Canon's MVX350i packs a broad array of features into an extremely compact shell. With good video quality, thanks to its megapixel CCD, a 20x optical zoom, loads of special effects and usable-in-a-pinch still-photo capabilities, the MVX350i offers a good range of features for a MiniDV camera in its price range. If you're on a budget, consider stepping down to the MVX300 or the MVX330i.
Weighing 500g, the Canon MVX350i has a titanium-coloured plastic shell and a solid, well-balanced feel. The horizontally oriented body is bulkier than that of Canon's ultrasmall MVX30, but still significantly smaller than that of the company's MV-series cameras. The horizontal design feels very natural to hold, and the MVX350i is one of the more comfortable camcorders we've used.
On the right side of the camera, you'll find a top-loading tape door -- you can swap both tapes and the battery (which snaps on to the rear) without removing the MVX350i from a tripod. On the left, above the SD/MMC slot, sits a 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD. Around the front, you'll find a focus-assist lamp, a stereo microphone, a little flash for stills and an LED for illuminating video.
Canon crams most of the buttons into the area that's exposed when you fold out the LCD -- a tight arrangement that will make you appreciate the camera's all-automatic Easy mode. Playback, effects, focus and other nearby buttons are nearly impossible to navigate without looking at the controls. The arrangement isn't as convenient as the one on the less expensive MV series, which places playback buttons along the top of the camera. More egregious is the placement of the menu button and the jog dial -- which, unfortunately, doubles as the manual focus control -- directly in front of the LCD, making them difficult to access if you've rotated the LCD.
Despite the abundance of buttons, a few common controls, such as the LED light 'switch', are inconveniently buried in the camera's menu system. At least the menu system is well organised and easy to use.
The MVX350i boasts a relatively generous complement of analogue and digital ports: FireWire, USB, and analogue audio and video RCA inputs and outputs. Perhaps in a concession to its compact size, an S-video connector is notably absent. The camera also accommodates an external microphone and headphones. Lastly, an accessory shoe is available for attaching an external light or microphone.
A 20x optical zoom lens sets the Canon MVX350i apart from the less expensive models in the line, which only reach 18x. This camcorder also comes with Canon's WA-34 0.7x wide-angle attachment, which gives a wider angle of view for indoor and panoramic shots. If the 20x zoom isn't enough reach for you, you can screw on the optional 1.5x teleconverter accessory to get an impressive 30x optical zoom. Using the MVX350i's menus, you can also enable 80x or 400x digital zooms, but the image quality is extremely compromised at digital-zoom levels.
Wide-screen HDTV owners will appreciate the MVX350i's excellent 16:9 wide-screen mode. Unlike some camcorders, which stretch a standard-definition image to fill a wide-screen display, the MVX350i uses the full width of its CCD to record the video image. On 16:9 displays, this results in a noticeably sharper full-screen image with no distortion. Keep in mind, however, that though the MVX350i will record in wide-screen mode, it does not record at HDTV resolution. Resolution remains at 720x480, with only the aspect ratio altered.
You'll find a typical array of automatic exposure modes on the camera, including Sports, Portrait, Spotlight, Low Light and Sand & Snow. In addition to a slow-shutter mode, the camera features an LED that illuminates nearby objects in dark situations. The MVX350i offers a number of manual adjustments, including exposure shift, focus, white balance and shutter speed. The Easy mode does an admirable job of automatically adjusting all the camera's settings, which you'll appreciate, given the cumbersome use of the jog dial to change most of these settings.