Canon Vixia HF10 High-Definition Camcorder
At a Glance
The Canon Vixia HF10 ($1000 as of September 28, 2008) has a lot going for it. It's light and compact, it generates fine images without much effort, it offers good control over look and frame rate, it carries a reasonable price, and it works well with both Windows and Mac software. But one thing holds this model back: Its video bit rate is set to run substantially below the AVCHD format's maximum of 24 mbps. The HF10 maxes out at 17 mbps, which is the bit rate we used for our testing. Three subsequent Canon models--the Vixia HF11, the Vixia HG20, and the Vixia HG21--support 24-mbps capture.
The Vixia HF10 captures images with a 0.31-inch CMOS sensor, and it can compress video at four quality settings, ranging from 5 mbps to 17 mbps. At the highest bit rate, the camera encodes AVCHD video to a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels, and at lower bit rates to 1440 by 1080 pixels.
Video produced at the 17-mbps bit rate held up well against the output of other camcorders in our recent "Camcorders: High-Def, No Tape" roundup. Overall, our subjective testers rated the images almost as highly as they did the images from the tape-based Canon Vixia HV30 and from the hard-drive-based Sony Handycam HDR-SR12, noting in particular very good resolution and smooth movement.
In the PC World Test Center's evaluation, the HF10's images showed a bit of oversaturation, but the HF10 doesn't pump up colors nearly as much as the salespeople do at your local HDTV emporium. In low light, the video showed a touch of gain noise, but that was evenly distributed and not too distracting. Still images were good but not great, essentially equivalent to those of other HD camcorders (i.e., not as good as stills from $150 digital still cameras).
The HF10 makes capturing those images easy, with a 12X optical zoom lens, fast and accurate automatic focusing, a great optical stabilizer, and a simple and effective automatic mode. The eight special scene modes--ranging from sports and night to beach and sunset settings--work well. The camcorder's lack of a viewfinder is a minor drawback amplified somewhat by the HF10's fleeting battery life (average for a tapeless HD camcorder) of about 90 minutes.
You can use the joystick provided next to the outer edge of the bright 2.7-inch LCD to navigate the well-organized menus. The joystick's position works well for adjusting camera settings, but it can induce unwanted camera movement during handheld manual focusing. Playback controls are situated conveniently, right under the LCD.
This lightweight (about 15 ounces with battery) camcorder is about the size of a can of energy drink; but despite its compactness (2.5 by 2.9 by 5.1 inches), it comesequipped with mic and headphone jacks, and a hot shoe mount. Alas, the hot shoe is of a proprietary size that doesn't allow you to mount many common third-party microphones in it.
The HF10 can record video at any of three frame rates optimized for standard video, Web-bound content, or a more filmlike feel: 60 interlaced fields per second (60i); 30 progressive frames per second (30p); and 24 progressive frames per second.
The camcorder's 16GB internal flash memory holds just over 2 hours of video at the device's highest quality setting; users can add an SDHC card to extend the available recording time. You can connect the camera to an HDTV via a mini-HDMI connector or to a computer via the USB connector. Editing video requires a fast CPU, as is the case with all AVCHD camcorders. The footage is compatible with various types of AVCHD-friendly editing software for Windows or Mac, and Canon bundles the basic Windows-based Image Mixer 3 SE.
The Canon Vixia HF10 isn't perfect, but its balance of benefits and shortcomings tilts heavily toward benefits, helping it to a third-place finish on our comparison chart. The Sony Handycam HDR-SR12 beats this model on image quality, but the Canon Vixia HF10 gives you more options for the look of your video. At this point, however, that says more about the promise of the HF10's higher-bit-rate successors than about the HF10 itself.