The Canon DC50 is a stylish Mini DVD recorder, with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from a Canon camcorder.

If you already own a Canon digital camera, you'll feel right at home with the company's Canon DC50 camcorder, thanks to the similar control systems. If you're unfamiliar with Canon cameras, however, you may find the Canon DC50 a bit intimidating at first. But getting through the initiation phase is worth it: the Canon DC50 takes outstanding video as well as still photos, and makes lots of useful controls available for both modes.

The Canon DC50 records on to -R, -RW, or -R dual-layer discs, recording up to 36 minutes total on a dual-layer disc at its best quality setting. That's less shooting time than you'd get on a tape or hard-drive model, but you can remove the Mini DVD disc from the Canon DC50 and play it on most home DVD players (after finalising the disc) without further intermediate steps.

The Canon DC50 earned PC Advisor's top scores for video quality in standard light and under low-light conditions. The Canon DC50's audio scores were about average. Casual outdoor videos looked pleasing, with nicely saturated colours and sharp details.

For instance, the Canon DC50 did a fine job of capturing kiteboarders zipping around in a roaring 30-knot wind in late afternoon sunlight, despite the difficult lighting and fast action. The Canon DC50's windscreen setting performed quite nicely in capturing the kiteboarders. Although the Canon DC50's front-mounted microphone pointed directly into the wind, little of that noise carried over into the recorded clip.

The Canon DC50's sharp, bright 2.7in wide-format (16:9) colour LCD worked well in full sunlight, although the Canon DC50's colour eye-level viewfinder was still preferable. Switching on optical image stabilisation vastly improved the video.

Operating the Canon DC50 has its ups and downs. The start/stop, zoom, and photo buttons are sensibly positioned for one-handed operation. The power switch doubles as a record/playback selector, which works fine once you remember that fact, but the switch is enigmatically labeled 'Mode'.

Fortunately, most of the Canon DC50's other buttons' labelling is logical. Typically you select a setting by pressing the Function button and then using the Canon DC50's tiny joystick to scroll through an onscreen menu of minuscule (and somewhat cryptic) text. Buried at the bottom of the Function list is yet another menu of camera setup options.

What the Canon DC50 lacks in intuitiveness, it compensates for in specialised controls. A dedicated button lets you jump to Quick Start mode, essentially a sleep status that instantly powers the camcorder up or down. It's faster than the Canon DC50's still relatively snappy three-second cold start time.

A tiny and nearly hidden switch offers access to either Program mode or Full Automatic mode; the latter mode disables most of the settings found in the Function menu. Four onscreen grids (single or multiple horizontal and vertical lines in gray or white) simplify the task of keeping those horizons level. In addition, you can use the Canon DC50's eight scene modes for video or still photography.

Since it can take 5Mp still images, you might consider the Canon DC50 a legitimate replacement for a good digital still camera; but matched against a good-quality 5Mp fixed-lens camera, the Canon DC50 couldn't equal the still camera for image sharpness, though its colour fidelity was every bit as good. The Canon DC50 does provide most of the exposure controls you'd expect for handling still photography, including shutter- and aperture-priority modes, histograms and auto-bracketing.

Canon bundles Roxio's Windows-based MyDVD software with the Canon DC50. The camcorder supports Windows XP but not Windows Vista. Another limitation: Canon provides no support for downloading video from the camera's DVD to a Mac; you can download still images, however.

Canon DC50: Specs

  • 5.39MP CCD and RGB Primary Colour Filter
  • 10x optical zoom with Super Range OIS
  • DVD-R DL and longer battery life
  • DIGIC DV II
  • True widescreen
  • Quick Start
  • Advanced photography
  • Auto lens cover and flash
  • MiniSD card compatible
  • PictBridge
  • USB 2.0
  • Lithium-ion battery
  • 62×90×130mm
  • 480g
  • 5.39MP CCD and RGB Primary Colour Filter
  • 10x optical zoom with Super Range OIS
  • DVD-R DL and longer battery life
  • DIGIC DV II
  • True widescreen
  • Quick Start
  • Advanced photography
  • Auto lens cover and flash
  • MiniSD card compatible
  • PictBridge
  • USB 2.0
  • Lithium-ion battery
  • 62×90×130mm
  • 480g

OUR VERDICT

The Canon DC50 is a poor choice for a technology-challenged user, but for someone with experience shooting video, the Canon DC50's image quality and many custom settings more than outweigh its slightly awkward controls.

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