The Canon ZR950 is an extremely lightweight, easy-to-operate camcorder clearly designed with casual or novice users in mind. But how does this MiniDV device stack up to the competition when it comes to image quality?
As the ZR950 is a small and lightweight camcorder, it's affected by hand shakes far more than a heavier camcorder like theJVC GR-D850would be. The ZR950's Easy mode is little more than the standard automatic mode that both Sony and JVC have as well, but Canon really plays it up. The company dedicates an easily accessible switch to switching between Easy, where the camera adjusts settings automatically, and Program, which allows for finer manual adjustments. Apart from that switch, however, finding one's way around the ZR950 is not always easy. The few buttons that are present are dedicated to lesser features, while more important ones are left buried in the menu system.
The ZR950 features a Quick Start button that can enable a standby mode, making quickly powering up again easy, so as not to miss any action. It's a nice idea, but turning the camcorder on and off in the traditional fashion doesn't take much longer, and the battery is still being drained in standby mode. The only other feature button is located on the LCD bezel, and allows access to digital effects like sepia tone, black-and-white recording, and various fades and wipes. Perhaps some users will find those effects helpful, but it seems like theSony DCR-HC62and the JVC GR-D850 make better use of their space by putting the ability to switch between widescreen and square aspect ratio modes on the LCD bezel. On the Canon ZR950, that setting is deep down in the confusing two-tiered menu layout.
The video quality of the Canon ZR950 was disappointing compared with those of other MiniDV camcorders, appearing softer and with less detail and definition. The clips lacked the vitality and vivid colors that leapt out from videos taken with the Sony and JVC camcorders. The ZR950's 37X optical zoom was the longest of the three but added significant issues with image stability and control. Keeping the camcorder steady to properly capture a long-range subject was difficult. Battery life, at 1 hour and 35 minutes, was fairly strong among similar devices. Only the JVC GR-D850 (1 hour and 55 minutes) is rated longer.
While its intuitive controls make it well suited for the future Kevin Smiths of the world, the Canon ZR950's video quality wasn't up to par with its nearest competitors, and stability issues kept its biggest asset--the optical zoom--from living up to its potential.