DVD camcorders often surprise us. We have never made any secret of the fact that we think the format has some issues that are yet to be resolved, yet the cams themselves have proved popular with the buying public and have on several occasions managed to confound our expectations with their quality.

With that in mind, we were naturally keen to try out Canon’s DC201, an entry-level DVD camcorder with a good features list, sellingat an impressively low price.

Design and layout

Like most camcorder manufacturers, Canon seems to have taken a certain amount of inspiration from the recording medium when designing the DC201; it’s another DVD model that’s as rounded as it can practically be. Construction-wise it’s fairly durable and the whole thing feels sturdy. It also sits very comfortably in the palm with the controls within easy reach.

The cam eschews the trend for an uncluttered chassis, with plenty of switches, buttons, joysticks and panels dotted around the bodywork. Most of the action is at the rear, where you’ll find a switch for moving between video and stills modes, and beneath that a joystick that is surprisingly easy to navigate the camcorder menus with, despite offering only modest tactile feedback – you’re only ever half convinced you’ve ‘clicked’ something in the menu, but you invariably have. Beneath the joystick is a sliding switch for powering up and moving between record and playback modes.

Features

The DC201 is optically what you’d expect of an entry-level DVD camcorder: an 800,000 pixel 1/6in CCD allied with an ƒ2.6 lens. The optical zoom ratio is a generous 30x and there’s an 800x digital zoom in the unlikely event that you might be interested in such things. 

The cam records to 8cm –R, –RW, and –R Dual Layer discs and offers a choice of Video and VR modes, with the latter providing you with the opportunity to edit, delete and rearrange footage; although VR discs aren’t as broadly compatible with set-top players as video discs. The DC201 offers three quality settings with the highest allowing 20 minutes and the lowest quality setting offering up to an hour.

Also on offer are a choice of 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios, a selection of wipes, fades and digital picture effects and eight Program AE modes. For those who prefer to have full control ofsuch things, the camcorder offers manual control of exposure, focus and white balance via the joystick.

Performance

In the highest-quality mode the 201 performs better than you’d expect of a DVD camcorder, picking up rich colours and a lot of fine detail, which is reproduced reasonably well. The autofocus and exposure adjust to radical changes in lighting and composition at a good speed and without excessive hunting, although there is sometimes a brief hint of bleed and white-out when adjusting to very bright conditions.

Performance under artificial light shows an amount of grain and a faint orange colour cast. The image quality drop off isn’t as extreme as you’d expect when switching to Long Play mode, although there’s a noticeable increase in crawling dots on the footage.

Despite an alarming tendency to vibrate in the palm the DC201 is of solid enough construction that transport and control noise don’t make it onto the soundtrack. The bass, mid and treble noises are well defined if not incredibly powerful.

Conclusion

This is a nice little camcorder. As with all DVD cams, it’s strictly for point-and-shoot users as opposed to a budding auteur, a point confirmed by the lack of outputs other than AV. Within these constraints, though, it’s easy to use, good-looking and produces decent picture results for a low price.