The Legria HF G10 is currently Canon's flagship consumer camcorder. The main attractions include a large 'HD CMOS Pro' image sensor, a high-quality lens and plenty of manual controls. It's a serious slice of camcorder alright, but is it worth the high asking price of £1,200 or thereabouts?
The top end of the consumer camcorder market can be a somewhat confusing place. Prices seem to vary wildly, while a variety of different features have been adopted by manufacturers as key selling points, including progressive recording, GPS and even built-in projectors. With the G10, Canon's tactic is to focus on the quality of the device's high-definition video output, whilst also offering a tempting proposition for those who want to take manual control of their creations.
The G10 isn't small by current standards. The large barrel part of the barrel-grip body forms the housing of the sizeable high-definition video lens. Further bulk comes in the form of a very big, 3.5-inch, fold-out display on one side and the camcorder's grip on the other. Also adding to the beefiness are 32GB of internal memory, dual SDXC-compatible memory-card slots, a mini accessory shoe and an electronic viewfinder.
The result is a fairly heavy -- 545g -- but well-balanced device. The matte black plastic shell feels reassuringly tough but doesn't shout 'prestige' quite as much, perhaps, as a metal one would.
For a manual-control camcorder, there are surprisingly few buttons adorning the unit. On the grip side, there's a function switch that flicks between the auto, manual and 'cinema' modes, the latter comprising a dedicated selection of picture settings and filters aimed at delivering a film-type look to your recordings.
Under the flip-out screen, you'll find only a couple of buttons, and there are only two more user-assignable buttons on the screen bezel itself. The true secret to controlling the G10 lies in its touch-sensitive display, manual lens ring and customisable dial.
Canon's touchscreen controls are better implemented on the G10 than they have been in the past, thanks, largely, to the physically bigger, more responsive LCD screen. The screen itself is very high quality, offering a 920,000-pixel resolution, and the user interface looks sharp. Menus are easy to navigate and there's some support for multi-touch gestures.
The G10's lens ring is there purely for manual focusing. Unlike some multitasking lens rings on other high-end camcorders, there's no function button to toggle control of other settings, such as aperture or shutter speed. That's where the rear-mounted dial comes in.
Pressing the 'custom' button while in manual mode will switch the dial between aperture and shutter, and rotating the dial up and down allows you to fine-tune the settings for each. It's a good system but we found the positioning of the dial to be rather awkward. Unless you're using a tripod, the dial is hard to adjust without wobbling the camcorder and spoiling your shot.
An impressive selection of pro-end features fleshes out the G10's credentials as an enthusiast's device. These include a socket for an external microphone and optical image stabilisation, as well as Canon's Powered IS feature, which is particularly effective at keeping everything steady when you're at the full zoom length.
Taking centre stage is Canon's excellent f1.8 HD video lens, which has a wide angle of 30.4mm and an optical zoom length of 10x. The image sensor's resolution is only 2.07 megapixels, which sounds worryingly low by modern standards. In fact, the CMOS sensor has been specifically designed to capture 'Full HD' video at its native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels. Since each pixel is demonstrably larger than those you find on the sensors contained in most other consumer models, the G10 is able to capture images with more clarity and less noise, even in dimmer light conditions.
The sensor's quality was borne out by some cracking results in our tests. At the highest quality setting, which captures AVCHD video at a very high bit rate of 24Mbps, picture quality is extremely good. Primary colours are deep and vibrant with clearly defined edges and good levels of contrast. This is balanced by realistic handling of natural hues and skin tones. Artefacts and noise are almost entirely absent in daylight conditions and even daytime interior shots yield impressively noise-free results.
The camcorder's 8-blade iris, meanwhile, helps to produce some highly attractive bokeh focus effects, particularly when shooting human subjects against a blurred-out background.
The G10's default recording mode is 1080i video with a frame rate of 50 fields per second. Unlike the Panasonic HDC-SD900, there's no option to film in 1080p at a rate of 50 progressive frames per second. There is a 25p mode but this doesn't deliver particularly smooth motion, offering only half the frames per second as Panasonic's equivalent. The SD900 also records at a higher bit rate (28Mbps), which is perhaps why it produces a slightly sharper all-round image than the G10.
That said, the G10 is still a remarkable performer with its own advantages over the competition -- its low-light performance and high-quality lens being chief among these. The big problem, however, is the price. Even the most enthusiastic enthusiast will have trouble justifying the cost, particularly when the G10 is so much more expensive than Panasonic's excellent 900 series camcorders.
If you're comparing camcorders at the top of the range, the Canon Legria HF G10 certainly has plenty going for it, particularly in terms of image quality and manual controls. It's bigger and lacks certain features when compared to similar models from other manufacturers, however, and it's also one of the most expensive consumer camcorders currently available. The G10 is an undeniably high achiever, you have to wonder whether the marginal performance edge over some rivals is worth the extra cost.
Edited by Charles Kloet