The Canon Vixia HF10 is a stellar entry into the solid state camcorder division with only one thing that holds it back. When Canon chose to rely on Image Mixer and Zoom Browser software exclusively for all data transfer duties, users were destined for an ongoing exercise in confusion and frustrationbut more on that later. Let's see what the camera can do.
With an onboard 16GB memory capacity, the HF10 has plenty of room for around 2 hours of highest quality AVCHD video to a maximum of 6 hours on the lowest quality setting of 5Mbps. Now those used to 60 or even 120GB hard drive cameras may find the HF10s capacity to be paltry, and by comparison, perhaps it is. But tests with the unit found it to be plenty of room to shoot in not only one, but two or even three days of videotaping before having to transfer off the footage. And that can be extended even longer with the optional SDHC expansion slot.
The layout of the camera is intuitive, with the memory slots fitting inside the camera covered by its widescreen LCD screen. The menus are fairly easy to navigate thanks to the small joystick and function keys running along the left and bottom of the screen respectively. The photo button or taking digital stills is dead on top of the unit within easy reach of the supporting right hand (although those with smaller hands may find this a bit of a stretch). The record button is in its standard thumb position and the shuttle wheel to go between video and digital still record and playback to be right where it ought to be, just to the right side of the record button.
One beef is that on its default settings the zoom control of the HF10 is lightning quick, perhaps even too quick, as zooming in causes an unsettling jolt. Users can change the zoom speed settings in the setup menu, but the slowest setting is a snail's pace and the middle setting is still awfully slow and is sure to cause a shot being missed while trying to zoom in. Clearly the zoom settings are extremes in speed and Canon would do well to give the zoom speed a more moderate and consistent setting.
One interesting aspect of the HF10s design is the flush covers that exist all over the camera. These covers provide protection for the AC adapter, USB plug, HDMI plug, component out, and even the SDHC card slot. It's a sleek design idea, although it's easy to see how over time some of these could possibly break off, thereby defeating their purpose.
The HF10 also enjoys an optically stabilized 12x zoom lens which gives the user a 35mm equivalent of 36mm to 432mm, and with it's optical image stabilization, the extreme range of that focal length is rock stable in an average camera hand.
Digital stills weigh in at about 2.76 MP at 1920x1440. And for snapshots, that's just fine for those looking to ease the burden of carrying two separate cameras but who still want to capture those memories. In ideal lighting conditions, the quality of the Vixia's digital stills compares quite nicely with any other digital still camera. However, in low light conditions the camera quality falls apart since the camera chooses high ISO settings and the result is a noisy, underexposed shot in low light conditions. But in daylight, the stills it puts out are gorgeous.
HD video quality is superb as Canon has maximized the use of the AVCHD compression codec without sacrificing much, if any, in the process. And at 17MBPS for capturing a full 1,920 x 1,080, one would expect nothing less. But even at its lowest quality setting of 5MBPS, the quality is not half bad. Users can shoot in 30p progressive or opt for the more movie-like 24p cinema mode, which is a nice sentiment, but in this reporter's opinion, any video based cinema mode is merely a pixilated attempt at copying the brilliance of grain from 70mm or even 25mm movie film. But since you're average videophile isn't going to pop for over $1,000 a minute to achieve true film results, it'll have to do.
That is if you don't succumb to your frustration, and toss the camera out the window while attempting file transfer with the accompanied software. IMAGE MIXER and ZOOM BROWSER are without a doubt the slowest, most confusing and pointless collection of digital code since Kodak's Easyshare software. First off, when installing: one gets a tad confused by the software nomenclature. The Zoom Browser software allegedly handles image transfer, but is located on the "Digital video solutions disk," while the Image Mixer software has its own separate CD. Beginners in computer editing are sure to be confused by this. Then, they may just get frustrated and want o quit as the Zoom Browser software simply refuses to recognize the camera in Vista. We never got it to acquire the camera and ended up just using Explorer to navigate to the picture subdirectory and copying them over directly.
And although Image Mixer has little trouble at all downloading videos to your PC, it is sometimes agonizingly slow to acquire the camera and the same to transfer even moderately long video clips. Far too slow even for the bandwidth hog that is HD video. The good news is that exporting to MPEG2 a snap but sadly, can only be done piecemeal. It would be nice if one could merely highlight and batch convert all clips at once.
This isn't really Canon's fault, mind you, it's Pixela's. But Canon chose the platform to use and it's simply a waste. To this point, it makes me long for the days of simple video capture using WinDV and controlling the camera's playback and capture with a simple click of a button.
On its own, the Vixia HF10 is a joy to shoot. The button layouts may be a stretch for those with smaller hands, but this reporter found them quite easily and intuitive to use. The design is well thought out and saving to flash memory is fast and the quality is superb. But what really drags this camera down, is the same thing that drags all cameras that record to drives: the software that is provided is more an exercise in troubleshooting connections than editing and burning to DVD.