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Great daylight video, grainy in low light - updated 1/10/2009
on December 29, 2008
Let me start by saying that I've been using camcorders for 20 years, way back to the full sized VHS days. Canon and Sony have been my favorites for many years, starting with their 8mm days. Since consumer HD seems to have stabilized in its second generation, I decided to upgrade from my six year old Sony 8mm.
The Canon Digital SLR cameras are second to none, I own three of them (Digital Rebel, Rebel Xti and an EOS 40D) and they blow the competition away. I fall into the "prosumer" category for digital categories, and the Canon Digic processor is one of the things that has separated Canon from its competitors. So certainly the second generation HD Canon Vixia 21 with the Digic II processor would be a no-brainer, right? Not exactly.
120GB hard disk drive - you can record up to 45 hours of video in LP mode, and about 11 hours in the best HD mode the camera has. The storage capacity will, by far, outlast the battery that comes with the camcorder.
SDHC slot - Unlike Sony and their proprietary Memory Stick, Canon has and continued to use SD and now SDHC memory. SDHC cards are available from numerous vendors and they are easier to find and less expensive than the Memory Stick.
12X optical zoom - this works extremely well, as advertised. Digital zoom takes away from the quality of the recording, so I prefer to stick with the optical zoom. The controls for the zoom are very fluid and smooth.
Picture quality - in daylight and indoors with good light, the picture quality is exceptional. Playing the video on my HDTV is just as good as any broadcast HDTV quality you'll ever see on TV.
Image stabilization - very few people can hold anything completely still. With the image stabilization feature, you don't have to worry about it - the camcorder handles it for you and does a great job of it.
Short battery life - the battery that ships with the camcorder (BP 807/808) will give you no more than 80-90 minutes of operation. If you don't plan to use it any more than that on each outing, then it is not a big issue for you. If you plan to use it for a day of on and off shooting, you need to get another batter. The BP827 will give you almost five hours of running time, for a steep $144. Adding to this, you can only charge the battery while the battery is in the camcorder. The external battery charger is another $60 or so. In short, if you plan to use this camcorder for longer than an hour, buy an extra battery and the external charger so you can charge one battery while using the other. This is not a Canon specific problem, every vendor, including Sony, has its limitations with batteries and charging. They also have the "optional" longer life batteries and external chargers for a steep price as well.
Low light shooting - The picture quality is grainy and unimpressive. After seeing what the daylight shots looked like on the TV, then watching the low light shots, you will be somewhat dissapointed. Perhaps there is some special low light setting I do not know about - I've only had the camcorder for a week. Another reviewer indicated better luck in low light. I will report back if this is resolved.
Despite the additional battery and charger purchase, I think this is a very good camcorder. I hope to resolve the low light issue. Daytime and good lighting recording is breathtaking on replay. Given that this is a consumer grade camcorder, I doubt you'll find any better for the money.
As promised, I've worked with the camcorder for a couple of weeks now, and not much has changed. The daylight and well-lit room video is broadcast quality HD. Low light is still somewhat grainy. I also purchased a longer life battery and external charger from Amazon, which comes in very handy. I would still purchase this camcorder.