Canon ZR-40 Digital Video Camcorder

This is one of the smallest and lightest cameras you will find floating around the consumer end of DV movie equipment. It has some strong points and some weak points.

On the strong side this cameras, priced around $700 retail, is one of the first cameras you will find that allows you to use an external microphone, making it ideal for use by professionals for doing cable access television, wedding videos and even music videos. The input allows you to actually plug in a connection from the band mixing board if you know what you are doing and are really careful (it is primarily designed to handle a 50K ohm low cost microphone, like the one for your computer, but it can also accept a very low level line input using a 1/8” mini plug).

This makes this unit ideal for doing interviews, infomercials and even spot news work as a “stringer.”

Most built-in microphones do not work very well in large rooms or at distances greater than 10 feet. You start getting a hollow sound and the loudest noise closet to the microphone takes over.

Another good feature with the ZR-40 is the fact that it handles all analog as well as FireWire DV connections both out and back in. So, essentially, this unit is a production deck that will let you send out the video signal as a composite using RCA cords (a special set comes with the unit) or bring a signal back in using this cord. You can also connect using quality S-Video (you must buy the S-Video cord as one does not come with the unit) or via a FireWire cord that comes with the unit.

Most other units in the lower priced end and even a few priced about this one do not allow for this much analog-digital conversion nor, A/V support for external headphones or incoming mic and line signals.

This unit also as light amplification or “night vision” which allows you to take movies in very, very low light, even outdoors at night under street lights.

Finally it comes with a 1 year parts and labor warranty. All other brands I looked at only offer 90 days for labor and that is one the most expensive parts of getting a camera fixed and a $700 DV camera is not something you throw away then buy another one to replace it!

Now for the major downside, this unit has the smallest chip of all DV cameras, including many priced well below this unit. It has 1/6" 460K Pixel CCD which is just enough to get you buy at 480 lines of resolution, which DVD quality.

Most other DV cameras have over 500,000 pixels and deliver 520 lines of resolution (above DVD quality) from a 1/4" CCD. Some, in fact, offer over 1 million pixels for taking still pictures. While the ZR-40 will take a still picture, it is not much better in quality than a low priced web cam still frame capture.

To fully use all the benefits of this camera you must work with the remote control to select your A/V modes, you sound quality (12 and 16 bit are offered) your recording speed (SP and EP are offered) and to change from camcorder to recorder (so you can record from a DVD, VCR or back from a computer capture card).


This process is not very complex, but you are working with menus and submenus. When I was making a DV mini tape from my capture card I had to switch from camera mode to recorder mode. Then to view the finished DV recording I had to switch back. There were some problems and I need to switch again to recorder mode and re-do the tape. This got a little bothersome, but most other cameras either won’t do all this work or also require that you use the remote.

This camera has a built-in color image tube for viewing or an external wing that uses an LCD display that you can turn around to show the person you are photographing what they look like.

When buying my unit I did a search for sites with the lowest price and found some very, very cheap sources ($400), but none of them had it on stock nor ever delivered it to me even after a 6 week wait. All of the sources wanted me to buy more expensive packages ($550) or add-on lenses (another $250 extra).

So, be aware of the “come-ons” as you may not get delivery and your certainly don’t want their wide angle and telephoto lens sets for $250 which is a totally bogus offering!

I finally found a new one in a box on E-bay at a cost of under $500 and most stores sell this unit for $600.

It comes with a ni-cad batter and slow charger. There is a faster charger and more powerful battery available, which you might want to invest in if you are planning a vacation. You get about 1 to 1 ˝ hours of usable time with the battery and then it must re-charge for 6 – 8 hours. You can use the charger as a direct A/C power source while doing transfers or video captures.

It offers the ability to change exposure values over or under, lock or fix a setting and even do some manual settings. It has auto focus or you can use manual focus. It has a nice 18 power optical zoom a good 380x digital zoom.

Remember optical is the higher image quality as digital expands a small portion of the 380,000 pixels across the whole image plane making for a very low quality magnified image.

This a unit that cable access producers, bands, actors, television commercial producers and others interested in having a very flexible production tool that can do both analog and digital transfers to and from the DV medium should look at and consider. While you may find one with more pixels and slightly higher resolution it may not be as flexible a tool as you would like and this one will do almost any trick in the books and for well under $1,000!

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