Canon Goes HD-Camcorder Crazy at CES 2010

Canon Vixia HF S200 camcorder
LAS VEGAS -- Despite playing a soft hand on new cameras, Canon went all-in with its high-definition camcorder announcements at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show.

The company announced nine new Vixia models today, all of which offer flash- or SD-card-based storage. Although they're very small and light, none of the new products are pocket camcorders.

In addition to new models in the company's highest-end S series and midrange M series of Vixia camcorders, Canon is introducing the lower-end R series. Canon's only remaining tape-based consumer camcorder will be the lonely but principled Vixia HV40.

No Tapes, but a Few New Features

All the new Vixia camcorders are compatible with SDXC cards, a ridiculously high-capacity version of the SD Card format that will allow for storage of up to 2TB.

Several of the new Vixia models offer more than one storage option, providing either a combination of internal flash storage and an SDHC/SDXC card slot, or two SDHC/SDXC card slots. Those versions with multiple storage formats will have a feature that Canon is calling "Relay Recording." While filming, Vixia models with Relay Recording will automatically switch between internal flash drives and storage cards to allow for uninterrupted footage during playback. This is one of several advantages that the new HD camcorders hold over 8-track tapes.

The new models can also down-convert high-definition AVCHD video to standard-definition MPEG-2 video, which is friendlier for sharing clips on the Web or burning standard-definition DVDs; Canon says that the down-conversion process retains the source AVCHD file. The downconverted standard-definition video allows wireless transfer via Eye-Fi cards.

Canon claims that the new S-series and M-series models offer improved optical image stabilization controls for both wide-angle and full-zoom shots, handled differently. The company has rejiggered wide-angle optical stabilization to compensate for a larger range of motion; pressing a dedicated "Powered IS" button at full zoom, meanwhile, locks in on a subject and compensates for slightly shaky hands.

On the new S-series and M-series camcorders, Canon is also touting the touchscreen controls, which include a touch-based motion-tracking feature, a touch-to-focus feature, and touch-based exposure controls. Scrolling through video clips and images for playback is also similar to the experience of using Apple's vaunted CoverFlow feature in iTunes.

Vixia HF S Series Announcements

The new S-series camcorders all capture 1920 by 1080 (1080p) AVCHD video at 24 megabits per second, and offer low-light optimized CMOS sensors, Digic DV III processors, 10X-optical-zoom lenses, 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD panels, and 8-megapixel still-photo capture.

The highest-end consumer model for the 2010 lineup is the Canon Vixia HF S21 ($1400, due in April), which offers 64GB of internal memory and two SDHC/SDXC card slots, and has a 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD in addition to an eye-level viewfinder.

Canon Vixia HF S21 camcorder

The other new models in the S series offer the same specs, aside from the storage capacity and the eye-level viewfinder. The touchscreen-controlled Vixia HF S20 ($1100, due in April) offers 32GB of internal memory and two SDHC/SDXC card slots, while the touchscreen-only HF S200 ($1000, due in April) records solely to its dual SDHC/SDXC card slots.

Vixia HF M Series Announcements

The three new models in the Vixia HF M series also feature 1080p AVCHD recording at 24 mbps, Relay Recording, Powered IS, and touchscreen features, but they offer only one card slot instead of two. The M-series models also provide smaller (2.7-inch) touchscreens, smaller CMOS sensors, and lower-resolution 3-megapixel stills, but slightly more powerful (15X-optical-zoom) lenses.

Casio Vixia HF M300 camcorder

The Vixia HF M31 ($800, due in March) hosts a 32GB flash drive and an SDHC/SDXC slot; the Vixia HF M30 ($700, due in March) has an 8GB flash drive and an SDHC/SDXC slot; and the Vixia HF M300 ($680, due in March) records only to its single SDHC/SDXC card slot.

Vixia HF R Series Announcements

The three new entry-level Vixia HF R series camcorders ratchet down the specs a little, but they still capture 1920-by-1080 (1080p) AVCHD video, at a lower bitrate (17 mbps).

Canon Vixia HF R10 camcorder

Key differences include the lack of a touchscreen LCD (you navigate the M-series-style on-screen controls with a small joystick), a smaller CMOS sensor that maxes out at 2-megapixel stills, the omission of a "Powered IS" button for full-zoom shots (you still get wide-angle image stabilization, however), and a 20X-optical-zoom lens.

The Vixia HF R11 ($700, due in March) stores to a 32GB flash drive and to a single SDHC/SDXC card slot; the Vixia HF R10 ($550, due in March) offers an 8GB drive and an SDHC/SDXC slot; and the Vixia HF R100 ($500, due in March) records to an SDHC/SDXC slot only. Like their higher-end cousins, the dual-storage-format R series camcorders offer the Relay Recording feature.

For more up-to-the-minute blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PC World's complete coverage of CES 2010.

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