More compact than its entry-level ZR models, the Canon Elura 100 is the company's only offering this year in its midrange Elura line. In this case, the step up to Elura means a larger, higher-resolution CCD sensor, which can serve up larger 1-megapixel still images, in addition to better video resolution. It also means a nominally higher pixel count for the LCD screen, Canon's nine-point AiAF autofocus system, and a handful of still-imaging modes not available on the Canon ZR models.
We were happy to see that Canon addressed the design issues of last year's Elura models, which had a slew of control buttons tucked away behind the LCD screen, along with a menu button and a jog dial shoved in front of the LCD. The Elura 100 has a much cleaner design with a conveniently placed joystick for menu control.
Shoppers with a keen eye for specs will note that the Canon ZR700 has a 25X zoom lens, compared to the Elura 100's 20X lens, and that both camcorders sell for about the same price. So which to choose? If you typically shoot in low light, the answer would be the Elura 100, which edges out the ZR700 in this area, especially in very dim light. Also, if you regularly capture still images with your camcorder, you'll definitely want the Elura for its extra pixels. However, if you neither care about still images nor shoot in low light, the ZR700's longer zoom probably makes sense. Alternately, low-light shooters may want to check out JVC's GR-DF550; it's not as feature-packed or user-friendly as the Elura, but it excelled in our low-light tests.
Lightweight and compact, the Elura 100 checks in at 2.2 by 3 by 4.3 inches and weighs just about a pound with battery and a tape. It easily fits into most small bags and won't tire you out too much even after a long day of moviemaking. In fact, it was very well balanced in our hands, and the various controls were easy to reach.
The camera's right-hand side is home to most of the action. We were pleased to see the top-loading tape door, another plus over the Canon ZR700's bottom loader. On top of the door is the zoom rocker, along with buttons for the video light, photo mode, and direct printing, which lets you print your photos by connecting the camcorder to any PictBridge-compatible printer or certain Canon models. Of course, with only 1 megapixel of resolution, don't expect spectacular prints. All the buttons on top were easy to reach with our pointer and middle fingers.
Moving to the back of the camera, the power switch, which surrounds the record button, is perfectly placed to the extreme right, with a switch underneath to choose between MiniDV tape and SD card recording. Buttons for wide-screen recording and LCD backlight control, tucked below the tape/card switch, were a bit difficult to press with our thumb, though they're also less frequently used.
Centered on the camera back is the new five-way joystick control (four directions, plus Enter), which has buttons above and below for digital effects and the function menu. At first, the joystick feels a bit strange. Because it is recessed further than most sticks of this type, it feels like you might inadvertently press it inward to select an option while trying to navigate the menu. But after using the camera a while, we found that it functioned flawlessly. Below the stick is an up/down switch to choose between Canon's fully automatic Easy mode and program mode, which offers access to controls such as selectable white balance and a slew of autoexposure presets.
To make room for all of these buttons on the back of the camcorder, Canon has changed the type of battery pack used by the Elura 100. A small, squared-off brick, about the size of a small stack of business cards, the new pack hides away behind the LCD when it is closed. If you already own an older Elura, this means you won't be able to use your old batteries with this new camera. It also means that there is no extended-life or large-capacity battery available for the Elura 100, though this one is rated by Canon for 85 minutes when recording with the LCD at the Normal brightness setting.
The menu was well organized and fairly intuitive to use, with more obscure functions, such as power save and start-up image, relegated to the second tier of selections. Even though it might seem less intuitive, we would've liked to see the camera setup functions, including shutter speed, zoom speed, and image stabilization, in the first tier of the menu, which conveniently has an empty spot waiting to be filled.
Connectivity includes FireWire, USB, and a stereo minijack microphone input, as well as analog audio and video input and output via a single 1/8-inch minijack, though no accessory shoe on which to mount a microphone. There's also no S-Video connector, but given the camera's small size, that's to be expected. Thankfully, the tripod socket is well centered under the lens, though it's made of plastic rather than metal.Last year, the Elura 90's 20X optical zoom lens set it apart from less expensive models. This year, the Canon Elura 100's 20X lens is merely average and even lagging, compared to the ZR700's 25X glass. If you'd like to enhance the Elura 100's lens, you can screw on your choice of optional 1.5X teleconverter or 0.7X wide-angle accessory lenses. Optical image stabilization is not included, though we wouldn't expect it at this price. The camcorder carries digital image stabilization to help keep your footage steady.
Wide-screen fans will appreciate the Elura 100's true wide-screen CCD sensor. Though it's not high definition, it still provides a sharper 16:9 image than sensors that crop the top and bottom to achieve this wide aspect ratio. This native 16:9 support is reflected in the camcorder's 2.7-inch, 123,000-pixel wide-screen LCD.