Canon ZR400

The Canon ZR400 is a capable camcorder designed for ease-of-use, while still offering some manual controls.

It fits comfortably in your hand with controls conveniently arranged for easy operation. The 2.4-inch LCD has a backlight switch that can boost the brightness by 250 percent for better visibility on sunny days. The viewfinder has a dioptric adjustment lever to adjust it to your eyesight, but you can’t tilt it up, as you can with many camcorder models. The camera loads from the bottom, a hassle if you use a tripod and need to swap tapes, and the tripod mount is plastic. But the included wireless controller will come in handy for smooth zooming when the camcorder is tripod-mounted, or for use as a remote when attaching the camcorder to a TV for viewing.

Like all of the new Canon camcorders, the ZR400 can record in true 16:9 widescreen mode, taking full advantage of the width of the image sensor for highest quality. You can sneak up on distant subjects with the 14x optical zoom, and the included wide-angle attachment captures a broader view, expanding the wide end by 0.6x. In 4:3 mode, this transforms the 53.4mm wide end (35mm equivalent) into a 32mm wide angle. The image stabilization feature does a good job of steadying the image. However, it’s electronic, not optical (manipulating the image digitally), so there’s some loss of quality. You’ll want to turn it off if you’re using a tripod. Higher-end camcorders have optical image stabilization.

Designed for pointing and shooting, the ZR400’s program switch toggles between Easy (full auto) and Program AE (auto exposure) options. Program AE modes include Sports, Portrait, Spotlight, Sand & Snow, and Low Light. Three Night modes do a respectable job of capturing images in the dark while preserving some color, with a built-in white LED assist lamp providing illumination for shooting in extreme low-light situations. But the camera shoots in dim light by boosting CCD sensitivity and lowering the shutter speed, resulting in ghostly, noisy images. Manual controls include manual focus (awkwardly controlled via the Set dial), exposure level, white balance, and shutter speed.

The ZR400 performs well, even in low light (when not using night modes). Colors were accurate and detail was good. There was some fringing around high contrast areas. Built-in microphones invariably pick up some camera noise, and the ZR400 is no exception. I heard a moderate amount of motor noise and there’s no jack for an external microphone or headphones, and no manual control over audio levels.

As a still camera, the ZR400 can capture images to an MMC (multimedia card) or SD (secure digital) card, but only at 1152 by 864 pixels. Colors were accurate, but somewhat pale. I also noticed some purple fringing. You can also capture video to the card, but it’s limited to 320 by 240 pixels and 15 frames per second.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

The Canon ZR400 is compact and simple to operate, making it a good choice for recording family fun, but don’t expect the still images to take the place of a dedicated digital camera.

Jury Tests

Video Tests
Color Quality—Accuracy Excellent
Clarity—Detail, Noise Good
Stabilization Very Good
Digital Stills
Color Quality—Accuracy Very Good
Clarity—Detail, Noise Good

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable

Specifications

Optical/Digital Zoom 14x/280x
LCD Screen Size 2.4-inches
Still Image Resolution 1152x864
Weight 15.2 oz.
Dimensions (wxhxd) 2.0 x 3.7 x 5.1

[ Robert Ellis is a photography enthusiast with a growing collection of digital cameras. He is a frequent contributor to Macworld and maintains the blog Futurosity.]

Canon ZR400

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