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Canon ups-its-anti with the Optura Xi, a revised and refined take on the Optura 10. Sitting firmly on the high-end of the Optura line, the Xi is a 2-megapixel CCD camcorder with digital camera capabilities. The Optura Xi captures footage or stills to tape with an 11x optical zoom. A slew of well designed manual features and automatic settings that make it worthy competitor to higher priced camcorders. A flaw of this camcorder however is the lack of outstanding low-light performance.


That is not to say that the Canon Optura Xi is poor in low-light conditions, the camcorder does make the most of the luminance available, however it is not as good as the Sony DCR-TRV70. There is however significant competition from camcorders like the Sony DCR-TR70 and the Panasonic PV-DV953, which was named the 2003 SuperCam - for outstanding quality and value.

Video Performance (8.5)
The Optura Xi has a 1/3.4 inch CCD, that captures roughly 2.2 megapixels, for an effective pixel count of 1.23 megapixels for video and 2 megapixels for stilss. The result is a bright, full-spectrum of colors. Subtle distinctions between the closely-hued fall colors of orange, brown and red are conveyed in a brilliant crisp image. The outstanding normal night performance is likely do to Canon's optics which they produces themselves - you must remember that Canon is one of the leading professional lens manufacturers. 

The Front (9.0)
The Optura Xi has a nice narrow shape, the front of the camcorder is comprised of lens that is nearly the entire width of body. The lens has an 11x optical zoom with a focal length of 4.2mm to 47mm at a ratio of 1:1.6 to 46. Below the lens is a two channel microphone with left and right labeled in white across the top of the plastic perforation. In the center of the mike is the IR sensor that controls a well designed, feature friendly remote, and is the eye of the internal processor. To the left of the sensor is a mini high intensity spot that is less that an eighth of an inch in diameter. When light conditions warrant, the spot springs to life with white brilliance, and illuminates the subject of the shot to a distance of six and a half feet - however it's more of a gimmick than anything else, it's rare, unless you are shooting extremely close up subjects that the built in light will help your shot. It's a marketing tool more than anything else. The Optura also has a built is flash that could be considered part of the front of the camera when engaged, or part of the top when recessed in the lens casing. 

The Right Side (9.5)
The right side of the Optura Xi is fairly sparse, giving your hand lots of area to grip without interfeing with important features. At the front, the grip friendly, brushed stainless steal, manual focus ring has a nice consistent level of resistance. Below the manual focus ring is a concealed port assortment that includes DC in, external microphone, and AV in/out. There's also tiny red battery charge indicator light. The lens barrel extends an inch and a half from the filter threading to the body of the camcorder body, and a small speaker housed in perforated plastic. The extended lens barrel gives you a great place to stabilize the camcorder with your left hand. Above the sub-standard speaker, housed under a hinged quarter inch door, are the USB and Firewire ports. Below the ports, at the back center of the camcorder is the SVideo In/Out port. That port may be the victim of poor placement, because of its proximity to the suede Canon strap. If your hand is in the strap, holding the camcorder, the S-Video cable will be in the way. Just behind the port are the labels for camera, VCR playback and network mode.

The Back (9.0)
The top center of the Canon Optura XI, at polar opposite on the lens, is the viewfinder which when disengaged by half an inch, unlocked and extended, has a range of motion from zero to 45 degrees. The eye piece is housed in soft rubber. To the right of battery, is a light grey plastic VCR/Camera dial and a stainless steel record button-strategically placed in its center. The configuration looks cool against the dark grey camcorder case, and is functional. The thumb falls to that area when holding the camcorder in the suede Canon strap. There is a small button below the power dial that controls network mode. At the base of the right-back, is the headphone jack. On the top of the left-back side, is the mode dial. This is a nice feature for controlling optimal automated and manual settings for exposure and shutter speed. However, the dial itself is too small. It locks into each of the eight modes with action that is more like a toddler's playschool toy, than a thousand dollar camcorder. Canon's R&D team should take note, a prominent, well conciliated and well used feature, should have a dial that reflects the sophistication of feature. A small, difficult to adjust, flimsy piece of plastic is major gaff-why not go stainless steal? Just below the mode dial is the menu button. The menu has a number of useful features that are controlled by a depressible scrolling dial located underneath the menu button.

The Left Side (7.0)
The left side of the Canon Optura Xi, is predominately LCD. The camcorder has a quality 3.5 inch LCD screen. The screen is also the home of the root-tree menus. To the left of the screen is the audio level button, which when engaged transforms the depressible jog dial to a decibel level record control, for both the internal and an external microphone. Beneath the screen are buttons for controlling playback of tape and memory card, the memory card slot, and the slim date/time battery. In front of the LCD, on the lens casing, are a series of manual controls and effects buttons. There is a manual focus button that engages the stainless steel ring, and a depressible exposure dial. On tape the exposure can be adjusted from minus 11 to plus 11, and with the added zebra pattern function under or over exposed images can be adjusted easily. To make this function accessible, Canon added a programmable button that is located next to the manual focus override. Below those two buttons are the digital effects. 



The Top(7.0)
The top of the Canon Optura Xi, is the home of the large, variable speed zoom control. The flat, graspable, yet flimsy, toggle switch is conveniently located well with in reach of one's index finger when the camcorder in is hand. Next to the zoom control, is a selector switch the alternates between tape and memory card. Perhaps these features are next to each other because the range of the zoom changes with the mode. For instance when shooting to tape the zoom is 11x, switch to memory card and the zoom drops to 9x. In widescreen mode (16:9), the effective zoom is 10x. Behind the zoom control is a stainless steel photo button. In front of the zoom toggle, is a hot shoe for a number of Canon accessories that function seamlessly when engaged. Atop the lens casing is a flash.

Picture & Manual Control
Automatic Control(9.0)
The Canon Optura Xi has great semi-automated control, and fully automated functionality. The camcorder is designed to work as a point and shoot, that when conditions warrant, is tweak-able. For a budding videographer, who wants to get serious about their art, it's a great way to see how making adjustments to exposure and shutter speed affect the image. Although, more care in the design of the shutter menu dial would have made this process much easier for the operator.

Overall Manual Control (8.0)
Other than a lack of manual gain control, The Optura Xi has solid manual control functionality. Kudos go to the design of the manual focus components of the camcorder, with a spotlight on the focus ring. The exposure control is a little on the small side for my liking, and the fact that it the base of the lens casing bulges around it, makes adjustments slightly awkward. Another opportunity to use stainless steel, perhaps. 

Zoom (6.5)
The 11x optical zoom of the Optura Xi, is solid. The camcorder includes a digital zoom however you should never use it because lik every other camcorder is terribly degrades the image. The flat zoom slider is a little on the flimsy side, but adequately controlled the rate of zoom. By nature of its design, the process of zooming out is more natural than zooming in, because the slider is lopsided. There is some auto focus delay in low light zoom situations. 

The Optura Xi has a terrific focus ring, that provides consistent resistance, and as a result, feel is the focal process. It's made of stainless steal, and has raised horizontal ribs that caress the thumb and forefinger. 

Exposure (Aperture) (4.5)
The Optura Xi has adequate exposure control, that would benefit from a new control dial. Perhaps a graded stainless steal ring behind the focus the focus ring, like an f-stop ring. There are 22 steps of exposure from minus 11 to plus 11, and switching from automatic to manual is intuitive.

Shutter Speed (4.0) 
Shutter speed on the Optura Xi is controlled in what's called TV mode. It is control by the inadequate plastic mode dial next to the viewfinder, and the depressible menu scroll dial located below the menu button. The speed has two tiers of settings, one for tape and on for the memory card. In tape mode the speed ranges from 1/8 to 1/2000 and when recording or capturing to memory card the processor adjusts to ½ to 1/500. As a guideline, the processor has a flashing indicator that alerts users that the shot is bleached-out or dark. Other than a poorly designed control mechanism it's a well designed function. 

White Balance(6)
White balance on the Optura Xi has four settings, auto, manual, indoor, and outdoor. It's a fairly standardized setup accessed from the LCD menu and controlled by scrolling to the 'my camera' option with the depressible jog dial.

The Optura Xi doesn't include any manual gain control, one of it's few manual control weaknesses.

Still (7.5)
A well respected digital camera manufacturer, Canon has integrated a number of beneficial still photo attributes into the Optura Xi. The Xi records stills up to 1632 x 1224 pixel resolution. The camcorder has a pop-up flash that is great for low light. It has a variety of settings for the quality and resolution of captured images-which can be stored on tape or on the memory card. The image menu allows limited photo editing tools, and pictures can be printed from the camera on select Canon photo printers. You can record MPEG4 video to the SD card, but the size of the files means only minutes of footage.


VCR Mode (6.0)
The VCR mode on the Optura Xi is controlled from the panel behind the LCD screen, or by the well designed remote. There are a few choices between playback for tape or memory card, and some stock backgrounds, but the standard play/pause, rewind, fast forward, and stop buttons are as plain and simple as they come.

Low Light Performance(4.5)

Low light performance could be improved. While the CCD on the Optura Xi isn't as bad as the previous generation of Opturas, the Optura 10 and 20, even the manual recommends not shooting at under 100 lux. In an indoor low-light situation, below 100x lux, the image will suffer graininess and lack of intensity. The low light performance is what takes the Optura Xi down allowing the DCR-TRV70 to surpass it. If only Canon would improve the low light performance of their camcorders they could blow away Sony!


LCD / Viewfinder(9.0)
The color viewfinder on the Optura Xi is not nearly as nice at rendering a picture as the LCD screen. The image isn't nearly as sharp and a wide black border around the picture is a waste of limited space. The LCD is fantastic, large size with a terrific picture.


Audio (7.0)
The Optura Xi has a solid two channel built in microphone located directly under the lens. The quality of on camera mikes is always questionable. The camcorder can record in 12 bit or 16 bit multi-channel, four or two channels. There is a 'windscreen' option that limits wind sound in windy places. There are also audio decibel designations that users can set manually. The Optura Xi really excels in the audio category not because of the quality of it's internal microphone, but because of the options the user is provided with. You can use a external microphone, set the levels, power it through the hot-shoe, dub audio over later, and watch and set the audio levels while you are recording - those are features that aren't included on most consumer camcorders. It's a nice touch, and will be well used by those who understand the significance of linking sound and image. 


Handling (5.0)
The size of the 11x optical zoom lens leaves the Optura Xi slightly unbalanced. While the button placement and the suede strap are well thought out, with the standard battery, the camcorder falls forward. That begs the question; would the Optura Xi be perfectly balanced with an extended life battery? Other detractions from handling stem from a few poorly designed dials and awkwardly placed SVideo jack. This camcorder will excel in the field, but is best placed on a tripod.


The Optura Xi has all the requisite jacks and ports, however, the placement of the S-Video in/out jack is poor. It will likely get in the way of your hand when using an external monitor. 


Other Features (8.0)
Canon is pushing the video conferencing concept as hard as every other manufacture with the Optura Xi's networking feature. There are a slew of post-effects that one can toy with, and a few stock backgrounds.


16:9 widesreen mode
One of the cooler extras, is the widescreen format which captures footage at 16:9. Like the Sony's the Optura Xi records 16:19 images using all the available pixels, not by letterboxing the image - however the image does appear as stretched on the LCD screen when you are shooting. 


As the trend seems to be in consumer camcorders, the Xi can serve as a web cam through Canon's included DVMessenger software. 

Remote The Optura Xi comes with a good remote. All of the camcorder functions are controllable from the remote. This is a nice touch, and not only good for playback, but a nice alternative to adjusting exposure and shutter speed.


Comparisons (no score provided)
DCR-TRV70 and DCR-TRV80 
The DCR-TRV70 and the DCR-TRV80 don't have the level of manual control, i.e. no shutter speed control, or audio levels that the Optura Xi has. The Optura Xi is slightly below the DCR-TRV70 and DCR-TRV80 inn low light situations, but the Optura outperforms in video quality. Monetarily the Sony's are more economical. I would go with the Optura if you need the extra manual control, but if low light is key you're going to want the Sonys.


Who's it For
Try to figure out which section you fit into, and the corresponding comments should help you decide whether or not this is the camcorder for you.


Point and Shooter's (6.0)
The Optura Xi could work nicely as a point a shoot, that has the added benefit of semi automation to move a beginner quickly through the learning curve. 


Budget Consumers (7.0)
With a manufactures suggested retail price of $1,699, you might look elsewhere. Although, it's a good investment.


Still Photo / Video Camera Hybrid (8.0)
Quality photographic capabilities enhance the package and make it solid hybrid.


Gadget Freaks (6.0)
The Optura Xi has a few neat gadget and a slew of effects so go, go gadget.


Manual Control Freaks(9.0)
Other than a few design flaws, and a lack of manual gain, this camcorder has great manual controls.


Pro's / Serious Hobbyists (7.0)
The Optura Xi will not be the first choice of the true pro, but if you're on your way to that level, this camcorder will get you there faster.

The final score chart for the Optura Xi is as follows:


Area Weight Raw Adj. Poss.
Video Performance
The Front
The Right Side
The Back
The Left Side
The Top
Automatic Control
Overall Manual Control
Shutter Speed
White Balance
Still Performance
VCR Mode
Low Light Performance
LCD / Viewfinder
Jacks / Ports / Plugs
Other Features
Total (weighted)

The Optura Xi is a solid camcorder with great still performance and great video perofrmance as well as outstanding manual control. As we've seen with every 2003 Canon camcorder, the Xi begins to fail when it comes to low light performance - an all important camcorder performance area. The Xi is very close to the Sony DCR-TRV70, and I would even recomend it when your looking for outstanding manual control. The problem is, the PV-DV953, the best buy out their in consumer camcorders is in the price range of the Xi - and the 953 not only beats it in low light, it beats it in manual control as well. The Xi is a solid camcorder that I would recomend.