We managed to get our eager hands upon Canon’s new all-singing Flash memory camcorder, the HF10. Canon has been showing it off at a launch event in Marrakech, Morocco. Here are our first impressions.

The HF10 is certainly a solid bit of kit, but not as light or small as Panasonic’s HDC-SD9. Fortunately, Canon has put the extra size to good use.

16GB internal memory

Alongside the 16GB of Flash memory built in, there’s an SDHC card slot underneath the LCD. This can be used to expand storage capacity, or you can copy footage from the built-in memory.

The HF10 uses a 1/3.2in CMOS sensor, with 3.3Mpixels. These are mostly used to enable still image recording at 2,048 x 1,536, but Canon has also at last delivered on its Full HD promise.

Previous models had the label due to their CMOS resolutions, but this is Canon’s first camcorder which really does record video at 1,920 x 1,080.

A 25PF progressive shooting mode is available, too. With a top data rate of 17Mbits/sec as well, the HF10 is starting to push the AVCHD recording format towards higher quality. Even in the top mode, the 16GB onboard storage is enough for over two hours of footage.

Shoot in full-HD

The good news is that, unlike Panasonic’s HDC-SD9, Canon hasn’t shoehorned the high-quality recording format into a model aimed entirely at the point-and-shoot user – although a new Easy mode is available. Minijacks are still included for external microphone and headphones.

There are lots of manual controls available, too – including manual audio levels. You can choose between aperture and shutter priority modes, and then use the Exposure control to fine tune the balance between the two.

There are also plenty of preset Scene modes on offer, such as Portrait and Sports.

The 12x optical zoom is powerful for a camcorder this size, and Canon’s optical image stabilisation is effective in a range of wobbly shooting conditions. The standard 890mAh battery is not encased in the camcorder body, either, so there are long-life options as well.

Smaller sensor

Canon has also now developed an intelligent system similar to Sony’s which tells you exactly how many minutes of battery life you have left at all times.

We put the HF10 through its paces in a wide range of shooting conditions. Our experiences in bright sunlight and mild shadow were very encouraging. Canon’s HV20 and HG10 have set a high benchmark for CMOS image quality, and the HF10 met or exceeded our expectations.

The higher data rate and resolution definitely count in its favour. However, the HF10 has a slightly smaller sensor than the HV20, which puts it at a mild disadvantage in reduced illumination.

There was a little bit more grain evident than the HV20 produces in similar conditions, but the detail actually looked sharper. This is the best performance we’ve seen so far from any AVCHD camcorder.

Drawbacks

But it’s not all sweetness and light. We do have a couple of niggles. First off, the accessory shoe. Canon has now followed Sony and opted for a proprietary format, in this case called the “S” Mini Advanced Shoe, instead of the standard size.

An adapter is available, but the proprietary shoe is still a bizarre decision considering the high-end market orientation of the HF10. Our second niggle is the lack of a lens ring.

The Instant AutoFocus may be fast, but using the joystick for manual focusing is too slow and cumbersome for clever in-camera effects like focus pulling (where the focus switches from foreground to background to shift the viewer’s attention).

Our final criticism is the location of the tripod screw fitting, which is near the front of the camcorder, making weight distribution unbalanced.

But no camcorder is perfect, and apart from these three flaws we have to admit to being impressed by our first day’s play with the HF10. It’s definitely the best AVCHD camcorder we’ve seen so far, with features sure to woo a few serious video makers over from HDV – and plenty of budding ‘freecorders’.

With online retailers already listing the HF10 for under £700 (inc VAT), it’s not overpriced, either.