Canon HG10 Review

Canon’s High Definition camcorder, the HG10 is one of the World’s smallest HD camcorders but it still provides great features in a compact package. Doug Harman puts this new hard disc camcorder through its paces.

The HG10 has been based upon Canon’s HV20 camcorder but with a radical redesign compared with that model and this has allowed the new machine to be appreciably smaller than the HV20. However the smaller size has foisted a few handling foibles into the mix that are not entirely to my liking but overall, the HG10 is simple to set up and use.

The quick start mode is particularly nice as you can put the camera to “sleep” rather than turn it off and a pres of the Quick Start button on the top and Bing! The thing fires up almost instantly. If turning on from cold, it takes round three seconds for the camcorder to get going and get the internal 40GB hard drive spun up ready for action.

That built in hard disc drive can store the equivalent of around 28 DVDs of home movies so plenty of room to play. The sausage like body can be firmly griped and wrap around hand strap makes it comfortable to hold and use one handed. Although I did find some of the buttons such as the start/stop videoing and the zoom buttons a little stretch for my stubbier fingers.

If you have similarly stubby digits, it’s a consideration certainly worth bearing in mind. However, the controls are good to use once you’ve reached them and although the built-in EVF is quite small and on the murky side to use but it’s extendable, which makes it nicer to use as you don’t end up with your nose scrunched against the back of the thing.

The flip out, twist and turn 2.7-inch wide-angle colour screen is nice to use, even in brighter conditions but I did not like the combined four-way jog button and its central “Set” button and the encircling scroll wheel. It’s both fiddly and frustrating to use at times as it is easy to select the wrong bit, or press “Set” by mistake or unintentionally scroll when trying to do something else. Those stubby fingers of mine again!

The camcorders accessory shoe has a cover but as it is not attachable to the camcorder, it’s gonna quickly get lost. Another annoyance is the fact there’s no manual focus control. Yes, the AF system employed is very good; accurate and fast, being able to adjust fine focus yourself is, well, a basic requirement, or at least it is for me at any rate.

The HG10 will be available for between £600 and £700 so make sure you shop around and not a bad price given the kit you get for your money. For a start the 3-megapixel CMOS sensor shoots native 1,920x1,080 HD video, this is then down sampled (and interlaced) to 1,440x1,080 AVCHD a format that is still to a certain extent gaining a foothold. You can shoot 1,440x1,080/24p video, but support for this format is more limited still.

Although Canon claims storage for up to up to 15-hours of footage, that is at the lower 5-megabits per second (Mbps), at the highest bit rate (and so quality) of 15Mbps this DROPs to a lowly five and half hours of storage space. And I you want to tinker with the footage or edit on PC afterwards, I’d stick to the highest quality setting.

You can snap 3-megapixel stills on the HG10 too or take rather rubbish 1920x1080 video grabs while shooting moving footage, but rather mystifyingly, you cannot save stills to the hard drive only to external MiniSD memory cards that need to be slotted home underneath the camcorder and behind the big screen.

In terms of shooting mode options, the HG10 provides you with a nice array of controls. For stills, you get program, aperture and shutter priority modes, backlight and exposure compensation controls too.

When shooting video, once again you get shutter-priority, aperture-priority and a nice Cine mode that gives the footage a “film” feel for 24fps shooting; and there’s a slow-shutter Night mode too; modest white-balance controls with the usual presets for auto, sunshine, cloud for example and various image effects and customisable color depth for a posterised effect). Then there’s contrast, sharpness and brightness.

The 10x optical zoom lens is incorporates Canons SuperRange Optical Image Stabilisation and it works wonderfully well at keeping things steady at longer zoom focal lengths where camera shake can make things rather giddy making. The AF set up is fast but I found the focus hunted somewhat and this made me rue the lack of a manual focus override, particularly in lower lighting conditions.

Audio quality is okay but has a couple of flaws. The range is limited to about five feet in front of the camera. There are no audio input adjustments and audio from the sides seems to DROP off worryingly quickly  in widescreen mode.

There’s no zoom microphone capability and while there’s an external mic input, this is of course and optional accessory that will mean you have to pay more for better audio performance. Video quality is good with some very slight noise in low light areas and although highlights get quickly washed out, it’s not any worse than on similar specified competing models.

Verdict: 
The HG10 provides great video quality and a set of excellent features. But it has a few issues that let the side down and certainly, you should get your hand on one of these to try before you buy after all, stubby fingers might not be an issue for you!