Much like its slightly more expensive sibling, the ZR700, Canon's ZR600 performed well in our tests under optimum lighting, while low-light performance yielded significant noise--not uncommon for entry-level Canon camcorders. It boasts a very full feature set for an entry-level model, including a bevy of shooting options, fixed- or variable-speed zoom, and a wide-screen LCD. But if you plan on digitizing your old analog tapes, you'll have to step up to the ZR700, which includes a video input for performing analog-to-digital conversion. Otherwise, the ZR600 should fulfill most casual moviemakers' needs.
Pricewise, Canon's budget-pleasing ZR600 MiniDV camcorder falls squarely between the ZR500 and ZR700. Should you consider this middle-of-the-pack model? That depends on what features you hold dear. The Canon ZR600 shares the ZR700's 680,000-pixel, 1/6-inch CCD; 2.7-inch wide-screen LCD; simple, joystick-driven menus; and palm-friendly design. In fact, you may want to read our full review of the ZR700 to learn more about the ZR600's capabilities, performance, and image quality.
Of course, something must account for the $50 savings. In crafting the ZR600, Canon pulled the video light and the video input and supplied a slightly smaller battery. Though some users will be fine with these downgrades, we think they're worth the extra money--especially the video-in, which enables you to copy video from analog sources such as VCRs and older camcorders to your PC for editing. And a higher-capacity battery is always welcome. The video light is less valuable; it helps with low-light shooting but only when you're close to your subject.
We really liked the new zoom control that Canon put into these camcorders. It lets you choose between fixed--1X, 2X, or 3X--or variable zoom speeds. The variable works the same as most camcorders: the harder you press, the faster it zooms. The fixed settings keep the zoom consistent to ward off that herky-jerky amateur look. We just wish you didn't have to dig through the menus to change the setting.