Alongside last week's launch of the HF10 camcorder, Canon is planning a marketing campaign revolving around the concept of ‘freecording’ - using a camcorder to record and share video for websites such as YouTube and Google Video.
At the HF10 event in Marrakesh, Morocco, TechRadar asked a top Canon executive to tell us more about freecording and what Canon has planned for camcorders in 2008.
"The camcorder market has been stagnated for years", explains Yuichiro Asano, Canon’s deputy group executive for Video Products.
"Annual sales have been around 15 million units for the last decade. We predict only modest growth to 17 million units in 2008, and 18 million by 2010. Compare that to the digital camera market, which has reached 125 million and is still growing fast."
Rise of the YouTube generation
Despite the camcorder sales stagnation, there has been an explosion of video sharing, mostly thanks to online sites.
YouTube, for example, has consistently placed in the top five most popular websites over the last couple of years. But whereas camcorders have traditionally been aimed at preserving family memories – weddings, holidays, parties and the like – this is not the lion’s share of content online.
Instead, YouTube is filled to the brim with the most eye-catching moments of everyday life – comic antics, pranks, courageous moves in extreme sports, and skits which tap into the zeitgeist of popular events.
"This is what freecording is meant to represent," says Asano. "It’s all about fun, and sharing experiences."
Flash will win the format war
Canon sees Flash memory as a key enabling technology for this new kind of camcorder usage because it allows camcorders to be both smaller and more durable.
With capacities now approaching those of mobile hard disks, Flash is emerging as the potential winner of the current camcorder format wars. Canon predicts 36 per cent of the market to be Flash memory-based models by 2010, and 35 per cent overall to be High Definition.
Witness the introduction of the Canon HF10, which successfully taps into both trends.
But is the HF10 the right model to lead this revolution? Aren’t mobile phones, with improved video capabilities, the more likely YouTube freecording device of choice? And what about digital cameras? Why buy a camcorder at all?
According to Canon’s Yuichiro Asano, "the HF10 is just the flagship model. Our standard definition FS series also uses Flash memory, and will be part of the freecording marketing campaign. We expect digital cameras and camcorders to merge in the future, but that’s still a few years off."
Why face recognition is just a gimmick
Aside from Flash memory, Canon is also hoping greater ease of use will help it achieve its target of 40 per cent of the global camcorder market by 2010.
The first steps towards this goal are the Easy mode found on the HF10, and Instant Auto-Focus. The latter calls upon a secondary range-finding sensor beside the lens. This provides faster response than the traditional system operating through the main lens, although isn’t quite so accurate.
However, Canon remains unconvinced by the friendly features currently being added by its competitors – particularly face recognition.
"It’s terrible!" Asano argues. "Face recognition is great when your subjects don’t move, in photography… But [it] is very unreliable when people keep moving their heads, which is exactly what happens with video."
Camcorders will embrace wireless technologies
Canon does plan more consumer-oriented features in the future, including wireless technology, but refused to comment on precisely what form this would take.
Canon also hinted that Flash memory was destined to arrive in its professional products in the near future, too.
Again there was no comment about when this would occur or what form it would take. But it will not involve the AVCHD recording format, unlike Panasonic’s recent launches at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas. It’s only a matter of time before Flash memory takes over the full range of the camcorder market.
Canon has clearly placed a huge bet on Flash memory as the camcorder format of the future. At the same time, Sony and Panasonic are sitting on the fence and JVC is sticking with hard disks.
Whether or not you buy into the freecording concept, camcorders are getting smaller and lighter, and without sacrificing features or image quality. Flash memory is the main reason for this. But the question still remains if that will have more of us picking one up to capture our everyday experiences on video.