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The good: Ultracompact design; 37x optical zoom; mic, headphone jacks.

The bad: No optical image stabilization; no extended-life battery option.

The bottom line: Though its video isn't perfect, the Canon FS200 is one of the better standard-definition consumer camcorders available.

The Canon FS200 is a standard-definition camcorder with a 37x optical zoom in a very compact body. That's not as megazoomy as Panasonic's H80 or Sony's SR47, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially since there's no optical image stabilization. Plus, the FS200 is considerably smaller than those models because it records to SD or SDHC cards only; there is no internal storage. And though its video quality isn't perfect, it's better than most at this price point.

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Available in red, silver, and blue, the FS200 is an attractive little handful of a camcorder. Easily stuffed in a jacket pocket, there isn't much more to the camcorder besides the 37x zoom lens and its flip-out 2.7-inch LCD. Smack in the center of the back are a record button and the Mode dial. The FS200 can record movies and photos, or there's a Dual Shot option letting you switch between capturing stills and video without changing modes (though you can't capture still while it's actively recording video). The SD/SDHC card slot and battery are under a door in the bottom. This means there's no option to put in an extended-life battery; the typical recording time for the included battery is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

The FS200 is simple to operate, due, in part, to a responsive five-way joystick next to the 2.7-inch LCD as well as a row of clearly labeled buttons below the screen for recording and playback. Press the Func button next to the joystick and you get your shooting options menu. At the bottom of those options is an icon accessing the rest of the camcorder's settings.

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The FS200 has a reasonably good mix of auto and manual shooting options. Full auto shooting is only available in Dual Shot mode, which isn't a big deal once you remember that's where it is. This is basically an Easy mode, locking you out of all the menus. If you want to change any settings at all, say for white balance, you have to put it in Video or Photo modes. You can't even turn on the video light in Dual Shot.

In Video mode you get a choice of Program AE, Shutter-priority AE, or Scene modes. In these you can add backlight compensation, adjust exposure, focus manually, and yes, turn on the video light. There is, though, no option to manually adjust its aperture.

One other feature worth mentioning is the Video Snap mode. Turn it on and every time you press the Record button the FS200 captures 4 seconds of video. The clips can then be edited together to create a movie for people with short attention spans. It's a bit gimmicky, but after playing with it some it's actually kind of fun.

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As for the quality of the video itself, it is standard-definition so it's not going to touch HD, but for SD it's very good. Blown-out highlights were the biggest problem, but colors were good and only low-light video was distractingly noisy and soft, which is typical for its class. That's not to say movies shot in bright conditions were free of noise and digital artifacts, just that they didn't get in the way of enjoying what was on screen. Unless you're really picky about quality or you are expecting high-def video from a standard-def camcorder, you shouldn't be disappointed with the results. Lastly, the photo quality is good enough in a pinch, but it won't replace your digital camera or even a decent camera phone.

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The Canon FS200 is a solid choice if you're shooting movies for sharing on the Web or just don't want or need high-def video. The mic and headphone jacks are nice to have, too. About the only thing it needs is some mechanical image stabilization to help keep the 37x zoom steadier. Well that and of course an SD card, so just remember to factor in the cost of a Class 2 or better SD card.

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