In the continuum that runs from low-resolution, cheapo camcorders like the Creative Vado to high-quality, solid-state "prosumer" HD models like Canon's own Vixia HF10, Canon's line of SD-based camcorders--FS11, FS10, and FS100--falls exactly where you'd expect. At budget prices under $600, they're small, stylish, and provide a reasonably expansive feature set; unfortunately, the real "budget" aspect of these models is the video quality.
The individual models in the FS series differ only by memory and color, with list prices that increment by $100 (but with lower actual street price gaps). The top-end model, the FS11, comes in dark gray and includes 16GB built-in memory; its lesser sibling, the FS10, wears silver and includes 8GB. The cheapest child, the FS100, has no built-in memory but comes in silver, blue, and red. Capacities run about 13.8 minutes per gigabyte of storage for best-quality mode, 39 min/GB for lowest quality; we don't recommend shooting below best-quality, however.
Weighing only 10.7 ounces and fitting comfortably into the palm of a hand--one my size, at least--the FS is, for the most part, quite well designed. As is becoming typical for SD-based models, you choose among video and still, record, and playback modes plus toggling recording on and off via a big thumbwheel at the back of the camcorder. You operate the zoom switch, photo shutter, and on/off switch with your forefinger. The battery and SD card slot lie under a sliding panel on the bottom of the unit. Some of the nicer touches include a built-in electronic lens cover--at this price, they're usually manual--and an LED video light.
Behind the LCD, there's an Easy button for a completely automatic mode and a button to display battery info, which displays the estimated time remaining. There's also a standard mini-USB port, 3.5mm microphone jack, and an AV out connector for hooking up to a TV via the bundled composite cable. As is becoming typical for Canon, you use a joystick on the LCD to bring up a few quick-access controls, including triggering the video light, exposure compensation, shutter speed, and manual focus. It doesn't magnify the focus area while in manual focus, but despite the smallish 2.7-inch LCD, it's pretty usable.
You also use the joystick to navigate the menus, which you pull up via a membrane button on the bevel of the LCD (other membrane buttons include playback controls, recording start/stop, and backlight compensation). Unusual in a budget model, the camcorder offers shutter-priority mode in addition to program exposure and a variety of scene modes. Beyond that, the shooting functions are scarce: white balance, digital and image effects, and a choice of 9Mbps, 6Mbps, and 3Mbps bit rates. Some of the other options, available deeper within the menus, include variable or one of three constant zoom speeds, 16:9 wide-screen recording mode, and a wind screen filter.
I do have a few minor quibbles with the design and operation. First, the zoom switch feels a bit loose, and I had trouble controlling the pace of the zoom with it. The on/off switch lies flush with the body of the camcorder, and thus requires some concerted effort to press. Finally, I don't like the placement of the USB port underneath the LCD or the SD card slot on the bottom of the unit; those just feel like awkward locations.