by John Beale 9/23/00
Let me preface the review by mentioning that I have two 35mm still cameras, a Canon Elan II (full-sized SLR) and an Olympus Stylus Epic (pocket-sized). The Canon is far more professional with interchangable lenses and many controls, but it's fairly bulky. The Olympus has a fixed focal length and auto-exposure only, but it fits easily in a pocket and unlike the Canon, it goes everywhere with me. Needless to say, the best camera in the world won't get the shot if you don't have it with you.
Small is Nice. It was this line of thinking that brought me to the Canon Elura 2mc. I already have two larger "prosumer" MiniDV cameras, but they are too bulky to conveniently carry all the time. I wanted to be able to make a video record of the unexpected, when I hadn't planned ahead and brought a regular-sized camera. The Elura 2 should fit in any backpack or briefcase, and can even be worn in a belt pouch, like the CaseLogic CB2 shown above. It would not comfortably fit in a pants pocket, unless you wear a "cargo pants" style. It comes in two versions, the Elura 2MC with a separate still memory card, and the Elura 2 without the card. Its main competition is the fractionally larger Sony DCR-PC5. I got the Elura 2mc model which for brevity I'll henceforth call the "Elura 2". Canon describes the unit well on their webpage, including the specs and the complete user's manual.
Images. Since the Elura 2 is so compact, I expected the video quality to be less than great, but my initial tests left me pleasantly surprised. The camera can produce video of a reasonable quality when viewed on my 27" TV. Above are three still frames, the first two captured from progressive-scan video and the last ("books") a still captured to the camera's memory card. All of them were imported to the computer via firewire, as my PC doesn't have a card reader that accepts the Elura's "MultiMedia Card" digital memory device. Some digital artifacts show up on the stills which weren't as visible on the TV, evidently the television has lower resolution than a computer display. I moved the black point up in Photoshop to increase contrast for computer display, but have not otherwise modified the images. The video is not as smooth as the TRV900 or GL1 3-CCD cameras, but it's not bad for such a small unit. See also: low light comparison and image quality comparison.
Holding on. The camera is about 2/3 the length of my hand (which is only slightly larger than average). It's only slightly taller than just my fingers, so in order to put my index finger on the zoom slider, the base of the camera needs to rest on the upper part of my palm. It needs a bit of care to avoid wrapping the first or second fingers around to touch the lens. This grip does work, and is reasonably comfortable for short periods of time, at least. The camera has a standard tripod mount socket on the bottom (1/4"-20 thread, plus socket for locator pin) and will mount on any standard camera or camcorder tripod.
Digital Stabilization. The previous version of this camera, the "Elura" had optical stabilization. The Elura 2 and Elura 2mc use digital stabilization which takes up less space inside the camera, enabling the more compact form factor. Digital image stabilization (DIS) is usually considered inferior to optical since it can cause objectionable artifacts in the video. I found that some scenes seemed fine with DIS, and others (especially those with sharp edges and fine contrasty detail) did have noticible artifacts. You can turn off the DIS but then you have to hold the camera more steadily, of course. For most purposes I think the DIS works adequately and I plan to leave it on most of the time. With stabilization on, the camera defaults to 1/120 or 1/100 sec shutter speed. DIS works, but less well, at 1/60 shutter speed. The camera has a "low light" exposure setting which uses 1/30 shutter, where the DIS has a quite noticible "shudder" effect (although at long zoom, with my hands, the image is still better with DIS on than off).
Autofocus. I have found the autofocus on the Canon GL1 to react more slowly, and fall out of focus more quickly, than that on my Sony TRV900. The Elura 2 seems to share this GL1 trait of slower autofocus. It generally works fine, but on moving subjects and otherwise difficult targets it seems Sony's autofocus technology has the upper hand. In the low light program (1/30 sec shutter) the Elura 2's autofocus is dramatically slower to operate, and may overshoot several times before settling.
Batteries. Don't expect more than 45 minutes of useful runtime from the included compact-sized BP-406 Lithium battery. I got two of them, which isn't a problem to carry since they are very small. As an experiment, I put a freshly charged BP-406 and a tape in the Elura 2, pressed "record" and left it on a table (with the viewscreen closed, which leaves the viewfinder on). The "replace battery" message came on just as the tape ran out at 62 minutes, but that was with no zooming and no tape stop/start. There is a larger BP-422 battery available but it sticks out of the side of the camera significantly and reduces the advantage of the camera's overall size. Canon provides a charger that can hold two batteries (it charges them one at a time).
I found if I leave a fully-charged BP-406 battery in the camera, it will become completely discharged within 5 days even if I never turn the camera on. If I then charge the battery and leave it off the camera, it will keep the full charge after five days: apparently, the camera draws some power even when "off". So for storage overnight or longer you must remember to take the battery off, which is certainly doable, but annoying.
Memory Card. The 2mc version comes with a MultiMedia Card pre-loaded with several images which you can chroma-key (blue key) or luma-key into your video, and you can also use video with a blue background to superimpose on a still. You can use your own images for this purpose as well. It might be good for titles, but the provided images are "greeting-card" style and don't add much of a professional look in my opinion.
The MultiMediaCard is a small and quite thin memory device, being used in digital cameras, MP3 players, etc. You can learn more about them at the MultiMediaCard Association webpage. Several companies make host adaptors so your PC can read the card, for example the SmartDisk FlashPath adaptor lets you read the card with your old-fashioned 3.5" floppy disk drive. I don't have one, but I do have a firewire card. When you display an image from the Elura2's card it is also sent as DV from the camera's firewire connector, so I captured stills as video frames using my PC's NLE software.
Docking Station. One reason the camera is so small is that jacks for headphone, external microphone, LANC controller, and S-video output are available only on an (included) separate docking unit. It mounts on the bottom of the camera and is about the size of a pack of cigarettes. Although I might like to have everything built-in, I think Canon designed this correctly. As a carry-everywhere camera for spur-of-the-moment shooting, I would seldom use external mics or headphones with it, let alone a LANC control or external monitor. The firewire and composite video + sound jacks are built-in.
Sound Quality. I didn't expect much for sound quality, due to the extremely compact form factor, and I wasn't much disappointed. If you want better sound, use an external mic (better yet, an external minidisc recorder!). Here is a sound test you can listen to: Elura2.mp3. I transferred it from the Elura2 via firewire, then encoded to MP3 at 128 kbps stereo in Cool Edit 2000. I am speaking quietly in my living room, at first to the built-in mic about one foot away, second through an external Sony ECM-MS908C (stereo condenser mic, $100) about six inches away. This mic has a very short cord, and is intended to mount on a camera with an accessory shoe. The Elura2 has no shoe mount, so if you want a mic like this, try the Sony ECM-MS907 which is similar but has a 5 foot cord. I would not advise using a dynamic mic, the signal level would be too low.
Annoyances. The greatest annoyance for me is that I need to remove the battery to preserve its charge, as mentioned above under "Batteries." If I don't, the charge is gone after about 5 days.
There is a small LED in the back of the camera (facing the operator) which is always on when the camera is on. It is red when recording, and green when playing back. It may be good to remind you that you're using up the short-lived battery, but it is bright enough to be annoying and cannot be switched off (the front "tally light" can be disabled.) I put two pieces of masking tape over it and now it's a more reasonable brightness (and still quite visible).
There is a viewfinder and a flip-out LCD screen, and the screen has more resolution. My screen has two problem pixels: a "dead" (always black) pixel, and a stuck-on pixel which is always red. The red pixel especially, near the center of the screen, is rather annoying but the manual explains that a few stuck pixels are "normal" (ie, they won't accept a return for that reason) so I'll live with it. The viewfinder does not have any problem pixels, and neither does the CCD, so the recorded images are not affected.
Minor convenience issue: there are separate controller dial positions for memory card record and memory card playback (on opposite sides of the dial in fact) which seems unnecessary. Also, memory playback and video playback are separate. I think the Sony cameras, which can do either one from the "VTR" position, are more convenient. The controller dial doubles as a housing for the camera's playback speaker, which is amusing.
The low light performance could be better: the camera seems to be about one f/stop less sensitive than the Canon GL1. The maximum gain is +12 dB, and at max. gain the camera is much less "grainy" than for example a Sony Digital 8 camera in the same light. However the Digital 8 camera's image is much brighter, as well. The Elura 2 doesn't display gain during recording or playback, but it does write that camera data on the tape, and when you play the tape back in a Canon GL1 you can view the gain setting that was used as well as aperture and shutter. See my low-light comparison and second comparison page for some specific image examples.
The resolution of about 400 lines is adequate if not great (see my image comparisons page.) The Sony DCR-PC100 can do 530 lines and megapixel stills, but is somewhat larger.
Conclusions. My summary is that the camera is useful: small enough to bring anywhere, and capable of decent video quality with enough light. I've only had the camera a few weeks so far. I'll add to this review as I have more experience with it.
Answer: Well, yes-- in a sense-- but I think this is misleading. Remember that a camcorder is really two quite different things in one box: 1) a camera and 2) a video tape recorder. It is important to make the distinction between the performance of these two separate things. It is true that any MiniDV or Digital8 videotape recorder can record about 525 lines of resolution if that much information is in the digital or analog video signal to begin with, but it is not true that every MiniDV camera section can actually capture that much resolution through-the-lens. A few (eg. Sony TRV20, PC100, TRV900, VX2000) can. Most cameras cannot. In particular, no MiniDV camera sold by Canon, even their $4000 XL1 model, can capture 525 lines of resolution through the lens (resolution isn't everything: the XL1 is noted for attractive video with low noise and good color saturation.)
The actual through-the-lens video that the Canon Elura2MC records is about 400 lines of resolution according to my measurements. See this test page for my comparison of several different MiniDV cameras (and one Digital 8). You will observe a definite difference in resolution among them, I think!
If Canon specifies 525 lines they are talking about the MiniDV tape recorder by itself, and NOT the camera section. To record that much resolution you would need to use some different camera to acquire the image first, and then send the video to the Elura, or other camcorder, using it as a digital VCR only. Claiming 525 lines for the Elura2 is something I might expect from a marketing person, but not an engineer. Sony advertising does the same thing, by the way.
Question: What is your verdict after using the camera several months?
Answer: As of May 2001 I have had the Elura2mc for eight months, and I have used it frequently. In well-lit situations it performs adequately and I have several shots I've been pleased by. However in dim situations, the image is very dark and grainy. There is a "low-light" mode which uses 1/30 sec shutter, gaining you one f-stop sensitivity, but it's not enough. I continue to use the camera for casual shooting, because it's the camera I always have with me: it is much more compact and lightweight than my better cameras (TRV900, GL1, VX2000). But, since casual and unplanned video often coincides with less-than-perfect lighting, the low-light performance is annoying. When reviewing my Elura2mc footage taken indoors, I often find myself wishing I'd gone for the somewhat larger Canon Optura Pi instead, as it is reputed to do better in low light (I haven't tested one myself). Your own experience may vary depending on your shooting style, and how much you value image quality over the convenience of an extremely small camera.
We just got the Elura 2mc yesterday and have returned it. I thought I'd pass on some comments.
We returned the camera because the first two tapes produced garbled playback (bands of pixelated video, "waves" going vertically across the screen, and little clusters of pixel sprites sprinkled around the screen). The third tape that we tried did not produce these on playback during the 30 minutes that we recorded and re-recorded with it, but all tapes were of the same type (Sharp ME), and we are very sure that the camera was causing the problems.
Aside from the mechanical problems with this camera, the quality of the video was not nearly what we had expected. In low light the results were poor but we weren't surprised since your review noted that this was not a strong point of the camera. The advertising literature for the camera goes so far as to suggest that the camera features a better than average low light performance, however, and this is disingenuous.
Where we were severely disappointed was in the performance in full daylight out on the street. We didn't get nearly the clarity we had expected, and the sound recording was extremely muffled. Red colors contained no texture (e.g. my mothers red jacket became a red blob), a pink flower developed a red rim around it, and a red sign across the street had so much red bleed into the black lettering that it became difficult to read. Bright spots on the street coming through the trees also developed red halos.
In general video was fuzzy. Taking a shot of a colorful planter from three feet produced a reasonably clear picture, something close to what we had expected, but other shots of farther away objects (vibration reduction on, digital zoom off) were not that clear. All in all I've seen better from standard analog camcorders.
We're exchanging the Canon for a Sony trv20 and hope to see a better performance. Unfortunately we're stuck with 877camcorder.com since they have an unadvertised 7 day exchange only policy, and they didn't even want to allow us to exchange for a different brand at first. I would avoid them like the plague in the future.
So, a disappointing camcorder and a disappointing purchase. One more data point, perhaps, for your web site.
Charles Dunlap (Jan. 8, 2001)