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.Last year's Eluras suffered from poor button placement that made for clumsy operation. This year, the Canon Elura 100 has a much simpler and cleaner design that's significantly easier to use.
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.
As usual, Canon's Easy mode offers no-nonsense simplicity and did a good job adapting to a wide variety of shooting situations. If you prefer more control, you can switch to program mode to select an exposure preset, such as Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Spotlight, Night, Sports, and Portrait. You can also choose from spot, evaluative, or center-weighted exposure metering, and you can shift exposure plus or minus 11 steps if you don't agree with the camera's system. Likewise, you can choose from daylight, tungsten, or auto white balance, as well as select the custom setting and designate your own.
Like most camcorders, the Elura 100 includes a handful of digital effects, including multiple faders, a mirror-image option that yields a kaleidoscope-type feel, as well as color masks and plenty more silly distortion options.
Still images can be captured to SD cards in either 1,152x864 or 640x480 sizes at standard, fine, or superfine compression. There are even two burst modes (normal and high-speed) in addition to a 10-second timer and automatic exposure bracketing. This last option shoots three images--one normal exposure, one slightly overexposed, and one slightly underexposed--just in case the camera's auto exposure is a little off the mark. There's no flash for still-image capture, though you can use the built-in LED video light to help illuminate darker scenes, even in still-image mode.Overall, the Canon Elura 100 performed well. Automatic exposure and white balance responded quickly and did a good job of adjusting to different light levels and neutralizing various types of lighting. Autofocus locked on to subjects rather quickly in bright light, such as a clear, sunny afternoon in the park. Moving indoors, the camera took a second or two to lock focus in low-light situations, such as a living room with a pair of low-intensity tungsten table lamps. The camera's digital image stabilization did an admirable job of steadying our shots, though it could use a touch more power at the extreme end of its long 20X zoom.
Manual controls were easy to operate, thanks to the new joystick control. Exposure shift and manual focus are accessed by pressing Enter on the joystick and navigating a small menu. The only confusing part were the icons used for manual focus; the choice of a mountain to indicate far focus made some sense, but in contrast, Canon used an icon of a person for near focus. At first, we thought these were two presets but quickly learned what they meant and was able to focus easily. Using the words far and near may have been a little more straightforward.
Even under bright sunlight, the camcorder's LCD provided a clear picture, as did the viewfinder. Fans of previous Eluras will note that Canon eliminated the tilt-up viewfinder, so you'll have to switch to the LCD for lower-than-eye-level shots.
The built-in microphone wasn't very directional as stereo mics go, though it was plenty sensitive. In fact, it even picked up a tiny bit of the zoom motor when we zoomed the lens in and out, though any casual conversation would cover the minor noise.Video from the Canon Elura 100 proved vivid and sharp in bright light. Colors looked generally accurate, edges were defined without looking artificially enhanced, and finer details, such as the texture of the paved paths in New York's Central Park, reproduced well.
In more challenging low-light situations, the video had pleasing colors, though they were less accurate than in brighter light, and our footage showed noticeable noise. That said, here is where the Elura 100 beats out the Canon ZR700; it was able to keep the noise more under control once light levels dropped very low, while the ZR700 couldn't keep up and produced much more noise. The Elura 100's night mode did a decent job shooting monochrome video of objects that were within arm's reach of the camera. If you're shooting farther in extremely low light, you'll want an external light, since the built-in LED isn't powerful enough for longer distances.
Still images from the Elura 100, while slightly crisper than the submegapixel shots you get from the majority of camcorders in this price range, still won't beat out a dedicated digital still camera. In bright, outdoor situations, colors weren't as bad as that of some camcorders, but indoor shots tended to be muddy, and if you use the camcorder's extreme zoom, they'll likely turn out blurry from shaky hands alone.
Like the economic middle class, Canon's midrange Elura camcorders seem like they have little place in America. The company has clearly trimmed the line in response to market pressure, ending up with a single offering that trades some features for better performance when compared to Canon's top entry-level cam, the ZR700, while keeping the price the same. That means that casual moviemakers who prefer MiniDV to DVD but want a step up in quality will have to sacrifice little frills, such as an accessory shoe, or else break out the big bucks to step even further up Canon's line. Still, given its attractive price, the Elura 100 packs all the allure of its predecessors and is one of the better deals as low-cost camcorders go.