Canon HR10 review: Canon HR10

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MSRP: $1,259.99

The Good Nice video and decent photo quality. Manual exposure controls. 24p support. Full-size HDMI connector.

The Bad DVD initialisation and finalising operations are slow. Relatively short battery life. Can't charge while camcorder is powered on.

The Bottom Line Though the Canon HR10 is a decent camcorder, there are better choices for the same money because format performance and compatibility issues make it hard to recommend a DVD-based AVCHD model.

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7.2 Overall

The DVD-recordable child in Canon's nursery of consumer HD camcorders, the HR10 has the distinction of being our least favourite of the lot. Because it records to DVDs in the AVCHD format, it lacks the speed and compatibility of the less-expensive HV20, the recording capacity of the hard-disk-based HG10, and the compactness of the tape-based HV10. It's not that it's a bad product -- it's pretty typical for its class -- it just can't rise above the obstacles posed by its genes.

The on/off/mode switch, still/video switch, and joystick lie beneath the eye-level viewfinder. Pushing in the joystick button brings up controls for the video light, exposure compensation, manual focus, and flash. Because of the relative positions of the viewfinder and the joystick, however, our cheek frequently obstructed joystick access; if your eyes sit further away from your cheekbones than ours, you probably won't have that issue.

Four physically differentiable buttons curve alone the top left side of the camcorder. (For more on the design of the HR10, click through the slide show.) Quick Start allows you to put the HR10 in standby so it will wake up quickly for shooting, while Func pulls up relevant shooting settings: Shooting mode (program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, scene, or film-gamma Cinema), white balance, image effect (vivid, neutral, low sharpening, Soft Skin Detail, or custom), digital effects, quality, metering (still photo only), drive mode (still photo only -- single, continuous, high-speed continuous, or exposure bracketing), and image size.

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On the imaging side, it specs out well. It inherits the 9.4mm, 3-megapixel CMOS sensor and Digic DV II processor from its siblings and uses the same 10x zoom lens as the HV10. But because it records to half-size (8cm) DVD media, specifically DVD-R/W and DVD-R dual layer discs, the design is necessarily a bit clunky. Like all DVD camcorders, though, the drive housing does provide an extra lip to wrap your fingers around for a decent grip. That's important, because the HR10's body feels quite slippery. Our fingers fell naturally over the zoom switch and Program/Auto mode switches, and the start/stop record button lay under our thumb, but the photo shutter for snapping stills is a bit far back and somewhat low on the curve of the drive, making it awkward to reach with our forefinger.

The HR10 shoots progressive HD at 1920 x 1080 resolution, which it then deconstructs to interlaced video (most software subsequently downconverts it to 1440 x 1080). You can also shoot 24p, which in conjunction with the film-gamma Cinema mode renders a more film-like appearance. Video-quality options range from the highest-bitrate XP+ (12Mbps; 15 minutes single layer, 27 minute dual layer) to LP (5Mbps; 33 minutes single layer, 60 minutes dual layer) with a couple of intermediate stops in between the two. The still-photo sizes can get a little confusing, however. For instance, the LW (Large Wide) setting is actually smaller than the plain-old Large: 1920 x 1080 versus 2048 x 1536. And like most camcorders that let you snap photos while in video-recording mode, those snapshots are limited to 1920 x 1080.

Video performance -- autofocus and exposure -- are pretty good. In sufficient light, the autofocus adjusts relatively quickly when panning from object to object thanks to the Instant AF, and the autoexposure corrects swiftly, as well. As expected, it's a bit slower in dim light, and the autofocus pulses slightly. The 2.7-inch wide-screen LCD, with its playback controls on the bezel, works well enough for manual focusing, though it's a bit small. The eye-level viewfinder struck us as a bit coarse at first, but we eventually got used to it. The audio comes through quite clearly, but the wind filter didn't seem quite as effective as with past models -- perhaps because the microphone sits in the front of the camcorder, or the wind was simply stronger than usual.

Other operational aspects suffer from the DVD curse, however. Though there's no lag when starting and stopping recording, other disc-related tasks impose annoying overhead. For example, initialising a DVD-RW disc takes over a minute -- 17.7 seconds to bring up the initialisation menu screen and another 44.8 seconds to format the disc -- while a DVD-R takes about 40 seconds total, 20.1 seconds to prepare and 18.6 to format. Since each disc only holds about 15 minutes of best-quality video, it seems like a good idea to format a bunch of discs in advance. When you power on the camcorder with a prepared disc in it, you'll wait 20.5 seconds for it to spin up (at least with a DVD-RW) before you can record. At the other end of the shoot, it takes a while to finalise discs for playback. Though duration depends upon how much of the disc is empty, our test with a DVD-R holding 10 minutes of video (10 clips) took 4 minutes to finalise. All in all, it's not really a format you'd want to use for shooting children's plays or sports.

Like its siblings, however, the HR10's video looked quite good: sharp and saturated with reasonable contrast. (You can see some still photos and frame grabs in our gallery.) Its automatic white balance does tend to be a little cool, though, and as with many models highlights routinely blow out. Its low-light video looks better than usual for a Canon, a bit muddy but with far less noise than we typically see. Plus the HR10's video looks mighty impressive on an HDTV connected via HDMI -- the cable is optional though.

If it weren't for the DVD/AVCHD double whammy, the HR10 might have more to recommend it. For now your best bet is to stick with one of Canon or Sony's tape-based HDV models, or at least avoid the DVD issue and opt for one of the hard-drive-based options.

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