The argument remains that tape-based MiniDV camcorders capture a better picture and offer longer record times than DVD camcorders. Still, there is something alluring about ejecting a DVD from the Canon DC20 and popping it straight into your domestic DVD player. Although DVD camcorders have some way to go before they threaten the versatility of MiniDV, for the casual user with little or no interest in editing, they're ideal. The convenience of the format is undeniable.
However, if you enjoy editing, beware. DVD camcorders like the DC20 write video to half-size DVD disks in a linear, permanent fashion. There are ways to edit your finished footage, but not with a mainstream editing package, and not using FireWire. Programs such as Final Cut Pro, Premiere and iMovie will not work with the DC20.
If, on the other hand, you're looking for a hassle-free system and have little interest in aiming for Cannes, the DC20 may make a plausible choice. On the face of things, what you sacrifice in features you regain in simplicity and hassle-free operation. But has Canon got it nailed with the DC20, or would first-timers be better off sticking with MiniDV?
The DC20 replaces the traditional MiniDV transport with a DVD burner. The chassis accommodates half-size 80mm DVDs as a storage medium. You can see how this has influenced the design of the DC20 -- the camcorder's rear edge has curvature to match the DVD inside, and the grip section is raised on the top for the same reason. Luckily for Canon, the 80mm DVD format, plus the chassis required to house it, is a pretty ergonomic match for the human hand.
At just 47mm wide, the DC20 is smaller than the early efforts of DVD camcorder manufacturers. These newer units are starting to look more and more like the petite MiniDV designs you see. The chassis panels on the DC20 are a business-like grey and silver. You won't be completely inconspicuous using this, but it steers away from the baiting glitter of some 'mug-me' camcorders.
Being shaped like a jam doughnut, the DC20 is great to hold in the hand. Longer shooting sessions might make you wish that the hand grip was wider, but the body of this camcorder is relatively light at just 410g. The record button is placed on the DC20's rear. The camera uses seperate control interfaces for the Camera and Record modes -- some camcorders use the same control for both.
The battery on the DC20 is like a small box of matches that slots into a recess underneath the fold-out LCD screen. This is a proprietary battery specially designed for the DC20 shape. The battery is removed by sliding a small catch on the underside of the chassis, which releases quickly and easily. You're likely to charge it while it's still in the camera, so unless you're swapping batteries on the move, most users will probably forget it's there.
The DC20's DVD drive has an electronic hatch, which uses small motors to unclip the loading hatch so that you can insert a disc. The disc clips into place on a plastic spindle like the ones in portable CD players. The remainder of the DC20's chassis is covered in buttons and controls. There's a surprising number of manual controls, which should please the fiddlers among us. Overall this is a surprisingly strong chassis that feels like it would happily survive the rigours of a family holiday.
Although the footage (in 16:9 widescreen) shot by the DC20 is inevitably degraded by the MPEG compression methods used by the camcorder to write video to DVD, the DC20's hardware is robust and capable. The Canon f/1.8, 10x optical zoom lens is coupled with a single 1/3.9-inch interlaced CCD. Exposure metering can be set to either spot, for difficult exposures where the central part of the frame defines the exposure of the whole, or matrix, where an exposure is set based on a dynamic range estimated for the whole frame. The DC20 also includes a nine-point AiAF auto-focus system.
Shooting modes on the DC20 include Portrait, Sports, Night, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Spotlight and Fireworks. These settings determine various shutter speeds to best suit the environment you're capturing video in. Zoom capabilities on the DC20 stretch to 200x digital, which is more than enough for any sensible video capture. Zoom any more and your footage would be pretty unintelligible most of the time.