Canon may not have been first out of the gate with a flash-based camcorder — or second, or third — but its debut model, the high-definition HF10, gets it right the first time. A sleek, black compact model with a well-rounded feature set, great video, and excellent performance, the HF10 definitely deserves a spot on your short list of potential home-movie camcorders.
The petite HF10 weighs 430 grams with SD card and battery and measures 129mm long, 73mm wide and 64mm tall — 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 and significantly more compact than its cousins, the hard-disk-based HG10 or tape-based HV30. The plastic body feels quite solid, too.
Fortunately, the HF10 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. We're not big fans of designs that do this, mostly because we 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 our 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 our photo gallery.
The HF10 incorporates 16GB of built-in flash memory and a slot for a SD/SDHC removable flash memory card. 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 1,920 by 1,080 capture, the norm for most of this year's new models, compared with 1,440 by 1,080 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 we tested with worked fine.
Its optically stabilised 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, the option of one variable and three fixed zoom speeds, a video light, Instant AF, and a wind-screen filter. You can also record in progressive 30 or 25 frames-per-second (fps) modes, as well as 60fps in interlaced mode. 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.
The new lens performs surprisingly well. Not only does the SuperRange optical image stabilisation system work satisfactorily all the way out to the end, but the lens focuses quickly and holds the lock in both dim and bright conditions. Images look sharp, too. On the downside, high-contrast edges show more fringing than usual. The stereo microphone sits beneath the lens and generally delivers good audio quality. However, recent Canon models have changed the wind filter from an option that needs to be switched on manually to something that functions automatically, and ever since then we've found it far less effective.
As is usual with compact designs, Canon provides a new 890mAh battery with the HF10, the BP-809, which is rated for about 55 minutes of typical recording time. The company offers an optional double-capacity battery, the BP-819. The larger battery likely ruins the svelte lines of the camcorder design, however.
Though the HF10 incorporates a smaller, 7.9mm 3.3-megapixel CMOS sensor than the HV30 and , the video still looks quite good: properly exposed, nicely saturated, and sharp. As expected, in low light the video displays more noise and a somewhat compressed tonal range, but retains a significant amount of detail and fares above average compared with the rest of its class. For a more in-depth analysis of the HF10's image quality, check out our photo gallery.
An excellent choice for flash-based HD recording, the HF10 gives a close run for the money, and it is a clear champion if you don't like the Sony's touch-screen interface.