Canon MVX3i test and review from Computer Video Magazine

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Canon MVX3i

Canon's top megapixel single-CCD camcorder is versatile, lightweight and capable, but is it money well spent?

The MVX3i, Canon's range-leading single-CCD camcorder, faces some tough competition. Panasonic's three-chip MX500B is priced at a little over £1,000. Then there's Sony's diminutive single-chip PC330E, at £1,049. This has a claimed three-megapixel chip, along with a pop-up flashgun, LP option, and shoots stills and movies to SD memory card.
Clearly, the Canon has its work cut out, but it's a handsome camcorder, beautifully detailed and solidly assembled. A constant rotation ring controls manual focus and surrounds the 46mm diameter filter thread. The 10x zoom lens is unusual in that it loses less than half a stop from wide to telephoto in movie mode. In stills mode, though, it's restricted to a 9x zoom, and loses more than a stop. There is a laughable two-stage digital zoom - 40x (36x for stills) or 200x.
Image stabilisation uses an optical aspherical vibrating-element system for stills and video, and it's powerful, silent and unobtrusive. Microphones are built in directly under the front of the lens - a most undesirable position. Panasonic has recognised this, but Canon persists and, as a result, the MVX3i mics pick up all sorts of handling noises, including manual focusing and exposure adjustment.
The MVX3i has a wonderfully sharp lens that is usable at all focal lengths and apertures, and produces little objectionable sharpening of the image. It's not flare-free, though. There's minimal distortion and pictures are extraordinarily good as long as the lighting isn't low or of high contrast. The on-board microphones are okay, and the menu isn't too complicated. MPEG-4 movies recorded to memory card can be fun and it's simple to add them to emails. There's full manual control over audio levels and over exposure and white balance. These points alone would suggest that the camera is pretty good value at under £1,000.
Although tape handling is fine, we feel that Canon must take on-board the lessons learned by other makers and stop using a bottom-loading tape mechanism - it disadvantages this fine camcorder. The poor low-light performance is not unexpected with such a tiny CCD, but the CCD smear is a serious problem when shooting high-contrast subjects. We also feel that, on a camcorder aimed at dedicated amateurs, it's important to be kept informed of the aperture and gain-up settings while shooting, and to receive more information when pushing 'Display' later. The three-chip Panasonic MX500 addresses the tape-loading and information-display concerns, yet costs just £29 more.

Tom Hardwick

Read the full review in May 2004's Computer Video magazine.

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