Canon Elura 2: Digital Video Done Right
The size advantage of the MiniDV videotape format has more to do with the amazingly small video cameras it makes possible than with the convenience of the tiny cassettes themselves. The Canon Elura 2 is one such camera. A successor to Canon's previous Elura, the new model is smaller and lighter without compromising its predecessor's excellent image quality. For documentary filmmakers, people who like to travel light, globe-trotting super-spies, or anyone else who wants a pocket-sized camera, the Elura 2 offers a lot for its $1,599 list price, including a 10x zoom lens.
Design and Control
Measuring 1.9 by 4.1 by 3.4 inches and weighing only 14 ounces, the Elura 2 looks a bit different than its predecessor. Like the Elura, the new model is built around an upright, rectangular body. However, in redesigning the Elura, Canon has opted for a more rectangular look, and removed the curvy top and very rounded edges of the previous model. The result is a camera with a smaller, easier-to-hold shape that's tiny enough to fit in a pants pocket.
Like its predecessor, the Elura 2 features a 2.5-inch LCD flip-out screen that swivels out from the top left side of the camera's body. Bright and contrasty, the LCD screen is ideal for indoor shooting, but it tends to wash out in direct sunlight. Fortunately, the camera also provides an optical viewfinder, with an eyepiece that pulls out from the back of the camera.
Both viewfinders display the expected assortment of status displays including tape remaining, battery expectancy, and a record indicator. The camera's transport controls come in the form of simple plastic membrane buttons located opposite the flip-out screen.
The rest of the camera's controls are spare but well-designed. Tapes are inserted into a standard MiniDV transport mechanism that opens from the right side of the camera. A single rotating dial lets you select between playback mode, movie mode, and progressive scan movie mode. The camera's zoom control and record button are well-positioned and comfortable, as are the camera's menu navigation controls. The zoom control, as one would expect, is very small, so making very subtle changes in zooming speed can be difficult. If you're really interested in performing complex camera moves, you should go with a larger unit.
The Elura 2 boasts a newly designed 10x zoom lens and features Canon's excellent optical stabilization feature. Offering a 35mm equivalency of 43.9 to 439mm, the Elura 2's lens provides excellent sharpness with only minimal distortion at the extremes of its zoom.
In general, we only have two minor complaints about the Elura 2's design. First, its microphone is located on top of the camera -- not the ideal location for picking up high-quality audio. Then again, given the size of this camera, there was probably little place else to put it that would make sense.
Our other complaint. As with the original Elura, the Elura 2 does not include either a headphone jack or an external mic jack on the camera itself. To add these jacks, you must install a docking station that mounts on the bottom of the camera. In one considerable improvement over the Elura, the Elura 2 provides the docking station as standard equipment. Still, not having the jacks on the camera itself is a little frustrating, and it's hard to believe that the camera's size prohibits such additions, given that Sony and other vendors include such features on their tiny cameras.
Canon is also shipping the Elura 2mc, which provides all of the features of the Elura 2 but also includes a standard MultiMediaCard slot. This slot accepts MultiMediaCards for storing still images. The Elura 2mc carries a list price of $1,799.
Most of the Elura 2's features are unchanged from its predecessor's. The camera provides two shooting modes -- a normal, interlaced mode and a progressive scan mode. With the progressive scan mode, the camera shoots 30 full frames per second, instead of the normal 29.97 interlaced frames of a regular video mode. Canon touts this feature as a "progressive scan digital motor drive," meaning you can use it to shoot 30 full-res still pictures every second. You can use this mode for regular video, but motion will appear rather broken, as if the camera were shooting with a very high shutter speed. The Elura 2's still quality is good, and shooting in progressive scan makes it better, but it's still a far cry from a true digital still camera.
The Elura 2's auto-exposure feature is very good and, for most shooting circumstances, should be all you'll need to use. However, for a consumer-oriented camera, Canon has also included a surprising number of manual features.
A simple exposure-lock button lets you compensate for difficult exposure situations, while a manual-exposure mode lets you dial in a custom exposure. Unfortunately, the Elura includes no over-exposure warnings, so you need to be careful when using manual exposure.
The Elura 2 also includes a manual shutter-speed control, which lets you select shutter speeds ranging from 1/60th to 1/2000th of a second. Unfortunately, the manual control is a little lacking at the low end. We'd like to see the ability to shoot down to around 1/30th of a second to create smoother blurs and motions.
Manual focus controls are also provided. You can change focus by simply spinning the selection wheel on the back of the camera. For times when the camera's autofocus has trouble locking or focuses on the wrong object, this feature can be a real life-saver. It can also help you create less-conventional compositions.
Finally, in addition to offering preset indoor and outdoor white balances, the Elura 2 lets you set white balance manually by pointing the camera at a white object.
Canon has done an excellent job with the manual features and the Elura 2 provides most of the controls we'd expect to see in a small consumer camera. In addition, a number of digital effects and wipes are provided, but you'll probably only use these if you plan to wire two cameras together to perform your editing. If you will be editing using your computer, then you'll most likely add wipes, dissolves, and special effects using your editing package.
As with all Canon DV cameras, Firewire support is very good. We had no trouble using the camera with a number of Final Cut Pro features that can stump cameras from other vendors.
Canon cameras tend to produce very good-looking output, and the Elura 2 is no exception. Though a single-chip camera, the unit performs very well, offering deep saturated colors with very pleasing tone.
As with any single-chip camera, the Elura 2 sometimes aliases high-contrast lines, so that they appear somewhat jaggy, and this phenomenon can be exaggerated by the camera's built-in sharpening algorithms. A manual sharpness adjustment would be a big improvement.
In our experience, Canon cameras tend to shoot very warm images. Whether you like warmer or cooler images -- images that tend toward warm tones such as yellow or brown or cool tones such as blue -- is a matter of personal preference. Your best bet is to take a look at the video of your top choices before you buy. Sony cameras such as the diminutive Sony DCR PC110 tend to produce video with cooler tones.
We really liked the original Elura. Its small size, excellent quality, and good feature set made it a winner. Our only complaint with it was that it was just a little too big. With the Elura 2, Canon has packed most of the same features into a camera that's small enough to carry just about anywhere.
Of course, a smaller camera is often a less durable camera and we did have trouble with our evaluation unit. After a month of regular use, the camera's viewfinder started to develop some very odd behavior in the form of smeared, illegible displays. Unfortunately, it's difficult to say whether this problem was the result of a defective unit or a camera that simply couldn't take being toted around Europe for a month.
Despite our problems with its viewfinder, the Elura 2 is an impressive MiniDV camera and a fine choice for buyers who need the extreme portability this camera offers. Particularly for those of us who like video with warm tones, this camera will make a charming and capable traveling companion.
For Canon U.S.A. specifications for the Elura 2, click here.
Read more by Ben Long.
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