Canon HG10 AVCHD Camcorder Review

Hard Drive’n Canon

The HG10 is Canon’s first HDD AVCHD camcorder. It is small and well balanced, and it comes with a 1/2.7″ CMOS sensor and a host of new features that all add up to great-looking HD video.

Stylin’

The HG10 is a good-looking compact camcorder that easily becomes one with your hand. It feels light but solid and has no detectable vibration or noise from the internal hard disc.

Most of the HG10’s menu navigation and playback controls are on the 2.7″ LCD monitor that features a nearly 180-degree angle of view. On the left edge of the LCD, you’ll find an outer control dial surrounding a four-way rocker, with a set button in the middle. We found it too easy, however, to skip past our intended selection using only the outer dial, so we opted for the less freewheeling up and down arrows. The bottom edge has a Function button followed by controls for playback, recording and zoom.

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To play back video clips, simply rotate the power/mode selector, and you see thumbnails of as many as six recent clips. Use the control dial or the four-way selector to highlight a clip, and press play. Unlike other cams that place important controls here, the HG10 has an LCD that seems robust enough to handle occasional rough poking.

On the top of the HG10, you’ll find buttons for Quickstart (a standby mode that begins recording in less time than standard), LCD information display and printing. A very small switch for auto and manual operations nests in front of the zoom rocker, and just behind the rocker is a button for snapping stills.
The back features the power/mode dial, start/stop button, video/still switch, DC terminal, battery and a small color viewfinder that slides out about 3/4″ from the body. It’s enough to keep most noses from bonking the battery, but it does not rotate upward.

Plugging an external mic into a 3.5mm jack just below the lens could cause cabling problems if you’re not careful. For output, there’s a USB terminal in the LCD bay, and, at right, HDMI, A/V for down-converted SD and component outputs. The menu changes the A/V connection to a headphone output.

Sharp Stuff

The minimum focus distance at full zoom is one meter, and it’s a mere 10mm at the lens’s widest angle. To test the responsiveness of the auto focus, we set the camera to full zoom and placed a Siemens star focus chart at the one-meter minimum. We quickly removed the chart and noted the time it took to focus at medium contrast objects beyond the infinity focal distance. It consistently took one second to lock onto our static distant subject. We did the same test with a car moving toward us at about 10mph. Again, it took the HG10 only about a second to lock and hold focus. All auto-focus systems struggle with low-contrast subjects or those with little texture or few vertical elements, so it is nice to see the manual focus option. You adjust focus by using the control dial on the left of the LCD monitor. This is functional, but the lack of a real focus ring is one of the main reasons this camcorder might not be a consideration for more serious videographers.

According to Canon, the optical stabilization system has been improved as well. It now tries to minimize three kinds of jitters, from high-frequency shakes to body swaying. Handing the HG10 to an over-caffeinated colleague seemed to confirm this improvement.

Color Perfect

We used a Macbeth ColorChecker chart to test the HG10’s color saturation and accuracy. Colors were rich and fully saturated, with reds slightly more emphasized, though not with any perceptible bleeding. Flesh tones were excellent. Auto white balance takes up to 15 seconds to adjust to new lighting conditions. When we quickly moved from indoor lighting to outdoor shade, the exact moment the color balance stabilized was nearly imperceptible. Auto white balance was among the most accurate we’ve tested, scoring less than one percent off perfect white toward red-green, and manual white balance nailed a perfect zero-percent variance.

We tested low-light sensitivity in a dark room lit by a three-way light bulb at 30, 70 and 100 watts. Canon promotes the improved color fidelity and noise reduction of its new DIGIC DV II signal processing technology, and our tests confirm that very good images at moderately low light levels. The noise pattern is more uniform with fewer color artifacts than that of many camcorders we’ve tested in this class. The night mode introduces significant noise and jittery video, but hey, it can see much better than your own night-adapted vision.

To test auto exposure, we filled two-thirds of the frame with an evenly-lit 8-step exposure chart card. Exposure was nearly perfect, but slightly overexposed. Moving from a dark to a light scene took the HG10 about two seconds to lock onto its new setting.

Past implementations of the AVCHD format had noticeable problems with motion artifacts, but Canon has fixed most of these in the HG10. Fast pans, tilts and zooms appear smooth, with very little image smearing. You can use a 24p mode and a Cine color setting independently; when you use them together, they produce a nice film-like effect.

We are glad to see an input for an external microphone in such a small camcorder. With the right adapters, you can use pro-quality mics or a dedicated mic on the advanced accessory shoe on top of the lens barrel. Quality of the on-camera mic is good, but, as with all such mics, placement limits their usefulness. The audio we acquired using our EVPL77B mic was excellent, but there are no manual adjustments for audio input levels.

The HG10 may not be a camcorder most semi-pros would look twice at, but, if image quality were the deciding factor, it would be hard not to take this little performer seriously.


TECH SPECS

Format: AVCHD

Image Sensor: 1/2.7″ CMOS sensor, RGB primary color filter

Effective Pixels: Approx 2.07 megapixels (1920 x 1080)

Recording Times: XP+ = 15Mbps / 5 hrs. 30 min; XP = 9Mbps / 9 hrs. 30 min; SP = 7Mbps / 11hrs. 30 min; LP = 5Mbps / 15 hrs.

Lens: Zoom ratio 10x optical/200x digital

Focal Length: 6.1-61mm

Zoom Speed: Variable/3 fixed zoom speeds

Filter Size: 43mm

Focusing System: Instant AF/manual

Focus Assist Functions: Magnifying, peaking

Programmed AE: Auto, Program, AV, TV, Portrait, Sports, Night, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Spotlight, Fireworks

Manual White Balance: Yes

Image Stabilization: SuperRange Optical (lens shift)

Viewfinder: Widescreen 0.27″ color viewfinder (approx. 123,000 pixels)

LCD Screen: 2.7″ multi-angle vivid widescreen LCD (approx. 211,000 pixels)

Recording Media: Hard disk drive 40GB (internal)

Audio HD: Dolby Digital 2ch (AC-3 2ch)

Dimensions: (WxHxD) 3.2 x 3.0 x 5.1in.

Weight (not including lens and battery pack): 1.1 lbs.

Optical Zoom: 10X

Digital Zoom: 200X

Video Out: HDMI, component, composite

Microphone Input: Yes

Manual Audio Levels: No

Headphone Jack: Yes, dual-purpose AV terminal

External Battery Charger: No

Accessory Shoe: Yes, cold

Strengths

  • Excellent video quality with very accurate color quality

Weaknesses

  • No manual focus ring
  • No manual audio level adjustments

SUMMARY

A small camcorder packed with features that result in excellent HD video quality.

Contributing editor Brian Peterson is a video producer, production consultant, trainer and lecturer.

Canon USA
One Canon Plaza
Lake Success, NJ 11042
www.usa.canon.com

$1,099

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