We have a soft spot for the Canon MVX35i because it incorporates many recent improvements to the range. We hoped for some sort of diffuser to soften the onboard LED video light, and lo and behold, we got it. We wanted to be able to turn on the LED light whenever we felt like it, independent of Night mode, and we now have that capability as well. The camera remains well designed, ergonomically and functionally solid, suitable for a coat pocket, and it doubles as a decent still camera. That video light, plus the MVX35i's higher-resolution LCD, give this camcorder a noticeable edge over its less expensive sibling, the MVX30i.
The Canon MVX35i's basic layout hasn't changed much from that of the MVX30i, which this reviewer was quite smitten with. The upright, vertical layout fits into your hand nicely, and the controls fall into place for comfortable fingertip access. The body is landscaped nicely; ports are well placed and easy to access, and they don't feel crammed in. Likewise, many commonly sought controls, such as manual focus, exposure shift, Night mode, and the video light are found directly on the body rather than buried in the menu system. Its dimensions and weight are largely similar to the MVX30i, and as such, it shares with its predecessor the ability to travel easily without giving you that lugging-a-brick feeling.
The camera sits comfortably in the hand, with a rotating adjustable grip belt that gives plenty of purchase to even those of us with bigger mitts. Controls line up with your fingers, and the zoom slide is fairly easily coerced into providing a slow and steady zoom throughout the length of the lens -- hard to achieve on some pressure-sensitive zoom controls.
We'd still love to see a manual focus ring on the lens, but in fairness, manual focus using the set dial isn't so bad once you get the hang of it. Because it's a bottom loader, the camera must be removed from a tripod before switching tapes -- a minor issue, as this little number's primary desire is to be cradled in your palm and carried on your person.Features
The Canon MVX35i's built-in white LED gives a visible boost when filming in low light, and we love the fact that you can now turn it on whenever you want, even when not in Night mode. Unfortunately, the LED is so bright and directional that most people will groan and throw their hands in front of their faces if you aim it at them in a low-light setting. The removable ring-light adapter, which diffuses the LED and spreads the light into a softer emitting ring around the lens, is a sound attempt at solving this problem and much less annoying for your human subjects. Of course, it also cuts down on the light's effective radius, so you must also get closer to your subjects. The removable adapter is another item to carry in your pocket and potentially lose; we'd love to see it integrated into the body.
The 2-megapixel chip produces high-quality prints. Using the top resolution (1,632 x 1,224) and compression setting, you can print up to 127 x 178mm at a reasonable quality. There is a built-in neutral density filter that you can choose to enable in the menu for photo mode only, which kicks in when shooting stills in very bright situations. Recording video to the memory card remains something of a novelty, creating rough AVI clips using a Microsoft-specific version of the MPEG-4 codec that is difficult to play back on a Macintosh computer.
The MVX35i, like the MVX30i, is largely automated, with no aperture- or shutter-priority modes, no manual gain control, and no zebra stripes to indicate areas in the image where exposure has peaked to total white. We're happy to see external mic and headphone jacks, as well as an optional manual audio-level control, the three of which boost your audio-capture capability nearer to the prosumer level. We'd love the inclusion of an accessory shoe, allowing more serious users to mount a small shotgun mic, but you can get an optional attachment from Canon.
Canon blesses the MVX35i with a 211,000-pixel, 64mm (2.5-inch), flip-out LCD, up from 123,000 pixels in the 400. The added resolution makes the unit a pleasure to film with and helps ensure proper focus. You'll find the 500 a delight to operate, packing a lot of camera into a size that's not a burden when you're on the go.
The camcorder's electronic image stabilisation is on a par with any we've seen and not a far cry from the usually superior optical stabilisation found on some higher-end models. Autofocus is quick and sharp, and we appreciate the ease with which we can override it using a conveniently located focus button on the back of the camera. The included battery is rated for a recording time of 45 minutes with the LCD and 55 minutes with the viewfinder, though bigger cells can be purchased separately. We'd love to see typical battery life move up to at least 60 minutes, the length of a standard tape, under LCD operation.
Unfortunately, we also heard a bit of motor noise in quiet recordings, which may hamper your videos of sleeping babies and other silent subjects.Like its predecessors, the Canon MVX35i incorporates an RGB colour filter, which helps the camera produce more accurate skin tones. We find colour reproduction to be quite true and skin tones pleasing, particularly in well-lit situations. In moderate light conditions, this camera does well in maintaining a good quality image. In low light, use Night mode; don't leave it in autoexposure mode, which will result in the camcorder switching to a very slow shutter speed and producing unusable video. In Night mode, the video is grainy but definitely manageable.
When using the detachable ring-light adapter in a low-light social situation, you can get more colour out of your subjects' faces without the complaints and the deer-in-the-headlights look you'd get using the naked LED. Even with the softer, more diffused light offered by the adapter, you'll still get hot spots on faces. All in all, though, images produced in low-light settings with the adapter are pleasing, and the device is a nice option. As is characteristic of Canons, colours tend to be a little warm, especially with indoor and low-light situations, but overall quality remains high.
Still-image performance is a mixed bag. Images are generally sharper and more detailed than you typically get using a camcorder's photo functions, yet they don't hold up to direct comparison with typical images from digital still cameras. Significant graininess is evident throughout shots, particularly in areas of consistent colour and texture, such as walls or faces. Also, the Optura 500 is more sensitive than most digital still cameras to movements of the photographer's hand, resulting in a higher-than-normal percentage of blurred shots.
Edited by: Lori Grunin
Additional editing by: Tom Espiner