The Canon ZR850 is an inexpensive MiniDV camcorder that's ideal for beginners who want to produce home videos. Equipped with a 1.07-megapixel CCD (charge-coupled device), this camcorder captures decent-quality video footage and still images. And the ZR850's battery life is long. But in terms of performance, its image quality is mediocre compared with other camcorders we've tested.
Design and usability
Light and compact, the ZR850 is designed to fit firmly in the palm of your hand. The zoom button is conveniently placed so your index finger can reach it. A small joystick and two buttons built into the casing that holds the camcorder's 2.7-inch LCD screen are used to access playback controls and recording settings. Unlike most low-end camcorders, the ZR850 has a convenient built-in lens cover, which you open or close via a small switch. For shooting in dark settings, the ZR850 has a small lamp that shines brightly, but only for a very short distance. The camcorder's battery-charging port is easy to find -- right underneath the battery -- but it lacks a cover to protect it from dust. The ZR850 doesn't have a microphone jack; this is unsurprising since it's an inexpensive camcorder. However, it's irksome that this camcorder also doesn't have a headphone jack for monitoring your audio.
This camcorder's interface and menus are user-friendly, but the placement of the joystick on the LCD screen is slightly inconvenient: if you're shooting without a tripod and wish to adjust settings (manual focus or exposure, for example), your image can get shaky since you need to use one hand to press the joystick and the other to hold the camera. The ZR850 does have an electronic image stabilization feature, which reduces the effects of shaking, but it won't eliminate the tilting of the camera when you press the joystick.
The ZR850 includes eight different scene modes that are helpful for making home videos. The scene modes can optimize exposure or aperture settings for certain situations. For example, a Beach mode prevents subjects from being underexposed when you shoot on a sunny beach. There's also a Spotlight mode for shooting spotlit scenes, which could be especially useful for taping a child's talent-show performance, for example. You can also choose between widescreen (16:9) or standard (4:3) aspect ratios.
Performance and battery life
In our testing, the ZR850's video quality received Good all-around ratings from our panel of experts. Under both bright-light and low-light conditions, noise was slightly visible, and motion was a little rough. Colors were dark, and the overall exposure wasn't great. The ZR850's audio wasn't perfect either. We could hear faint buzzing throughout our sample video, and the microphone didn't capture subtle noises very well. At a maximum resolution of 1152 by 864 pixels, the ZR850's still images appeared slightly blurry, and colors were a little off.
With a full battery charge, the ZR850 lasted 1 hour and 36 minutes when we recorded in standard-play mode. This was a little above average compared with the other camcorders we tested. The ZR850's battery life earned a Good rating.
Macworld's buying advice
The Canon ZR850's ease of use, good battery life, and variety of shooting modes make it a camcorder that's ideal for making home videos. Though this camcorder's image quality pales in comparison to other camcorders we've tested, the ZR850 offers a fine assortment of features and capabilities for its price.
[Brian Chen is an assistant editor at Macworld.]