Canon Vixia HV30 HD Camcorder
At a Glance
Canon's tape-based Vixia HV30 camcorder ($1000 as of September 28, 2008) combines the aging medium with modern image processing to lay good-looking HDV video onto inexpensive MiniDV tapes.
The HV30 encodes video as 1440-by-1080-pixel 25-mbps HDV. Though that is fewer pixels than most AVCHD camcorders use, the HV30 captures video at a higher data rate, yielding images with great color and resolution in bright and normal lighting, and okay quality in low light.
In our subjective tests of image and audio quality, the HV30 earned a Good overall rating, bettered among the camcorders we tested for our "Camcorders: High-Def, No Tape" roundup by only one model: the Sony Handycam HDR-SR12, which outperformed the Canon in well-lit indoor settings. The HV30 led the group in low-light settings, and its combined standard-light and low-light scores were essentially on a par with those of three other top-scoring camcorders: the Sony HDR-SR12, the Canon Vixia HF10, and the Samsung SC-HMX20C.
Skin tones and color accuracy were good in light, dark, and shifting scenes. Footage shot in low light looked sharp, but exhibited minor motion-estimation problems. Audio recording with the built-in mic was perfectly acceptable. This model can record still JPEG images to a miniSD card (not included); the quality of this output matched that of the other top-rated camcorders in this roundup.
This is a very easy camcorder to use, thanks to accurate and very fast autofocus, and excellent image stabilization. The 2.7-inch LCD remains viewable in bright sunlight and has a wider viewing angle than some other small LCDs. Playback controls are sensibly placed just below the LCD, and the menus are well organized and easy to navigate.
You get a nice range of ports and features, too. The HV30 includes a built-in lens cover, a viewfinder, and headphone and mic jacks, along with HDMI, USB, and FireWire ports. The standard battery provides about 2 hours of recording time, and you can record video at three frame rates: 60i (60 interlaced fields per second) looks like video, 24p (24 progressive frames per second) resembles film, and 30p works well on the Web.
This model isn't perfect, however. The tape bay makes the HV30 bulkier and more awkward than a solid-state camcorder to hold. The accessory shoe on top of the camera is nonstandard, and the 10X zoom lens could be a little wider.
Unlike tapeless AVCHD camcorders, the HV30 moves HDV content linearly via FireWire instead of USB. Though not as slick as the random-access transfers on AVCHD models, the HV30's approach works with less-robust computers and a greater number of Windows and Mac video-editing packages.
The mix of image quality, controls, frame-rate flexibility, and format compatibility makes the Canon HV30 camcorder a top choice--capturing first place on our comparison chart--for home movies and indie filmmaking. The HV30 may be one of the last tape-based consumer HD camcorders, but it's also one of the best HD camcorders, period.