With its squat, bulky design and 1.3-pound travel weight, the Canon Optura 60 doesn't really qualify for pocket duty, though it could easily ride along in a purse or a bag. 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, color 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 Optura'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 ZR series.
The Optura 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 Optura 60 includes a built-in white LED for illuminating dim subjects.
Stocked with a 1/3-inch CCD, the Canon Optura 60 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 Optura's Canon-made lens has two optical aces up its sleeve: a 14X zoom and optical image stabilization (OIS). Although camcorders such as the Sony DCR-HC90 have shown that electronic image stabilization 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 a bit disappointed that one wasn't included in the box. The less expensive ZR300 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 Optura 60. 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 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 Optura 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 Optura 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 Optura features three-shot autoexposure bracketing; three metering modes; a continuous-shooting mode (three shots at maximum resolution, five when you drop down a step); and a built-in flash. What's more, the Optura's OIS works when you're shooting stills, too.