Canon hopes its MVX45i will attract buyers who want more than an entry-level camcorder can provide: more resolution, more manual controls, more features and better overall image quality. In most respects, the MVX45i delivers all those advantages, though not without compromises.
Although the MVX45i offers impressive features, such as manual exposure controls, optical image stabilisation and cameralike still-photo features, its low-light shooting capabilities will likely disappoint the home filmmaker. If you're going to remain outside, we recommend its cheaper sibling, the MVX40, which has a slightly reduced zoom range but is otherwise almost identical.
With its squat, bulky design and 530g travel weight, the Canon MVX45i doesn't really qualify for pocket duty, though it could easily fit in a handbag or rucksack. On a positive note, the camera's size and heft lend it a more professional feel than that of similarly priced lightweights, such as the Sony DCR-HC90. When you hold it in your hand, you feel ably equipped to shoot a documentary or a corporate video.
The camcorder's controls are relatively easy to understand and use, but you may have to consult the manual if you're not well versed in digital camera operation. The zoom lever, the power and tape/card buttons, and other controls reside on the right, where camcorder veterans expect them. For some other functions, however, Canon follows its PowerShot design, incorporating a familiar-looking mode dial. This is a far more efficient way to switch between automatic, manual, priority and scene-preset modes than delving through menus, as some models require. Similarly, a Function button near the front of the camcorder pulls up frequently used options such as white balance, colour saturation, sharpness and Canon's Soft Skin mode.
Unfortunately, the Menu button is behind the LCD, which makes using the menus with the viewfinder -- for when you need to save battery life -- a little too awkward. Furthermore, when the LCD is open, it obscures your view of and access to the MVX45i's Function button and jog dial, which are used together to navigate onscreen menus. We greatly prefer having these controls near the back of the camera, as on Canon's MV series.
The MVX45i comes with a tilting, telescoping viewfinder -- handy when using an optional extended battery, which adds depth to the rear of the camcorder -- and Canon's Advanced Accessory Shoe, which can power extras such as video lights and shotgun microphones. Speaking of lights, the MVX45i includes a built-in white LED for illuminating dim subjects.
Stocked with a 1/3-inch CCD, the Canon MVX45i delivers 1.2 megapixels for video and 2.2 megapixels for photos (both effective resolution). Another advantage is full-width 16:9 recording, which is useful for videographers who plan to show their movies on wide-screen TVs -- no black bars and no loss of clarity from artificially enlarging the image.
The MVX45i's Canon-made lens has two optical aces up its sleeve: a 14x zoom and optical image stabilisation (OIS). Although camcorders such as the Sony DCR-HC90 have shown that electronic image stabilisation can achieve great results, there's no question that the best image fidelity comes from OIS. For razor-sharp close-up work, the lens features a manual focus ring. In any shooting mode except Auto, you simply press the Focus button to switch to manual. You can also attach one of the 34mm telephoto or wide-angle converters Canon sells separately, though we were disappointed one wasn't included in the box. The less expensive MV850i comes with a wide-angle converter and, for that matter, a 22x optical zoom.
Moviemakers seeking creative control over their audio and images will find it in the MVX45i. In addition to an external-microphone input, the camcorder provides no fewer than eight white-balance presets, including auto and manual. It also includes a handful of spiffy digital effects, faders and image enhancements, all of which can be preselected via onscreen menus but are withheld from use until you press the D. Effects button. As you might expect from a camera with dedicated aperture- and shutter-priority modes, the MVX45i supports manual shutter adjustments from 1/8 second to 1/2,000 second and apertures between f/1.8 and f/8.0. It's blissfully simple to make changes. Just press the jog dial and move it up or down until you hit the desired setting. The six preprogrammed scene modes include Foliage, Snow and Fireworks.
Needless to say, the MVX45i tries hard to emulate one of Canon's PowerShot cameras, right down to the onscreen icons that indicate various settings. All the mode-dial settings, from aperture priority to scene mode, can be applied to still photos, so there's little to relearn if you're already PowerShot-savvy. There's also little to give up by leaving your PowerShot at home. The MVX45i features three-shot autoexposure bracketing, three metering modes, a continuous-shooting mode (three shots at maximum resolution, five when you drop down a notch) and a built-in flash. What's more, the MVX45i's OIS works when you're shooting stills, too.
For quickly turning snapshots into prints, the MVX45i can connect to any PictBridge-compatible printer. It also doubles as an SD/MMC card reader when you connect it to your PC -- one push of the Print/Share button automatically transfers photos to your hard drive.
Canon supplies a corded lens cap, a 16MB MultiMediaCard, USB and A/V cables, a wireless remote and manuals for both the camera and Canon's bundled software. The manual is excellent; it quickly directs you to the proper page for every feature and clearly explains it when you get there. As for the software, it's entirely for photos: Canon's usual ZoomBrowser EX, PhotoRecord and PhotoStitch for Windows and ImageBrowser and PhotoStitch for Mac. Although there's no video-capture or video-editing software included, you can transfer video to your PC via USB 2.0 -- application permitting -- and FireWire.