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Canon Vixia HV30 HDV Camcorder Review

Canon Vixia HV30 HDV Camcorder Review

Shoot a Canon... The HV30 is a good camera. It captures really good images for its category. And, even though it isn't tiny, it will fit nicely in a small bag or even an oversized coat pocket.

Shoot a Canon

The HV30 is a good camera. It captures really good images for its category. And, even though it isn't tiny, it will fit nicely in a small bag or even an oversized coat pocket.

It uses the trusty Mini DV tape. This makes it a bit bigger than some of its cousins, but it also makes the playback quality better as well. Let's face it: AVCHD cameras still don't pump as much information through to their Flash cards and hard drives as good old HDV cameras do to tape.

The HV30 is a slightly updated version of last year's HV20, and Canon deserves kudos for keeping its HDV line healthy. There are good reasons why many users prefer to stick to tape.

Pre-Flight Walkaround

Examining the camera, you will see a nice clean camera body. You'll find most of the controls where you would expect. The zoom rocker sits atop the rear of the camera, just in front of the photo button. Also on the top are the onboard stereo mic and the stealthy plastic cover that conceals the hot shoe.

The battery cubbyhole is large enough that it rests flush with the back of the body. The start/stop button is on the rear by the user's thumb. Near it are the function button and the little menu system joystick, which has a good feel and responds well to inputs. But its placement seems appropriate only for very small hands. My thumb overshoots it by about 50%. I found myself twisting my hand a lot.

The LCD display flips out as usual. Buttons along the bottom edge serve as zoom controls and "focus assists" in Camera mode (more on that later). In Play mode, they function as Rewind, Fast Forward and Play/Stop. The 2.7" LCD has good color and improved visibility when viewed from sharp angles.

Behind the LCD hide the USB port and the miniSD slot. Above it are the Light button that turns on the somewhat dubious LED video light and the Display button that toggles the details shown on the LCD (timecode, mode, battery life, etc.). The video light casts illumination that is blue in the middle and yellowish at the edges, and it aligns with the middle of the frame only if the subject is just the right distance from the camera.

The backlight button rests in front of the LCD on the camera's left side. Just below that, your left forefinger will find the manual focus controls. A button toggles between manual and auto focus. A small roller makes the adjustments. This bears a striking resemblance to Sony's HC7 and HC9. The good news: it's much more usable than Sony's tiny roller.

On the right side of the camera, a cover protects the external mic, AV/headphone jacks and the component video connector. You go into a menu to select the jack for headphones or AV out. I disapprove of dual-use jacks. I understand that electronic real estate is at a premium in these amazing little machines, but, if you forget to switch it into headphone mode, your ears will be met with a sound like a swarm of wasps as you "listen" to the video image.

In the Bundle

What's in the box? First, you get the camcorder and also a remote, AC adapter, lithium-ion battery, three cables (USB, component and composite) and software CD. As is common with consumer cameras, the AC adapter plugs right into the camera. If you want continuous shooting for hours, you'll need to get another battery and external charger.

We were disappointed to find no paper manual. Some of us just like holding a book while we learn (and maybe we'll even stick it in the camera bag and take it places with no computers).

Test Flight

The big selling point of this camera is the quality of the video. Canon promotes the effectiveness of its Digic DV II processor technology - and rightly so. The clarity and resolution are very pleasing to the eye. With a bright subject, the colors make your mouth water.

Our real-world testing took HV30 into a wide variety of environments, both indoors and out. We found the picture quality comparable or superior to just about any camera in this price range. Low-light situations are always a challenge for any camera, especially consumer-level cameras with CMOS sensors. Sure enough, the HV30 gets grainy when the lights go dim. Happily, though, the colors tend to stay relatively vivid. Even when the shadows start showing visual noise, the colors don't wash out as much as in other cameras.

You can improve low-light performance even more by switching into 24P mode. Film students and backyard Spielbergs covet this "cine-look" mode because, at 24 frames per second, it emulates the stuttering motion of 35mm film. As they say, though, nothing looks like film except film.

The Images Effects menu options allow you to tweak things even more. Each of four preset modes provides a different feel. Vivid increases the color saturation. Neutral reduces it. Low Sharpening softens things up a bit. Soft Skin Detail lowers the sharpness in skin tones - a nice idea, but we couldn't see a great effect. Custom lets you set color depth, sharpness, contrast and brightness to -1, 0 or +1. It is wonderful to have this kind of control in a consumer camera. I just wish we had more than three positions for each element.

Some users will really appreciate the addition of 30P mode, especially those who create web content, which often requires reduction to 15 fps. The math is simply cleaner, with no interlacing.

The Instant Autofocus feature utilizes an external distance sensor that works really well in most circumstances. Sometimes, when we switched from horizon to closeup, the focus slammed from blur to crisp so fast it was startling. The Instant AF can be fooled into adjusting to the wrong element in frame, but that's true of any AF system.

All in all, we liked the manual focus system. Canon earns big points for its dedicated external button to quickly switch from AF to manual. I hate fiddling with the menu system while losing a great shot due to a focus issue. The roller works okay. The peaking feature helps, but the thin white border doesn't show up as well as it could.

The Focus Assist button on the LCD really does help. When you click it, the image jumps to 2x magnification (just on the display, not on the tape). You then have a chance to get that sharp focus you want. I am of two minds about the omission of a time limit on this feature. We waited a minute and were still in Focus Assist mode. On the one hand, it would be frustrating to be not-quite-focused when it pops back to normal. On the other, if you forget to press the Focus Assist button again, you'll stay magnified and think you have a nice tight closeup when in fact you've got dead space all around the subject. Nice feature, though.

The on-board mic picked up a lot of noise from the camera body. That's not to say that most consumer-level on-board mics don't do the same. But I personally don't want to refrain from moving a finger for fear of ruining the music at the recital. So we come to the common refrain: use an external mic. Fortunately, Canon includes a mic jack and audio level controls. Bravo.

You'll like the flexibility the menu system provides. You may not love the menu system itself. But, after the learning curve, changes are fairly quick. One great bit of design: a single touch of the joystick gives you a mini menu to adjust exposure and mic levels. I like that almost as much as dedicated knobs.

The Canon HV30 is a winner as the newcomer to the Canon HV line. Despite the thoughtful improvements, upgrading from the HV20 will not be a necessity for most shooters. For a consumer-level camera, it sports a lot of control and flexibility. For beginners, it will be a great camera to learn with. For pros and serious hobbyists, it would make a great second camera.

TECH SPECS

Format: HDV
Number of CMOS Image Sensors: 1
Size of CMOS: 1/2.7"
Pixels on CMOS: 2.96 megapixels
Video Effective Pixels: 2.07 megapixels (16:9)
Max Video Resolution: 1920x1080
Data Storage: MiniDV tape, miniSD card (stills)
Focus: Auto/manual
Shutter Speed: 1/8 to 1/2000
Lens f-Stop: f1.8 - 3.0
Programmed AE: Auto, auto-shutter priority, auto-aperture priority, Cine, Portrait, Sports, Night, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Spotlight, Fireworks
Zoom: 10x optical; 200x digital
Focal Length: 6.1mm - 61mm (35mm equivalent = 43.6 - 436mm in 16:9)
Image Stabilization: Optical
Manual White Balance: Yes (also presets for Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H)
LCD Monitor: 2.7" color, 211K pixels
Viewfinder: Color, .27", 123k pixels
HD Modes: 1080/60i, 1080/24p, 1080/24F, 1080/30p, 1080/30F
Video Out: Mini USB 2.0, FireWire, HDMI A, component, composite 3.5mm jack
Onboard Mic: Stereo
Microphone In: 3.5mm jack
VU Meters: Yes
Manual Audio Level Controls: Yes
Headphone Jack: 3.5mm (shared with AV)
Speaker: Yes
Memory Card Included: No (takes miniSD)
Flash: Yes
Wireless Remote: Yes
External Battery Charger Provided: No
Battery Type: Li-ion
Onboard Video Light: Yes
Accessory Shoe: Yes, advanced
Weight: 1.2 lb.
Dimensions: 3.5"W x 3.2"H x 5.4"D

Strengths

  • Excellent image quality
  • Lots of manual controls
  • Good price for the feature set

Weaknesses

  • Not very ergonomic
  • Mic picks up vibration

SUMMARY

Pretty pictures and good flexibility. Great consumer camera.

Greg Robinson is the owner of a production company. His production work has been seen on public television.

Canon USA, Inc.
One Canon Plaza
Lake Success, NY 11042
www.usa.canon.com
$999 MSRP

Tags:  October 2008
Greg
Robinson
Wed, 10/01/2008 - 12:00am