REVIEW: Canon ZR800

The Canon ZR800 is the most affordable miniDV camera on the market today, selling for less than $200 on Amazon. Some consumers associate "cheap" with "bad", but we tested the ZR800 (aka MD101 in Europe), and we found that it was nothing but.

The ZR800 is a 0.7 megapixel camcorder with a 1/6" CCD, electronic image stabilizer, zoom lens - 2.6 mm - 91 mm - F/2.0 with focal length 2.6 mm - 91 mm and 35x optical zoom. It also features an electronic viewfinder, a 2.7" widescreen TFT screen, a firewire port, composite A/V and a microphone jack. In the box we found a composite A/V cable, a charging cable and manuals.

Canon cut a lot of corners in this model to make it cheaper: no optical stabilization, no flash light, no filter thread, no digital picture capture, no hot shoe, and no compatible power charge jack as on their other camera models. However, the ZR800 comes with a single feature that makes it more worthwhile than its more expensive brothers: ZR830 and ZR850 models. The microphone jack. This is a useful feature if you are serious about audio quality.

The ZR800 is a very small camera, easily fit in a jacket's pocket or a woman's bag. The ergonomics are good too, with most operations taking place below the widescreen via the joystick and the two buttons. Through them you can control exposure, manual focus, white balance, color mode and scene mode (Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Spotlight, Night mode, Sports mode, Slow shutter, Portrait mode), digital effects, and the system settings.

The quality of the ZR800 is very good for a camcorder of this price. We recommend you always shoot in "neutral" color mode, as the default is over-saturated. There is some purple fringing, especially when you zoom in on over 25x, but with some color grading on post you can turn this into a feature. We found that the autofocus is pretty slow compared to the Canon HV20. It can take up to 2 seconds in some cases for the camera to autofocus on a close subject, while it is instant on the HV20.

There are some cases of scenes with lots of contrast that they are captured in a really bad quality (look below). There is nothing you can do to fix this problem. If you ever happen to shoot such footage, you must discard it from your video editing application.

Overall, for the price, this is the best miniDV camcorder out there. If you pay an extra $50 you can buy an Aiptek 720p digirecorder, which provides better visual quality in HD, but it has no audio jack, no image stabilization, it records in expensive SD cards and its h.264 video format is very slow to edit (slower than HDV). Given these facts, for now, it still makes more sense to buy the miniDV ZR800 camera than an HD digirecorder. But its days are numbered, with HD becoming more and more popular and more optimized.

Rating: 8/10