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Canon has lagged behind Sony in bringing out high definition camcorders - but then so has every other manufacturer, at least in the European market. It has also avoided the hard disk recording format (see our guide to all the new camcorder formats), where both Sony and JVC now compete.
With the HG10, however, Canon shows that it was really biding its time, waiting for the right moment. The HG10 is Canon's first hard disk camcorder, and it's a high definition model too. But it's also available for under £700 already, if you find the right shop. So can it take away the limelight from Sony's HDR-SR8E?
On paper, the HG10 has a great pedigree. It uses the same 1/2.7in 2.96-megapixel CMOS sensor as Canon's excellent HV20 HDV camera. The HG10 also sports the same F1.8 Canon lens as the HV20, with the same 43mm filter diameter. It keeps the high-end optical image stabilisation, too - which is a great feature for the price.
However, as the HG10 relies on a 40GB hard disk to store its video, Canon has switched to MPEG-4 H.264-based AVCHD compression for this model. This has a reduced data rate compared to the MPEG-2 compression used by the HDV format. The HG10's top quality mode, HXP, runs at 15Mbits/sec, where HDV requires 25Mbits/sec. This is the same as Sony's hard disk-based models, such as the HDR-SR8E. Even at this top setting, the Canon's 40GB hard disk is enough for around 5.75 hours of video - a very healthy amount.
Canon is also claiming the HG10 is Full HD, which has become a rather confusing label these days. Canon appears to be using it because the CMOS sensor records HD video natively at 1,920 x 1,080. But the recording format itself is still 1,440 x 1,080, even in HXP mode. JVC, in contrast, records true Full HD at 1,920 x 1,080 with its GZ-HD7E. The Canon CMOS sensor is actually a 4:3 model, rather than 16:9, so its top still image resolution is 2,048 x 1,536 - not exactly state of the art, but probably sufficient for occasional use.
At first glance, the HG10 looks like it is lacking an important feature for the video enthusiast - an accessory shoe. But Canon has cleverly concealed it beneath a little plastic cover. Slide back the viewfinder (which has an arrow and the word ‘Pull' on it), pop off the plastic cover, and a standard accessory shoe is revealed. The HG10 also has a microphone minijack on the front and the AV Out minijack doubles as a headphone socket. Only a lens ring for manual focus is missing, instead relying on the LCD joystick. This is also used to turn on the built-in video light and the 12-step exposure control.
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