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Canon has a more cautious approach to new camcorder technology than some manufacturers. Its first HDV model only arrived in 2006, and its first AVCHD models were considerably later than Sony's. Now Canon is at last turning its attention to the flash memory market with its new HF10, making JVC the only manufacturer without flash-based high definition camcorders.
When Canon focuses on something, you can usually expect good things. The HV20 proved to be the best HDV camcorder around, and its HG10 sibling packaged many of the same features into a hard-disk recording, AVCHD-based model.
The HF10 ups the ante still further. In fact, Canon is using the model to launch a new concept in camcorder usage. With the portability afforded by flash memory recording, Canon reckons there will be a shift to ‘Freecording', where you capture all the fun and more extreme events in your life - not just family occasions. But is the Canon HF10 really the start of a video revolution?
The HF10 is built around Canon's new 1/3.2in CMOS sensor, with 3.3-megapixels. This is slightly smaller than the 1/2.7in unit used in the HV20, HV30 and HG10, which theoretically will put it at a slight disadvantage in low light. The full resolution of the CMOS is only used when taking digital stills, which can be captured at up to 2,048 x 1,536 pixels. Even HD video only requires a maximum of 2.07-megapixels.
In past models, Canon has used the 'Full HD' label because the sensor was recording at this resolution, even if the signal was being compressed to a lower resolution. But the HF10 really does record at 1,920 x 1,080 in its top FXP mode. This is compressed to 17Mbits/sec - currently, the equal highest AVCHD data rate with Panasonic's HDC-SD9 and HS9. There is also an XP+ mode recording at 12Mbits/sec, SP at 7Mbits/sec, and LP at 5Mbits/sec. You can even add 25PF progressive shooting, for true 1080p video. However, there is no standard definition recording option at all.
Canon has dubbed the HF10 ‘dual memory', because as well as having an SDHC card slot, it includes 16GB of onboard flash memory. This is enough for over two hours of footage even in FXP mode, and six hours at the lowest quality setting. So add a 16GB memory card on the top - for around £50 - and you get similar storage to hard disk-based models. You can also copy from the internal memory to the SDHC card, either as individual files, all at once, or all files shot on a specific date.
As this is a high-end model, Canon calls upon its Super Range Optical Image Stabilisation, which cuts out vibrations at three different frequencies. There are two types of autofocus available, too. Instant AutoFocus uses a range sensor for very quick focusing, but you can switch it off in favour of the usual system which operates through the lens for greater accuracy but slower response. For still images, a small flash is built in, and an LED-based video light can also be turned on when shooting in complete darkness.
Since the battery isn't captive, there are options for extended life, such as a 1780mAh unit which is enough for three hours of shooting. Canon has also now implemented intelligent battery life reading, so you can see exactly how much power is left in minutes.