Saturday, May 10, 2008

Canon Vixia HF10 (HF100) Review




UPDATE, June 2010: AVCHD is a mainstream format now and you can read about editing workflow here - http://newspapervideo.com/blog/2010/06/how-to-speed-up-your-video-workflow/

UPDATE, LATE 2009: OK, a year and a half after I wrote this review, a lot has changed in the editing realm. Most newish computers with current software, like Vegas or CS4 on the PC or any of the Mac's editing programs, can handle AVCHD with no problems now. The current version of this camera, the HF200, has some subtle but real improvements in handling and controls and is a great little camera. - Chuck

I'm playing with a loaner Canon Vixia HF10 camcorder, which is nearly a twin to the HF100.

This is a cool, sexy camcorder and the lust factor for this critter is way high.

But try as I might to love it, it just ain't happening for me.

First, the good stuff:

* It's tiny -- smaller than a Coke can.
* It has mic and headphone jacks
* It has a decent lens and decent image stabilization
* It uses readily available SDHC flash cards
* The image is great
* It has manual controls, including exposure and audio (YAAAAYYY!!!)
* It takes 37mm filters and accessory lenses

The bad stuff:

* The file format, AVCHD, is hard to edit
* There's no viewfinder, only the lcd screen
* Built-in mics, like many camcorders, are very susceptible to wind noise
* Standard battery life is short: 40-50 minutes
* Have to take it off tripod plate to change battery; the latch is on the bottom
* Manual controls are through a fiddly joystick and nested menus
* It has a mini hotshoe that won't take any standard mics or accessories
* Ergonomics are crummy
* No firewire
* Headphone jack defaults to AV and you have to switch it via menu every time for playback (but it stays put in record mode)

HOW TO EDIT AVCHD

This is a tiny high-def disk-based camcorder that shoots full HD at 1920x1080 and can also shoot several lower bitrates at 1440x1080 -- but it won't shoot standard def.

The HF10 is an AVCHD camera with 16gb of memory onboard and it also uses SDHC cards. (A similar model, the HF100, only uses cards, with no built-in memory.)

The AVCHD format is an extremely highly-compressed mpeg format. You need a really powerful computer to do anything with the files.

I use Macs and on that front, you need an Intel Mac running Final Cut Studio 2 upgraded to at least 6.02. iMovie 08 is also supposed to work with the files. If you have a G4 or G5 Mac or are using Final Cut 5 to edit with, you're out of luck -- you can't even look at the clips. (A program called Voltaic will let you very slowly convert the clips, though.)

I couldn't find anything in our office on the PC side to open the files. Premiere Pro (cs3 production suite) won't touch them, nor will Windows Movie Maker nor Windows Media Player. The HF10 comes with Pixela software, but I can't install outside software on our office computers, so I have no idea how it works.

If you've got the horsepower and the right programs, though, editing is pretty cool. You put the card in a reader and open "log and transfer" in Final Cut 6.02 and *boom* the thumbnails are there in a list instantly. You can scrub through and preview the clips but then you have to ingest them, which even on a 3ghz Mac Pro with 8gb of memory takes a little more than real time. Overall, it's a little quicker than tape, though, 'cause you can choose just the clips you want. I think you need the whole card folder structure to do the log and transfer, so you can't just drag the media files out of the deeply-nested "stream" folder.

When you ingest, Final Cut converts them to ProRes files, so a 15mb file on your sd card suddenly becomes 250mb on your computer.

The 1440x1080 files will play ok on a timeline along with HDV files, but you'll need to render when you output because they don't match exactly.

ERGNOMICS

One of the biggest drawbacks is the handling of this camera. The record on/off switch is in the standard thumb position on the back, which would be fine if it had a viewfinder. But there's no secondary top-mounted record button, so you can't cradle the camera to hold it steady and still hit the button on the back. If you hold it with the grip and your thumb on the button, you have to hold it away from your body and it waves around like a California earthquake. There's no Lan-C jack to add a release, either.

The lcd screen is pretty good, except in sunlight. The controls are on the lcd screen, and you use a combination of push buttons along the bottom and a five-way joystick at the left of the screen. You toggle the joystick to select a menu item and then push it in to execute. (It works better than the HV20 joystick but is still fiddly.) The manual controls for exposure and audio are just like the HV20 - and are still a little difficult to figure out until you've used them a lot. There aren't any zebras to check exposure and the focus is also controlled through menus, so you'll use autofocus all the time.

MISCELLANEOUS STUFF

You'll definitely need a few of the $100 higher-capacity batteries for this puppy. The stock battery is puny. You'll also need to buy class-6 (fast) SDHC cards to get the full HD video quality. But the lower bit rate settings are still pretty good, and will work with slower cards, even though it gives a warning when you put one in the slot, which is located under the lcd screen.

It has a standard 1/4-20 tripod socket, but no locator pin hole so you can't use tripod plates with fixed locator pins. You have to remove the tripod plate to change batteries.

The camera can't be used for live video because it doesn't have firewire, only USB. If you want to use the camera connected to your computer via USB instead of a card reader, it MUST be plugged into the ac power supply - so you're in trouble if you're in the field and forgot your card reader.

BOTTOM LINE

The handling of this camera is too awkward for news use unless you have more patience than I.

If you've got an Intel Mac and Final Cut Studio 2 and LOTS of disk space, this is a cool little camera. You could put together a tiny travel kit with a macbook pro and a small mic kit and a tabletop tripod that would all fit in a laptop bag.

Just make sure you can edit the files with your computer.


(In the video review, the audio is from the HF10: wide shots using the built-in mics; long shots using an Audio Technica ATR35s wired lavalier mic, which costs all of $25. Video of the Vixia was shot with a Canon XHA1. Still pictures from a Canon S3is.)

21 comments:

nvonstaden said...

Sounds OK..but will it work with Final Cut Express HD? on a MacBook that seem more the norm in the Mac world right now less$$$$

Chuck Fadely said...

According to Apple, Final Cut Express 4 supports log and transfer:

"Built-in AVCHD
Offering plenty of creative options, Final Cut Express 4 lets you edit footage captured in the most popular formats — including AVCHD.* Simply connect your camcorder to your Mac, preview and select the AVCHD clips you’d like to import, and start editing your video."

donnie said...

Great review. Thanks for sharing.

Jaxim said...

Great review. I've started to look for a camcorder as my first child will be born in a couple of months. I now know to steer clear of any camcorder that records in the AVCHD format.

Any chance you'll do a similar review for the Samsung sc-hmx20c? That records in more standard format and I was wondering what your take on it might be.

the ZoZe tribe said...

Guess I'm screwed, I misunderstood the sys. requirements for iLife to include iMovie 08. I don't know how I'll get video off my camera now. This Voltaic is a little wonky, I hope some solutions come soon... Any advice?

Jacques said...

Kind sir:

I am a happy new HF-10 owner, and one who agrees with your pro and con list—though I happen to value the small size and great image quality much more than I bemoan the negatives you so eloquently list.

As an aside, iMovie 08 and my MacBook support AVHCD just fine. Not instantly and not in a tiny corner of the hard disk, but easy and cheap.

Anonymous said...

When you say it works fine with MacBook, which laptop model do you mean? Thx.

Chuck Fadely said...

Any Intel-based Apple Mac that will run iMovie 08 should work fine.

The MacBooks, as well as the MacBook Pros, iMacs, Mac Pros, etc, all work.

http://store.apple.com

What won't work are powerPC macs: Powerbooks, G5 and G4 Macs.

I have read recently that Roxio Toast will convert AVCHD more quickly than Voltaic on powerPC Macs. Haven't tried it, though.

Josh Stephenson said...

I'm half considering this camera for personal reasons or possible second camera shots where some of the drawbacks won't be fatal. I have read that Sony Vegas Pro 8 now handles Canon AVCHD but before laying down any money, I wanted to test the theory. Would anyone be willing to ftp a couple of clips for me to experiment with?
If so, please e-mail me at photo@joshstephenson.com and I can give you my ftp info. Or, if you know this cannot be done, let me know that as well.
Thanks for the review.

Nolan said...

just do what i did and walk into a frys or bestbuy where the cams are on display, bring an sdhc card with u and take some test footage, saving it to your card..then take it home and have the hardest time in the world editing it (at least with Vegas 8b)...arg :)

Josh Stephenson said...

Thanks Nolan,
Judging from the "arg," maybe I'll just save myself the trip.
As the purchase of my gutless machine at work defies logic, the thought actually crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe, the logic defying AVCHD codec would be a good fit.
Call me a dreamer

VonRiesling said...

This is an outstanding little review. Thank you for going through the details. I bought this camera soon after it was available, and I've vowed to make it work until RED Scarlet comes out next year. Voltaic is terribly slow to convert AVCHD, so I'm stuck with FCP or iMovie until someone comes up with a nifty and fast converter, or one of the NLE's adds native support.

agnius said...

You don't need class 6 SDHC card, class 4 is sufficient. According to Canon's website, "Note: 1920 x 1080 movie recording requires a Class 4 or higher memory card. For other recording formats, a Class 2 or higher card is recommended. Also, movie recording requires cards with 128 MB of memory or more. No particular restrictions apply for still images." I am using 32 GB Class 4 card by PNY, and it works flawlessly. Class 4 requirement is true for HF11 too (which can record at up to 24Mbps for even higher quality).

John Marshall Mantel, Inc. said...

So what do we prefer for a small HD camcorder if not the Vixia.....?

jcw said...

Any suggestions for video cameras? The canon review was great. We use imovie at our paper and do not want the new version because you can't extract audio. We are looking for new cameras for mobile reporters. We use intel macbooks so memory can be a problem.

Steve Nunez said...

The negativity of it shooting to AVCHD shouldn't be a negative aspect pertaining to the camera itself- it's just the "current" consumer based HD compression many companies have settled on- nothing to do with the camcorders quality!
The reviewer seems somewhat negative towards native editing of AVCHD footage, but truth be told Apple WILL eventually support drag and drop editing natively of these AVCHD clips in future revisions of FCP and possibly FCE or iMovie as these AVCHD camcorders are the norm today for video acquisition and I doubt Apple will leave it's customers with no native editing choice as is for PC users!
This camera is consistently rated as the very best of the sub $1300 AVCHD camcorders and it's image quality is superb. I urge anyone who is considering this camera to understand it's amongst the best of it's class.
If anyone wants the BEST of the AVCHD camcorders- check out Panasonic's HMC150, which is $3500 and is perhaps the ONLY camcorder currently surpassing the image quality of this Canon- nuff said!

Anonymous said...

Vegas natively opens AVCHD without any problem at all and on a modest Athlon XP. Not sure what all the fuss is about.

Alex's Travel Blog said...

Hiya and well done on a great review and post about the Canon HF10. I just purchased one for producing short film for my travel blog.

You're right it doesn't work with Premiere CS3, however the latest Adobe CS4 allows you to edit straight out the box :-)

Also Sony Vegas has to be mentioned here, it is very resource light so will work with less powerful computers and works with AVCHD native.

bighuggs said...

I've recently bought this camera and agree that handling could be better. Only edited a couple of short videos, but in iMovie 08 on my 2Ghz Intel Core2Duo (12 months old) I've had no problems. For my budget this is about the best I could do and I'm very happy with it.

Anonymous said...

have had this camera for over a year - have shot less than two hours of video. Why? because takes forever to download .mts files from camera onto my "new" (about one year old) computer and then convert (via voltaic) into a format that I can actually watch the videos on. If you shoot one hour of video... typically many 3-5 minute scenes, it will take 10 times that to convert the .mts files to avi or mpeg. I regret buying this camera. I never use it because converting .mts is a huge time requirement. Anyone want to buy a cheap, seldom used Vixia?

Chuck Fadely said...

OK, a year and a half after I wrote this review, a lot has changed in the editing realm. Most newish computers with current software, like Vegas or CS4 on the PC or any of the Mac's editing programs, can handle AVCHD with no problems now. The current version of this camera, the HF200, has some subtle but real improvements in handling and controls and is a great little camera.