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Canon's camcorders for spring: The good, the bad and the indifferent

The company's camcorder lineup for the first half of 2009 looks great for AVCHD but pretty ho-hum for the rest.

Canon HF S200
The HF S200, one of Canon's new camcorders for the Spring of 2009 Canon USA

Canon may have announced 11 new camcorders for Spring, but with the exception of the HF series there's not a lot to look forward to. MiniDV is clearly on its way out--only one new model this year from Canon. Though it's shipping 2 new models, Mini DVD isn't dying fast enough for my taste; the few situations in which it's convenient is overshadowed by its unreliability as a live recording medium and the inability to use the discs in the increasing number of slot-loading players. And while the FS series remains a standard-def standby, I think Canon's models tend to be a bit pricey in the face of increased competition by mini camcorders.

On one level, I suppose it's not terribly surprising that Canon hasn't yet jumped in with a direct-to-Web camcorder like the Flip MinoHD--Canon has a history of deliberate nonparticipation in the truly low end of its markets--but it would have been interesting to see what the company did with the concept. Given that it would have probably involved Pixela ImageMixer, which Canon continues to ship with all its products, we're probably better off not knowing.

On the HD front, I was a bit taken aback by the relatively unchanged Vixia HV40. Although Canon frequently skips a generation in innovation, it rarely skips two. Maybe the company has put all its eggs into the AVCHD basket: it's split its SD-based models into two product lines, the compact Vixia HF series, continued from last year, and the new, higher-end Vixia HF S series with a bigger body but also a bigger lens and larger, higher-resolution sensor. The Vixia HG20 and HG21 remain in the lineup, since they're on the fall replacement cycle.

It's not always about brand-new hardware, though. Canon's rolling out Digic DV III in most of the HD models, which the company says has better face detection--up to 35 faces and the ability to recognize faces at angles--improved automatic lighting correction and enhanced noise reduction. All the flash-based models will also get a new Video Snapshot feature, which takes 4 second clips. I was initially skeptical, but this sounds like one of the few true useful differentiating features that come along so rarely. At least until everyone copies it.