Opting for a MiniDV-based camcorder might seem like an odd choice given that a range of hard-disk and DVD camcorders are starting to appear on the scene. Although the MiniDV technology behind camcorders like the MV930 is relatively old, this is actually the format's strength.
With a MiniDV camcorder you still get the highest bit rate available in a consumer recording format (3.6MB per second), and also enjoy the cost savings associated with well-established mass-produced technology. The MV930's low cost belies its role as a good home camcorder. You get to use a popular, cheap recording medium (the MiniDV cassette tape), and the standard method for transferring footage for editing (the FireWire cable).
As a general-use holiday camcorder, it's hard to level any real criticism at the MV930. Years of experience in making MiniDV models, and the gradually decreasing costs of components, have enabled Canon to deliver a very well-made camcorder for just over £200. If you can resist the magpie allure of the new DVD and hard-disk models, the MV930 is a bargain.
The MV930 feels solid and well weighted in the hand. You don't want a camcorder to be too light because you're increasingly likely to find that, as the unit's weight decreases, your footage gets more jittery. What your arm soon tires of, your viewer will love because it stabilises the footage. Slightly weightier camcorders like the MV930 minimise that sea sickness effect that plagued The Blair Witch Project.
Overall, the chassis is prosaic but functional. Buttons are clearly labelled and controls grip well. The camcorder's core modes -- Play, Off and Camera -- are selected using a simple rotary toggle. The zoom control is exactly where your fingers expect to find it -- on the top of the camcorder closest to your eye.
The viewfinder is similarly basic. Canon has recessed this slightly to improve visibility in bright light. The viewfinder also includes a small slider for those with poor eyesight to adjust the focus of the internal LCD. Alternatively, you can preview shots on the 69mm (2.7-inch) widescreen LCD, which folds out from the left-hand side of the camcorder. Using this, though, will increase power consumption.
Tapes load into the base of the MV930. Sliding the Open/Eject button reveals a familiar loading mechanism. Anyone who hasn't used a camcorder before may find that the loading bay looks a little messy and exposed, but these mechanisms are surprisingly resilient to light knocks.
The removable battery slots into the rear of the MV930 and charges in situ using the bundled power adaptor. Clumsy fingered users will be thankful for the retracting lens cover, which is manually slid back into the chassis during use, and then pushed back over the lens when you're not using the camcorder.
Budding Peter Jacksons will be pleased to find that the MV930 uses a native 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratio. This means that your video footage fills the entire viewable area on your widescreen TV (if you're lucky enough to have one).
When in widescreen mode, owners of an old-school 4:3 television set will have to live with letterboxing (black bars running along the top and bottom of the picture), but we still think this is better than 4:3 footage due to the more natural composition a 16:9 camcorder encourages when shooting. There is also the option to shoot standard 4:3 if you want to.
The MV930's 25x optical zoom includes an electronic image stabilisation system that attempts to smooth out tightly zoomed shots by subtly moving the available picture around the borders of the viewable area. You're losing a small amount of CCD data, but the stabilising effect is fairly effective.
The menu system on the MV930 is navigated using a small joystick on the fold-out LCD screen. Although it's not quite as elegant as a touch-screen display, menus are clear and easily deciphered.
Transferring footage for editing in iMovie on our Mac G5 was easy. The MV930 plugs in like any other FireWire camcorder and was recognised straight away by the iMovie software. Transferring footage to the hard disk was a happy formality, with no dropped frames or other defects.
Canon bundled Mac and PC software with our MV930. This includes ZoomBrowser for Windows and ImageBrowser for Macs. None of the Canon software is particularly inspiring. Windows users will want to source an editing package like Adobe Premiere; Mac users will find iMovie bundled with their machines.
You can't dub your edited footage back onto tape using the MV930. As with most consumer MiniDV camcorders, you're prevented from making a recording to the MV930 from any external source. Luckily, iMovie will burn your movies to DVD or export them as a Quicktime file, giving you a range of options for playback.
Colours on the MV930 are sharp and vibrant. Even during tricky exposures, where we set our subject against a bright background, the camcorder quickly picked up on the contrast of dark on bright and set the exposure to match the foreground subject.
Difficult exposures like this, with a stark contrast in the scene, did result in the background being extremely blown out (washed out in white), but the dynamic range of a single-CCD model like this is invariably limited in this way. Nonetheless, the MV930 copes with these situations well, often choosing to overexpose the general scene, with the benefit of correctly exposing your subject (often a person in shadow stood in front of a bright sky). This is often far preferable to the alternative, which is to underexpose the subject and correctly expose the background. You can manually adjust this behaviour using the on-screen menus.
In bright, sunlit environments where the dynamic range (the difference between the darkest and brightest pixels that describe your shot) is more forgiving, the MV930 is capable of excellent results. Footage we shot outdoors on a sunny day looked close to the results we've seen from camcorders costing several times as much as this. The MV930 should fare well as a holiday camcorder if you're off somewhere bright like Los Angeles or Capetown.
Low light performance is adequate, but as with all single-CCD camcorders, the quality of your image will suffer considerably as the light wanes. Artefacting becomes more pronounced as less light detail is captured to tape and you end up with a lot of muted colours and large areas of perceptible MPEG compression.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield