Whether it be capturing stills or moving pictures, Canon has always been a manufacturer that's synonymous with high quality images. While renowned as the producer of the most widely respected semi-professional camcorder available, the awesome XL1, the company has never quite managed to replicate its high-end success in the mass market.

Sure, its affordable mini DV camcorders have generally been very impressive, but when it comes to parting with their hard-earned cash, the average punter is more likely to favour the charms of a Sony or Panasonic. In the world of hi-def video, however, Canon is hoping all that will change.

Features

The HR10 shoots AVCHD footage on to 8cm DVD-R/-RW or DVD-R Dual Layer discs and offers four HD picture quality options and three SD. The best (XP+) captures 15mins of full HD action to a DVD-R/-RW or 27mins to a Dual Layer disc.

As with all camcorders, there is the choice of fully automatic operation, where you simply point and shoot, or if you're feeling more creative, there are the manual overrides. These include focus, exposure and white balance (there are six additional presets) and it's also possible to alter the shutter speed and let the cam automatically adjust the aperture (shutter priority) or vice versa (aperture priority).

There is a wealth of digital effects, wipes and transitions alongside options for heightening contrast, toning down colour saturation and softening sharp edges. But without doubt, the most desirable feature, particularly for those with suitably equipped 25Hz HD Ready screens, is the 25fps mode, which progressively shoots 25 frames per second to give footage a truly cinematic look.

Ease of use

Though hailed as the smallest disc-based AVCHD cam when launched, the HR10 is surprisingly bulky and, weighing in at 530g, might prove a little too heavy for some. Just how much of a problem this will be very much depends on what sort of cam you are after.

Those looking for a portable model that can be carried around in the pocket and whipped out in an instant will find the weight a problem. But for the more serious enthusiast, the heavier chassis makes it easier to hold the cam steady when shooting handheld.

One thing about which there can be no debate is the fine build quality. The silver brushed aluminium shell with bronze detailing looks far more expensive than the price tag would suggest and, more importantly, looks like it can handle the occasional bash.

The main controls are sensibly positioned and, though a few could be bigger, aren't too fiddly for those with larger than average fingers.

The vast majority of features are accessed via the onscreen menu on the LCD panel. These are split logically into various sub menus and navigation is for the most part intuitive. Options are selected using the small joystick that's located below the viewfinder. Those that don't like using such controls are advised to consider a different camcorder as this is also how all of the manual adjustments are made.

More of a worry, however, is the 2.7in viewfinder. Considering that using the flip-out LCD screen is the quickest way to drain the battery and the viewfinder is generally considered the more professional way to see what you're shooting, it is too small. And, because it's fixed at an acute angle, you have to position your head rather awkwardly above the cam, rather than behind it to see what you're shooting.

Pictures

These handling concerns are very quickly forgotten when it comes to assessing just what the HR10 is capable of. While the maximum shooting time of 15 minutes per disc will prove rather restrictive if you're trying to shoot your own version of The Lord of the Rings, it's very difficult to complain too much about the quality of the pictures. Displayed on a 42in LCD panel, we found it hard to believe that they were the product of a camcorder costing merely £600.

In the same way that HD broadcasts leave analogue ones for dead, the AVCHD footage is far superior to anything you'll see on a mini DV cam. Edges are sharp and brilliantly defined, fine details are more pronounced than in reality and there's not even the slightest glimmer of grain or digital artefacting visible.

Colours are similarly impressive with subtle autumnal tones and more garish bolder hues handled with deft accuracy. Even black levels reveal genuine depth, while whites remain crisp and clean. Fast moving action is captured with precision and reveals nothing in the way of motion smearing or judder and, as with the Blu-ray players that we've seen pass through the Tech Lab, the 25fps mode adds a genuine cinematic feel to footage.

Value

Perhaps inevitably, some corners have been cut to achieve such a keen price, and surprisingly for Canon, these appear to be in the optics.

We found the optical image stabiliser to be less able to deal with the jerky motion of walking along than rival models, and also thought the auto focus was sluggish when shooting close-ups.

That said, these flaws are minor and can be worked around using the manual controls during filming. It's without doubt the best value HD cam we've had pass through the Tech Lab by some way.