With a street price well above $1,000, the Canon Vixia HF G10 needs to deliver a lot more than just its extensive manual feature set--especially since Canon is creating a potentially confusing lineup by putting its HD CMOS Pro sensor in this model, skipping the next one down, and then using it in the midrange HF M4xx series. The sensor is the one currently used in the company's entry-level pro models, albeit by itself rather than in a trio. Because it's larger than a typical consumer sensor, with 2.75 micron pixels rather than 1.7 micron pixels, Canon claims a 280 percent improvement in dynamic range over previous prosumer models, with a new minimum recommended light level of 1.5 lux.
There's also a significantly more expensive "pro" version of this camcorder, the Canon XA10, which adds a detachable handle that includes dual XLR inputs, audio switches, an infrared light, a tally lamp, a removable microphone holder, zoom and record switches, and a pass-through accessory shoe.
The combination of the larger-pixel sensor and a high-quality lens results in some of the best video quality I've seen in a consumer camcorder. While the video can be just a hair softer than I like, overall it's quite good--and when you play it back directly on a TV, it looks sharp. Overall, the G10 offers an excellent dynamic range, with only the brightest of white highlights clipped. If you're editing, you may want to crush the blacks a little to improve the contrast, but for video going straight to TV it will look great. While the automatic white balance tends to be a little bit cooler than I like, the colors are good: bright, saturated, and relatively accurate.
While I would have expected the G10's eight-blade iris to produce slightly rounder bokeh, it nevertheless looks quite good. There's little fringing, even on the edges of bright highlights. I did see a bit of haloing on the edges of saturated colors, though, and extremely bright, saturated oranges and yellows next to each other approach indistinguishability.
At its top rate of 24Mbps, the G10 displayed no compression artifacts except in really low light. What you will see is some aliasing caused by the interlacing of 60i video. However, one of the distinguishing features of the G10 compared with the rest of Canon's camcorders is support for true 24p video; not just the 24 frames per second captured as progressive but encoded as 60i, as is most common for AVCHD models, but 24p encoding. You can use that to get around interlace issues. (The European version of the camcorder, the Legria HF G10, supports 25p.)
The G10 renders excellent low-light video, to a point. In my test scene of about 17 lux, it yielded some of the best results I've seen in its class. Just a little darker, though--dim living-room-level light--and it's the typical noisy mess, at least with automatic gain control enabled.
The audio quality is quite good as well. The sensitive stereo mics provide decent separation and a nice warm tone without the tinniness of the lower-end models.
One theoretical drawback of the sensor--and likely the main reason for a similar model with a different sensor, the HF S30--is that the low resolution may not suit some folks' need for large still photos. The G10 does deliver sharp stills which fall just short of looking too digital; they look fine onscreen and printed, but I wouldn't recommend printing them larger than 4.5x8 inches.
By most measures of performance, the G10 does well. It meters and exposes correctly and consistently. The image stabilization is solid; the Dynamic setting works well up to about 75 percent of the way through the focal range, and Powered IS is rock-steady at maximum telephoto. It focuses quickly, though you can adjust how gradually that happens (Instant, Medium, and Normal), and you can customize both the zoom speed, which is common, and softness--how quickly the zoom stops and starts--which is rarer. The autofocus works well, but not significantly better than we've seen in previous models, and like all camcorders can inappropriately lock on the background instead of the subject.
However, the camcorder has a good manual focus system to compensate. The front ring feels very responsive, and the variety of magnification and peaking options, including a waveform edge monitor display, makes it possible to focus accurately. Plus, you can temporarily override the AF with manual, which makes it easy to produce a slow, uniform slide-into-focus effect.