Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- 5.39 megapixel sensor, dual layer DVD support
- Limited manual options, poor colour reproduction on auto mode, short optical zoom
High quality video capture, but it comes at a price. If you can handle the DC51's limitations and know how to work your way around the colour problems, then you'll find the 5.39 megapixel sensor delivers great image quality.
Price$ 1,499.00 (AUD)
The Canon DC51 is a DVD based camcorder that incorporates a 5.39 megapixel CCD sensor and 10x optical zoom. Despite delivering impressive image quality, weak colour reproduction and a relatively short optical zoom may limit its overall appeal. With a relatively high RRP, it may be out of the price range of many users, but for those who can afford it is a great way to get the most out of the DVD format.
The camera's 5.39 megapixel CCD sensor delivers sharp and clear foreground images, with background footage occasionally looking slightly fuzzy. We also noticed noise at times in darker areas, especially on darker shades of green. However, background noise is fairly common with many camcorders and is mostly forgivable since the camera produces smooth and clear footage of the primary target. Optical image stabilisation was very good in our tests compared to other models. However, it should be noted that it's only designed to work at 10x optical zoom, while most other DVD based cameras include optical zoom up to 25x. There is support for up to 200x digital zoom but using it will cause image quality degradation the more you zoom in. The limited optical zoom is one of the camera's biggest drawbacks, especially considering its high megapixel count. It is a shame that a higher optical zoom is not available on this model.
Unfortunately, despite the clarity of the image, the video performance is still let down in a few areas. In our tests we found image quality in low-light environments reduced video quality significantly. This is common in most cameras but on the DC51 it was a little more severe. The camera's inbuilt, front-mounted lamp helps to solve this to some degree, but only at close range, and the intensity of the light isn't adjustable. Although colour reproduction is generally quite good in daylight or overcast settings, we found it to be incredibly inaccurate under the tungsten lamps in our photo testing lab, even for a single CCD sensor. Colours were washed out to the point that reds became oranges, purples became blues, and skin tones became pale and pasty. This can be rectified by adjusting settings manually, but on the whole we found the camera's auto mode to be relatively inflexible and unable to reproduce colours accurately in a full range of settings.
Although the manual settings go a long way towards correcting some of the camera's colour reproduction problems, they can be limited in other areas. The automatic white balance is customisable through half a dozen presets as well as a custom option and a range of digital and image effects are available. Aperture or shutter priority can be selected, although full manual mode is unavailable. While the camera also includes a manual focus setting, we found the auto focus to be quite good, reacting quickly and accurately to sudden changes. On the whole the range of manual settings was decent but for a camera with such a high price tag, we expected a selection more befitting advanced users and high level amateurs.
The camera's still shot mode is pretty standard for a camcorder and doesn't deliver anything special. Despite a few interesting features, such as continuous shooting mode and the ability to take a single photo in three different exposure levels, the functionality remains secondary to video recording, as would be expected. Quality is reasonably good at 5 megapixels, but the use of the slightly obscure mini SD card to store still shots may present compatibility problems for some. Fortunately, images can also be stored on DVD.
Design is a strong point on the DC51, with the DVD format allowing for a sleek, lightweight look to the camera. Button placement is fairly standard, with all buttons within easy reach of the thumb or index finger. The menu system is accessed via buttons on the side of the camera and the fold-out 2.7in LCD screen is clear and bright. The only annoying feature is the placement of the manual / auto toggle switch, which inconveniently rests just out of reach of the right index finger, its small size making it incredibly difficult to flick without using the left hand. Nevertheless, the camera's design is sleek and streamlined, delivering a good combination of aesthetics and functionality.
The DC51's list of supported media, while short, nevertheless covers the important formats. No support for DVD+R formats is included, but the camera is still capable of recording to mini 8cm DVD-R, DVD-RW, and DVD-DL discs. The rewritable disc support gives you more versatility and can save money since you can re-record over footage rather than buy a whole new disc. With only 20 minutes of high quality footage able to be recorded to a single layer disc, the dual layer support effectively doubles the amount of storage space, making it a very useful inclusion.
A number of power-saving options help to prolong battery life including the "quick start" mode which helps to remove the problem of long start up times by putting the camera in a low power-use standby mode. From this state it can start filming in less than a second. In regular mode (with the LCD viewfinder on) we found the battery life to be excellent, lasting several hours in our tests.
Overall the Canon DC51 is a somewhat specific camera, best suited to users looking for high levels of performance in certain areas. Some basic photographic knowledge is required to achieve the best possible image and colour quality, although advanced users may find that it fails to provide all the manual options they require. Video is high quality at close range, but at zoom levels higher than 10x you are forced to use digital zoom which compromises quality. Essentially a series of trade-offs, it has the potential to be a very powerful and useful camcorder.
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