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Canon Optura Junior Watchdog
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Old November 8th, 2003, 08:05 AM   #1
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I'm testing the new Canon MVX3i

I'm testing the new Canon MVX3i (single 1/3.4" chip, 2.23 megapixel, 10x zoom, OIS). I'm pretty impressed so far. Horrible "Christmas tree decoration" glinty silver colour, but it's another in the latest breed of cameras that have automatic ND filters (this cam has two) that slide in and out of the light path to near force you to shoot everything at f4.

It's no bad thing as f4 is definately the 'sweet spot' - where vignetting has disappeared and diffraction hasn't taken hold. The footage it produces is most excellent, but with no viewfinder indication of what aperture or gain-up you're shooting at, it's all a bit point-and-squirt and hope for the best. It has a 16:9 mode that uses more of the mega-pixel width and a little flash gun that pops up for stills to memory.

It handles beautifully but AGGGG it's a bottom loader! Big 3.5" side screen is useable in (weak) sunlight, excellent. Oh, and one nice thing is the lens loses very little speed as you zoom. The XM2 loses nearly 2 stops - this MVX loses only a third of a stop.

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Old November 8th, 2003, 08:26 AM   #2
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In the USA this cam is known as the Optura Xi -- thanks Tom -- this is an excellent topic! Very interesting camcorder.

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Old November 9th, 2003, 09:22 PM   #3
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Thanks for the info. I to appreciate your intput as i've been waiting for this little cam to come to .AU - cheers
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Old November 10th, 2003, 01:54 AM   #4
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Hopefully when you're finished testing, Tom, you'll post more---we're all eyes and ears. :)
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Old November 22nd, 2003, 02:36 PM   #5
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What a wonderful lens, Canon! But...

In the record mode the viewfinder shows the selected shutter speed in TV (shutter priority) mode but there’s no aperture or gain-up readout. Instead there’s a simple horizontal bar and a marker moves along this bar in response to the input from the select wheel beside the microphones. There’s no indication of when minimum or maximum aperture is reached and where electronic gain-up takes place. To compound the injury, the 'Display' is very curtailed. There’s no indication of the white balance setting, the audio bit-rate or the gain up used – as there is on Sony camcorders.
The multi coating of the lens elements keeps lens flare at a minimum, though against the light hand-held shots do show the OIS element at work. The MVX3i does suffer badly from CCD smear, and if a bright point source of light is in frame – or even just out of frame, this can cause vertical smearing, where bright lines slice vertically through your image. This failing is very common with such tiny chips. The effect is worse the higher the shutter speed but as this is limited to a lowly 1/2000th sec with this camera the problem is fairly well controlled.
The low light performance of the MVX3i is unexceptional, and alongside the much bigger VX2000 it lags by two and a half stops. The LED assist light is a silly joke, but useful for getting the key into your front door.

This is indeed a great value camera. It has a wonderfully sharp though not flare free lens that is useable at all focal lengths and apertures. There’s minimal distortion and the pictures it produces are extraordinarily good as long as the lighting isn’t low or of high contrast. The on-board microphones are ok, the tape handling is exemplarily and the menu isn’t too offputtingly complicated. MPEG4 to memory card is fun and the 2 megapixel progressive scan stills make pretty good 8” x 6” prints.

However, I really feel that Canon needs to reconsider this bottom loading arrangement, as it disadvantages this fine camcorder. The poor low light performance is perhaps not unexpected with such tiny CCDs, but the CCD smear is a serious problem when shooting high contrast subjects. The book does warn you about this however. I also feel that on a camcorder aimed at serious amateurs it’s important to be kept informed of the aperture and gain-up settings whilst shooting, and to receive more information when pushing ‘Display’ later. The three chip Panasonic MX500 addresses all these concerns for just £29 more, so it's a race Canon loses.

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Old November 24th, 2003, 08:43 AM   #6
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Thanks a lot, Tom!
Those are the comments I like to read.
Most camcorders have weaknesses. As long as you know them and the way to bypass them, you can get along quite well.
That smearing problem can be a bugger though...
That and the bottom-loading design bring the Xi back down to earth for me. At first, I couldn't believe all the features it had to offer for its price.
As for the f-stop display, I guess you can learn how to read that linear scale on your viewfinder, and evaluate its approximate position where the iris is wide open and gain will come on...
Norm :)
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Old November 29th, 2003, 04:04 AM   #7
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I wonder if the NTSC Japanese model is better/different than the North American and PAL model. A number of favorable reports came out of Japan when it hit the market, including Allan Rejoso's "tests" posted on the MX Forum. Thanks again, Tom, for your indepth test and observations. The only thing that puzzles me is, why did Canon do this? Surely they'd want their flagship 1-chip to fly.
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Old November 29th, 2003, 10:48 AM   #8
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So does it have the dreaded Canon low-light excessive grain, same as all their other 1 chippers?
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Old November 29th, 2003, 01:35 PM   #9
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Well, as Tom H., Allan R. and Tommy H. concluded, the Optura Xi is not a low light sweetheart, otherwise a good 1-chip cam.
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Old December 13th, 2003, 06:10 PM   #10
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I think the Xi does well in low light

I'm really surprised with all the comments about the Xi's poor low light performance. I'm very happy with it when comparing to other cams in its class. The 953 was unexceptable to me but I think the Xi does very well. I do not see excessive grain in situations I consider low light. It does very well for what I consider low light (inside at night with regular lighting). This review at simply dv agrees with my assessement:

I'm blown away with the video quality. I love this cam. It handles great and I like where all the buttons are. I love the fact that I dont have to do anything through a touch screen.

I have never seen 16:9 look this good (I do not have experience with expensive cams though). I play back the video on my HD TV in widescreen and it looks simply amazing.

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Old December 14th, 2003, 02:42 AM   #11
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I've just read Colin Barrett's review over at simplydv and can agree with him on a lot of points. His comments that the Xi produces 'pin-sharp results at small apertures' is wrong though, but this is endemic in all camcorders with tiny chips. The 'Display' readout may well say that the camera shot the scene at f11, but invariably it'll turn out to be f4 with lots of internal ND used. If you do get to shoot at a genuinely small aperture the results are soft. As Canon knows this only too well they use a variable shutter to keep that lens at the sweet spot. Ordinary filming in the park on a sunny day shows that the camera often chooses 1/350th sec, and this can make movement look very stacatto.

Underneath the lens barrel lie the twin microphones and I’ve used them to record my Hifi and play it back through the Hifi. They are remarkably good in a context such as this, but in the real world they are a bit of a let down. The biggest failing is that your left hand will cause all sorts of microphone noises as you simply hand hold the camera. You manually set the exposure on a wheel right next to the mics, and the noise of this little wheel being pushed and turned is far too obvious on the soundtrack. Not only that, but if the camera’s tripod mounted and you’re in a semi-quiet room the tape deck whirrings are all too obvious through your TV’s loudspeakers. Not good enough Canon. These mics should be up there with the flashgun. Panasonic have realised this, you must too.

This camera will delight many. Its price point suggests that it’s designed to be used by serious amateurs, people who will appreciate the impressive quality of the Canon lens. They’ll love the fact that it really is two cameras in one, the side screen is useable outdoors, the camera is slim and easy to hold, the manual audio control allows expensive microphones to make the best of the audio. They’ll knash their teeth at the bottom loading because it means the camera has to come off the tripod to change tapes, and even on the edit bench this ‘feature’ is a pain. If they shoot into bright lights (sun, street lamps, discos) the CCD smear will horrify them, but many cameras fail this test – the expensive Sony PDX10 amongst them. Experienced videographers won’t like the viewfinder displays either – you’re not shown the shooting aperture so you’ve no idea when the camera’s at max or min aperture, or when you enter gain-up. What they will like is the camera’s ability to shoot CRT displays and dial out the strobing by using the AV mode, and the MPEG-4 recording to memory is a delight. Sending movies by email (with mono sound) couldn’t be easier.

Have I been too harsh on this camera? Compared to my TR2000 Hi8 it’s Star Trek advanced, yet at the same time costs far less (real) money. But the world has moved on, and Canon face fierce attack from Panasonic with their MX500 and Sony with their 3mp PC330, especially at this price point. I’d like to give the MVX3i five stars but the microphones are so-so and the manual control too hit and miss. Ah, but on my big Sony TV the images are just gorgeous.

Tom Hardwick.
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