Canon Vixia HF10 Review

Canon Vixia HF10

“Good, not great is the bottom line for this one.”
  • Takes beautiful HD video outdoors; good-looking still pictures; very light and compact
  • Poor battery life; menu system is not intuitive; mic doesn't block wind noise well

Summary

We reported on the first wave of 2008 camcorders with our recent review of the very good JVC GZ-HD6. That hard disk drive 1080p video maker did a wonderful job recording accurate colors that really popped off the screen of our plasma HDTV. In keeping with the trend away from DVD- and tape-based models, the new Canon Vixia HF10 saves video to 16GB of internal flash memory as well as optional SDHC memory cards (up to 32GB, the current maximum for the format; it will handle even bigger sizes once they’re available). Given there’s not even a HDD—God forbid a tape or disc—to weigh it down, the Vixia HF10 is unbelievably small and compact. In fact it’s just a shade smaller than the Sony HDR-CX7, another high-def camcorder that only records to Memory Stick Pro Duo memory cards. You will be amazed at the size of the HF10. The fact this AVCHD edition records 1920 x 1080i video is pretty sweet too, an increase over last year’s 1440 x 1080i. Cute is good, but how does it work in the big, bad ugly world? We couldn’t wait to find out…

Features and Design

When I took the HF10 out of the box, I was pleasantly surprised just how small and attractive it was. Much more compact than even the JVC HD6, it owes its svelte style to the fact there’s only a sliver of flash memory and a card slot for saving videos and stills. Friends, just like the iPod and music, solid-state camcorders will take over from tapes and discs in the years ahead. It’s just a fact of life—not as much fun as the birds and bees but still enjoyable.

The HF10 is dressed in black with gloss and matte finishes. It measures 2.9 x 2.5 x 5.1 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 13.4 ounces without the battery, 15.2 with, practically the same as the Sony CX7 which is 15 ounces and slightly larger in volume (2.75 x 2.75 x 5.25). The camcorder fits neatly and comfortably in your hand. Your index finger rests right on the zoom switch and the record button is under your thumb. Very nicely done, Canon. Note: we’re getting pretty small here so those with large hands definitely need to pick it up and play with the controls.

The lens takes up most of the front real estate. The HF10 has a 12x optical zoom (versus 10x of the HD6), offering a range of 42.9-514.8mm in 35mm terms. This gives you plenty of options to frame your subjects but I found myself wanting a wider opening focal length. The lens has a built-in cover that opens and closes when you power on and off. Nice features are a built-in flash to help with your stills and a small video light. This light won’t help illuminate a dark room but it’s good for close-ups; it’s better than nothing. You’ll also find the Instant AF sensor and stereo mic.

The right side of the body has the adjustable strap and the main mode dial for recording videos and stills as well as playing them back. At the bottom is a compartment with a flimsy door covering the HDMI mini and USB outs. A mini connector is not supplied so put this on your shopping list or buy a specific cable for this task. There’s a low-key AVCHD logo and some nice detailing on the side as well.

The left has a gloss black finish with Canon and HD logos; other nomenclature is more subdued so it’s not too obnoxious. Flip open the 2.7-inch 211K pixel widescreen LCD and you’ll find a joystick four-way controller on the far left of the frame. This lets you walk through the menus and make adjustments. Under the screen are five controls: Function, Start/Stop, Wide and Telephoto zoom controls along with BLC (Backlight Compensation). Having BLC near at hand is great for when you’re shooting someone in a window or outdoors with a bright expanse of sun behind them. Four of the controls also do double duty in Playback for fast forward, rewind and so on.

On the body are just a few controls as well as the SD/SDHC card slot; a handy slider switch opens the slot quickly. The HF10 accepts any size cards but you need Class 4 or better to record AVCHD. Budget another $150 USD if you want to record an additional 120 minutes of Full HD video on a 16GB card. There are just two buttons—Easy and Display/Battery Info. Easy puts the camcorder into no-brainer mode while the other eliminates icon clutter and tells you to the minute/second how much recording space is left and battery life (to the minute). This is very important info to have at your fingertips. It also brightens the screen, if you need it. You’ll also find a tiny speaker and a compartment for the component video output.

The top has a hot shoe (yeah!) for accessory mics and lights, a shutter button for taking snapshots, the wide/tele zoom toggle and the power on/off which, although big enough, requires pressing in with your finger nail.

The rear of the HF10 is a fine example of good industrial design. The battery fits flush with the back panel. If only other camcorder manufacturers would just look at this, take a picture, hang it in their cubicles and copy it, I could stop complaining about poor battery design, the poster child being the Panasonic HDC-SX5. You’ll also find the record key and two compartments with variety of inputs/outputs. There’s mic-in, A/V out and DC-in for charging the battery but no FireWire. The bottom simply has the battery release and tripod mount.

The HF10 comes with most of things you’ll need other than HDMI connection and SDHC card. You’ll get a power adapter, battery, remote, component, A/V and USB cables along with two CD-ROMs with video and photo editing software.

Once the battery was charged and a Class 4 4GB card installed, it was time to use this solid-state video maker.

Canon Vixia HF10
Image Courtesy of Canon

Testing and Use

I started off in the Easy mode to see how the camcorder handled typical footage then tried out the various scene and manual options. Optical image stabilization was engaged and digital zoom turned off.

As noted earlier, the HF10 outputs 1920 x 1080i video, just right for today’s HDTVs. The camcorder uses a 3.3-megapixel CMOS sensor that’s slightly smaller than the 3MP chips used in the HV20, a camcorder I really liked. Smaller chips can mean loads of digital noise but Canon upped the recording speed to 17 Mbps to help reduce them. Also cool is the fact the HF10 records in 24p and 30p frame rates rather than the typical 60i. 24p gives a more film-like feel and it’s worth trying out (which I did).

Once you hit the power key the HF10 is ready to record in a little over a second since there’s no tape or disc to “boot up.” I had it set to record onto flash and then started “filming”—about as an absurd a term you can think of for such a purely digital device! I also wanted to record video to the SD card and play it back on my HDTV with its handy SD card slot.

One thing readily apparent was the fact the HF10 eats batteries. The company states 50 minutes of recording in real world conditions and that was pretty close. Spares are a must if you but this one.

Once finished saving scenes and photos to the flash memory and SD card it was time to play them back on a 50-inch Panasonic plasma via HDMI and the SD card reader. Watching outdoor scenes was quite enjoyable—from flash memory and the card. The colors were spot on—especially a bright yellow forsythia bush—and there wasn’t a speck of noise in a vivid blue sky. Speaking of that word, I tended to like the basic 60i frame rate compared to 24p as it had more pop on the screen. I wasn’t too thrilled with the footage captured indoors as there loads of artifacts, particularly of scenes with shadows. This was much more noticeable than the HD6 which handled darker images much better (overall that camcorder had superior video quality than this one but it’s $300 USD more, outputs 1080p and has a much faster capture rate—26 Mbps vs. 17).

As for the 3-megapixel stills, they looked O.K. on the big screen and the HF10’s 9-point AF system did a fine job locking into focus.

Conclusion

I really liked using the HF10, once getting the hang of the menu system. Focusing was fast and crisp, ergonomics are terrific and it did an excellent job handling scenes taken outdoors. Unfortunately, like the JVC, it made wind sound like the exhaust of a jet engine, even with the noise reduction engaged. And this camcorder wasn’t as good in available light as the JVC, a recent Editor’s Choice pick. Good, not great is the bottom line for this one.

Pros:

• Takes beautiful 1920 x 1080i video outdoors
• Stills are good too
• Unbelievably light and compact

Cons:

• Eats batteries quickly
• On screen menu not very intuitive
• Mic doesn’t handle wind noise well

Editors' Recommendations