Canon Vixia HF S10 review: Canon Vixia HF S10

Most of the shooting controls live on the LCD bezel. The function button pulls up both the frequently used settings as well as the full menu system another level down. In addition to the usual--white balance, image effects, digital effects, video quality and still photo size, program and a handful of scene modes--the HF S10/100 offer real shutter- and aperture-priority shooting modes with a shutter speed range of 1/8 to 1/2000 second and aperture options ranging from f1.8 to f8, giving you more control over depth of field than you generally see in a prosumer model. It also offers Canon's Cine mode for adjusting color and gamma to go with its 24F progressive modes, though it and 30F get recorded as 60i. In still mode you can select metering and drive modes as well. Other high-end features accessible via the menus include three fixed or variable zoom speed, x.v.Color mode, color bars, and a test tone.

The menu system itself has been updated for a smoother feel and the ability to choose font size. Since the 2.7-inch display is the typical low-resolution model, the small fonts look pixelated and would be hard for some to read. It does stand up pretty well in direct sunlight, however.

Navigating down on the joystick while shooting triggers a fly-up menu to pop up the video light (which works in still photo mode), digital effects, 3-second prerecord, backlight and exposure compensation, manual focus, mic level, face detection, and a digital teleconverter. The options are slightly different in still mode: you gain flash and lose the mic and teleconverter. It's especially nice that you still have quick access to functions that you don't assign to the custom dial.

The HF S10/S100 also incorporate this year's features, which include Video Snapshots, 4-second clips used to create a "highlights reel" effect (the camcorders ship with a music CD). I like the idea, but the implementation can be annoying. You enter Video Snapshot mode by pressing a hard-to-feel button on the left side of the camcorder in the LCD recess. A blue outline appears on the display. When you press record, a highlight travels around the blue outline counting down your 4 seconds. It stays in Video Snapshot mode until you switch to playback or press the button again. While I like the way the display feedback works, I think I might have preferred a separate record button, or a choice on the mode dial rather than the have the isolated button. (For a complete accounting of the HF S10/100's features, you can download the PDF manual.)

Performance and quality are top notch at both its maximum 24Mbps bit rate and 17Mbps. (Recording capacities are about 5.5 minutes per gigabyte and 7.8 min/GB, respectively. Canon recommends a Class 4 or better SDHC card.) The camcorder focuses quickly and accurately, even in low light. While battery life is pretty average for its class, it recharges fairly quickly; Canon claims it takes 10 minutes per half hour of battery life. The optical stabilizer, as usual, works well out to the end of the zoom range. The video looks great: sharp, with saturated colors, and excellent exposures with relatively few blown-out highlights. The DigicDV 3 processing does a solid job maximizing the dynamic range. Living-room light-level recordings look quite good as well. There's a bit of noise and softness, but that's to be expected. The audio records crisp and clear, too. The camcorder's not perfect, however. Outdoor shots do show a bit of purple fringing on high-contrast edges, and there's some color shift in reds and blues. Still photos have a slightly overprocessed look as many camcorder stills do, and the flash does odd things to the saturation, but overall they're not bad.

If you're a video hobbyist or a pro looking for something cheap and portable to complement your workhorse equipment, the identical twins Canon Vixia HF S10 and HF S100 deliver a much better shooting experience than the current crop of $600 HD camcorders--as long as you can live without the EVF. The HF S100 is probably the better deal, since the price of a 32GB card should be less than the price differential between the two models.

What you'll pay

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