Heir apparent to the Canon's well-regarded ZR300, the ZR700 offers more compact-camcorder goodness to budget-minded home moviemakers. The new model maintains a palm-friendly design while adding a wide-screen LCD, simplified controls, and a bump to 25X zoom--one of the highest we've seen in an entry-level camcorder. However, while the Canon ZR700 delivers the same top-notch color reproduction as those of its predecessor, it's equally bad at low-light video and still photos.
Even with a longer zoom and slightly larger screen compared to the ZR300, Canon kept the ZR700's weight down to just less than a pound with its battery (720mAh) and a tape installed. The grip and right-hand controls are fairly standard, with Easy/Program mode and Tape/Card switches grouped near the zoom rocker. An SD card slot resides below the zoom and to the left of the A/V, USB, and FireWire ports. We were disappointed to see that tapes load from the bottom, though it's common for such a compact design,.
The camcorder's left side is dominated by a 2.7-inch wide-screen LCD--a natural match for the ZR700's full-sensor-width, wide-screen recording capabilities. Even better, Canon moved all video and playback controls to the bevel of the LCD panel and simplified them, too. A five-way joystick provides navigation and quick access to manual focus and exposure settings. Four buttons put frequently used features, including digital effects, wide-screen/4:3 mode, and the video light, at your fingertips. We like the built-in lens cover, which slides open and shut. However, the lack of an accessory shoe is disappointing, especially considering that there's room for one on top of the unit. Canon doesn't include a microphone input either, while the super-low-end ZR500, which costs $100 less, has one.
With its 1/6-inch CCD as well as both 340,000-pixel 4:3 and 450,000-pixel 16:9 effective resolutions, the ZR700 is suitable for home and vacation videography. Canon's 25X optical zoom lens improves on the ZR300's already impressive 22X lens, but even better is the choice of zoom speeds: 1X, 2X, 3X, and variable. The last is typical of zoom controls: the amount of pressure on the rocker dictates the speed of the zoom. But the fixed speeds give you a consistent zoom to prevent amateur-style jerkiness--too bad you have to delve into the ZR700's menu system every time you want to change the setting.
As with other ZR models, Canon's Easy mode takes the guesswork out of shooting, while Program mode provides access to eight autoexposure modes, three white-balance options (including evaluative), nine digital image effects (including the nifty split-screen Mirror effect), six shutter-speed settings, and even a clever level marker that overlays a horizon line on the LCD to help you shoot even, centered images. That's a lot of manual controls for an entry-level camcorder. Plus, you can add a handful of lens converters and filters, another unusual bonus for this price range.
As for still photography, the ZR700 delivers about what you'd expect: low-resolution images that can't overcome the low-resolution sensor, despite the included digital camera amenities such as scene modes and nine-point autofocus. In our tests, the 0.7-megapixel snapshots exhibited relatively accurate colors but with noticeable noise and a lack of sharpness.
Fortunately, video fared much better. Canon's Digic DV processor helps capture crisp, colorful video under optimal lighting. Indoors, especially under low ambient light, images exhibited considerable noise. And Canon's jerky, blurry night mode continues to be utterly useless, even if you employ a tripod.
We found the ZR700's zoom controls quick and responsive, though autofocus seemed to lag, regardless of how fast or slow we zoomed. Also, though Canon's electronic-image-stabilization (EIS) worked reasonably well at moderate zoom levels, it couldn't handle maximum zoom.
These complaints aside, most home moviemakers will find the Canon ZR700's video quality perfectly acceptable. And price-conscious shoppers are sure to love its many features and small size. Of course, Canon's costs about $50 less, and the only features that are sacrificed are the video light, which is of limited value anyway, and the battery capacity--the ZR600's is 530mAh.