With its broad, useful feature set, zippy shooting performance, attractive design and good video quality, the Canon DC40 cements a place among the best of the DVD camcorders. Of course, it suffers from many of the same flaws as its competitors -- such as sluggish disc activity -- but if your heart is set on recording direct to DVD, it's definitely worth a look. If. however, your idea of a good time is hitting the Easy button and pointing the camera, you'd best consider the Sony DCR-DVD405 or the DCR-DVD505 as well.
There's not a lot you can do to make a DVD camcorder attractive. There are only so many ways to combine the basic geometries of a tubular optical system, an 80mm circular DVD disc and a rectangular LCD screen -- and for obvious reasons, you've got to rule out the combinations that require thumbs on the back of your hand or eyes in your neck. Canon does its best to make you forget that its DC40 is composed of the same old elements.
For starters, its brushed-plastic chassis, in two-tone metallic champagne and brown, provides a nicely upscale look and feel. Despite the plastic, the DC40 also feels quite solidly made, in part due to its 540g heft. A rubberised strip on top of the drive gives your fingers a comfortable edge to grip, and in that position, your right forefinger rests naturally on the zoom switch and within reach of the photo shutter button, while your thumb falls on the record button.
If you've been considering a camcorder with an Easy button, the DC40 isn't for you -- it has quite a few external controls for a consumer model. The on/off/play slider, next to the record button, takes a bit of a reach for your right thumb. Given how infrequently you need that control during shooting, its placement works, you also have to shift your hand slightly to operate the camera/camcorder switch. The menu and function buttons, which you will need to access more frequently, require either some right-hand contortion or left-handed activation -- since the navigation joystick sits on the left side of the camcorder, it means shifting your left hand back and forth repeatedly. It's not a bad design, but it could be fine-tuned.
The joystick provides quick access to exposure settings -- exposure compensation, shutter speed or aperture, depending upon which mode you're in -- as well as manual focus. Though it quickly gets you in the neighbourhood when manually focusing, it's very hard to manipulate for fine-tuning.
Canon has put playback controls, plus on/off buttons for the flash and video light, on the outside of the camcorder and the battery on the inside under the LCD. That's where they all belong, but all too frequently they're found elsewhere.
Because of the smallish 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD, the DC40's menu icons can be difficult to distinguish. Unfortunately, the viewfinder is also tiny and inflexible, so it's not much of an alternative. You should try it yourself before purchasing if you're a senior or you wear glasses.
Like Sony, Canon's approach to the high-end DVD camcorder involves plenty of features. But while Sony goes the home-cinema route, tossing in extras such as 5.1 surround recording, Canon emphasises manual controls and photo options. We find the latter approach much more compelling.
Though the Canon DC40 offers a modest 10x zoom lens, it provides a wide f/1.8-to-f/3.0 aperture and can accept 37mm add-on lenses. Video shot in 16:9 aspect ratio uses just less than 3 megapixels, 4:3 uses about 3.5 megapixels, while stills take a full 4-megapixel shot. Like all of its competitors, the camcorder can fit 20 minutes of the highest-quality video on a single-sided DVD. Canon's camcorder offerings support 80mm DVD-R and DVD-RW discs and include Roxio MyDVD in the box.