Canon may not have been first out of the gate with a flash-based camcorder--or second, or third--but one of its debut models, the high-definition Vixia HF100, gets it right the first time. A sleek, matte-gray compact model with a well-rounded feature set, great video, and excellent performance, the HF100 definitely deserves a spot on your short list of potential home-movie camcorders.
Unlike its brother, the HF10, the HF100 lacks built-in memory, including just a slot for SDHC removable flash. Aside from that and the color, the two models are identical. This review is based on our evaluation of the HF10. The petite HF100 weighs 15.1 ounces with SD card and battery and measures 2.9 by 2.5 by 5.1 inches--small and light enough to fit into a large jacket pocket, which is about as good as it gets on the horizontal designs. That's a hair smaller than its main competitor, the Sony Handycam HDR-CX7 and significantly more compact than its cousins, the hard-disk-based Vixia HG10 or tape-based Vixia HV30. The plastic body feels quite solid, too.
Fortunately, the HF100 doesn't seem to suffer from the usability issues that usually accompany shrinkage. The controls remain large and easy to operate, though Canon has relocated many of them. The Function button and joystick, which call up and navigate frequently needed shooting settings, now live on the LCD bezel. I'm not a big fan of designs that do this, mostly because I find it more difficult to simultaneously operate the controls and hold the camera steady when they're on the LCD than when they lie under my right thumb. In addition, manually focusing with the joystick on the camcorder's smallish 2.7-inch LCD can be a pain, regardless of the zoom-view focus assist. (For more on the design, click through to this slide show.)
It records AVCHD video at a maximum of 17 megabits per second (2 hours and 5 minutes of video), and can hold up to 6 hours and 5 minutes of video at the lowest bit rate of 5Mbps. That higher bit rate goes to support the full 1,920x1,080 capture, the norm for most of this year's new models, compared with 1,440x1,080 for older AVCHD camcorders that required only a 12Mbps maximum bit rate. You can record best-quality movies to the card as long as it's a Class 4 SDHC or better (Class 6 is currently fastest): the Class 4 16GB Kingston card I tested with worked fine.
Its optically stabilized f1.8-3.0 12X zoom lens has a longer reach than the typical 10x lens available in this class, but the rest of its features are pretty common in Canon's prosumer models. For video, these include aperture- and shutter-priority exposure modes, three fixed/one variable zoom speed options, a video light, Instant AF, and a wind-screen filter. You can also record in progressive 30 or 24 frames-per-second (fps) modes as well as 60i. For still photos, metering, flash, and burst and exposure bracketing options become available as well. The camcorder also supplies a complete set of ports and connectors: component or mini-HDMI out for direct-to-TV playback, mini headphone and mic jacks, and USB for downloading to computer. (You can find a complete list of the features in the product manual available via this PDF download.)