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Not pocket size, but small enough to keep in your tacky fanny pack.
Canon's Optura S1 digital video camera is small enough to carry around with you to record those priceless, impromptu moments-no more settling for the mediocre video quality and limited recording time of your digital point-and-shoot still camera. The Optura S1's video quality is quite good-provided you have adequate lighting when you shoot.
Measuring 2.1 by 2.9 by 4.1 inches and weighing about 20 ounces, the Optura S1 comfortably fits in your right hand. (Will lefties ever catch a break with camcorders?) While holding the camera, you access most of the Optura S1's functions with your right thumb, including the Start/Stop button, Power switch, Function button, Focus button, Exposure lock, Set dial, and Menu button. Press the Menu button, and you have easy access to the camera's options, which are listed using icons on the LCD display-though you'll have to learn what the cryptic icons represent. A rectangle with a pair of black and white triangles, for example, leads you to all the options for the camera's display-intuitive, eh? You can breeze through the options using the Set dial, which you also press to lock in a setting.
The Optura S1 uses a good-looking 2.5-inch widescreen LCD. If you don't want to shoot in widescreen, you can set the camera to capture video in the standard 4:3 TV ratio. When you're shooting, icons line the edges of the screen to tell you what settings you're using. Once you learn what those icons mean, they help you quickly know what the Optura S1 is doing. The LCD backlight button that instantly brightens the screen is a nice touch.
The S1 also has two other thoughtful design features you'll appreciate, even if they won't change how you shoot video. The first is that you load MiniDV tapes through the top of the camera-older Canon cameras load from the bottom, so access is blocked when the camera's mounted on a tripod. The second feature is a built-in lens cover that opens and closes with a flip of the switch on the side of the camera-no more fumbling with (or losing) a lens cap.
The Optura S1 has a 2.2-megapixel CCD. According to Canon, 4:3 video uses 1.23 megapixels of the CCD; widescreen mode without image stabilization uses 1.5 megapixels; and widescreen mode with image stabilization uses 1.38 megapixels.
Still images (which are saved to a mini SD card) use all the CCD's megapixels.
In scenes where lighting is adequate or bright, the Optura S1 produces excellent video quality with accurate colors, good sharpness and focus, and nice shadow detail. When lighting is dim, however, the Optura S1's video looks noticeably grainy. We didn't notice any image degradation when using the S1's 10x optical zoom, but as we expected, image quality quickly got fuzzy when we ventured into the camera's ludicrous 200x digital zoom. Still images aren't as sharp as those from a dedicated digital still camera, but they're acceptable, with good color and detail.
The bottom line. It's not the camera to use if you're shooting at night, but for most other situations, we like the Optura S1.
CONTACT: 800-652-2666 or 516-328-5000, www.canon.com
REQUIREMENTS: FireWire-equipped Mac, Mac OS 10.1.5 or later
Compact. Easy to use. Widescreen LCD. Built-in lens cover.
Disappointing image quality in low-light environments. Unintuitive LCD icons.
BONUS TIP: Start Early, End Late
When recording video, make sure you capture everything by starting your recording early, before the scene you want to shoot actually starts. Also, don't end your recording exactly when the scene ends-let the recording go for a little while. This will give you more flexibility when editing your footage. And who knows-you might just catch that priceless, unexpected moment that'll win you a few bucks on America's Funniest Home Videos.