 1, and 30% at Speed 2. These calculations were derived by measuring the motion difference between footage shot with EIS off and EIS on.

Wide Angle* (12.0)*

The Canon ZR850 and all of the company’s consumer camcorders in 2007 record native 16:9 video, but they also offer a pillar boxed 4:3 setting. We tested the Canon ZR850’s wide angle capabilities in its native 16:9 mode, and it turned a very wide 60 degree field of view.



Comparable Products

Before you buy the Canon ZR850, take a look at these other camcorders.

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