If you don't mind working with tape, a budget-level MiniDV model such as Canon's ZR800 can be one the best deals in the camcorder market. Sure, it doesn't include still image capture or some of the nice extras--such as an accessory shoe--that can be found on pricier models, but for videographers who are tight on cash, the ZR800 offers solid video quality at a low cost. Plus, since the education market demands a microphone input, Canon always includes one on its least expensive MiniDV model, so while the ZR830 and ZR850 step-up models don't include a mic input, the ZR800 does.
We like the layout of the controls on this year's ZRs. All controls are within reach of your thumb or fingers on the right side, and on the bezel of the 2.7-inch wide screen on the left side. This is much better than designs that put important buttons on the left side of the body, behind the screen, where you can't readily see them. Plus, Canon redesigned the menu system to be more like the one on its digital still cameras. When you press the Function button, a list of options appears on the left side of the LCD, and the choices for each of those options appear in a strip along the bottom of the screen. Last year's ZR500 had three buttons below its LCD screen, but the ZR800 only has two: Function and Digital Effects. Canon now makes you delve into the menus to switch between wide-screen and 4:3 recording modes. While this model has a microphone input, it doesn't have an accessory shoe on top, so if your mic isn't a handheld you'll have to get creative with the gaffer's tape if you want to mount it on the camcorder.