The Canon MVX250i looks very similar to to the rest of the company's MiniDV line. Weighing just 499g, it's very easy to carry around all day. If you wear baggy shorts, you can even fit it in your pocket. The controls are logically organised, and the tape loads into the compartment from the top, so you can switch tapes while the MVX250i is mounted on a tripod. Provided you don't use a tripod with a large platform, you might be able to access the SD card slot as well.
In typical Canon fashion, the manual is well written and easy to navigate. This model should be familiar to anyone who has previously used a DV camcorder, but give the documentation a quick once-over in case you need to access a few of the special features or manual functions. Before you start filming, make sure to install the supplied 3-volt CR1616 battery that saves all of your menu settings. If you forget, a blinking red indicator appears in the upper left-hand corner of the viewfinder.
All of the transport buttons lie beneath the foldout viewing screen. The MVX250i has a 63.5mm (2.5-inch)LCD, but it's not as bright outdoors as those found elsewhere in Canon's MVX series. You can also switch to the traditional eyecup viewfinder, but it's difficult to see through unless you have 20/20 vision.Features
In addition to the standard set of automatic features, the Canon MVX250i can also be switched into manual focus and exposure modes. Due to the somewhat soft image quality of the LCD screen, I did not have great luck improving on the autofocus, but the autoexposure function came in very handy, especially in scenes with harsh backlight. (This is also where that instruction manual really is useful.)
In less than optimum light, you can activate the MVX250i's Night, Night+, or Super Night modes. The Night mode slows the shutter speed and bumps up the gain on the CCD (thereby increasing noise). The Night+ and Super Night options activate the built-in white LED on the front of the camera that adds a spooky feel to the footage if you take close-ups around the fire. Surprisingly, though, the colours looked better than I expected in Night mode shots, albeit a bit noisy.
I didn't try the MVX250i's set of cheesy digital effects (which have names such as Ball, Wave, Puzzle, and Zigzag), fearing a night visit from the video police. You, too, should resist the urge. Canon offers a skin detail function with two settings, Normal and Soft. Unless you are dabbling in film noir or shooting a documentary on cosmetically challenged teenagers, leave it set to Normal or you may find your footage is consistently soft.
The MVX250i's 1.3-megapixel image sensor will capture a 1,280 x 960 pixel still image that's good enough for desktop wallpaper or a quick e-mail. It also features Canon's Print and Share function that will let you print directly to a PictBridge-compatible printer. It will make acceptable 76 x 127mm prints for the fridge, but don't expect any more than that.
For those of you who want a Webcam, just connect the MVX250i to your computer's FireWire port and you're in business. Using a tripod, you can get image quality that is far superior to the iChat AV cam's and will work equally well on Windows with the enclosed DV Messenger 2 software. Nerds, take note: you can even control the zoom and focus settings from your computer via the software!
You can download footage to your computer using a FireWire DV cable. Included is Canon's Digital Video Solution Disks for Mac and PC. This is pretty minimal video editing and capture software, so, if you're a PC user, be prepared to look for something better if you want to be serious about editing your footage. If you have a current Mac, you will have better luck with iMovie. Still footage and 240 x 320 QuickTime files captured with the SD card can be downloaded via the USB port.
The Canon MVX250i worked well during all of my test filming. Because of its small size and user-friendly layout, this camcorder is very easy to handle. It fit in my hand quite comfortably, and Canon's electronic image-stabilisation produced really clean, shake-free footage. I gave this one the acid test and handed it to my 10-year-old daughter (who's just a bit bouncy), and she came back with surprisingly good results.
This model's battery life outperforms that of its higher-resolution siblings, the 2-megapixel MVXs -- not surprising as a 2-megapixel sensor uses more power than a 1-megapixel unit. Using the same battery, I consistently managed an hour's worth of battery life with the MVX250i, while the 2-megapixel camcorders struggled to get more than 40 minutes on the same charge. If you're going on holiday or to an important event, I still suggest getting an additional battery. Charging is accomplished only through the camera, so plan on charging both batteries before you go out to film.
The MVX250i captures 12- and 16-bit sound. I favour the 16-bit sound for its higher quality, and the built-in mic is definitely acceptable. Again, if you are feeling nerdy, put those iPod headphones to use and plug them in so that you can monitor your sound while shooting for that extra bit of control. There is a handy accessory shoe on top of the camcorder for Canon's optional DM-50 directional microphone to get a bit better audio capture when you are shooting from a distance.Under normal lighting, Canon's MVX250i produced footage that's good enough for playback on a typical television, but isn't as sharp on better displays. Like most of the cameras in its price range, the performance declines pretty quickly under low-light conditions.
The auto white balance feature was very accurate and adapted quickly when I went back and forth between different lighting situations. While the image stabilisation worked well, this camera definitely benefits from a tripod.
Edited by: Lori Grunin
Additional editing by: Tom Espiner