A well-specified performer with an innovative approach to navigation and manual operation that is capable of impressive pictures and sound.
Good range of features
Impressive image quality
Uses awkward mini HDMI
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This cam captures full HD footage to a 40GB hard drive and can store up to 5hr 30min of footage at maximum resolution. At £800, it's certainly more expensive, but then it offers so much more, as we'll find out...
The HG10 seems to manage the conjuring act of offering everything that the HR10 did that was good and improving upon everything that was bad. So the sensible positioning of buttons, intuitive onscreen menu and fine build quality all remain, while the fixed viewfinder has been ditched. Instead, the viewfinder can now be pulled out from the body of the cam. At 0.27in, it is smaller than we'd like and it would have been nice to change the angle, too.
Also different is the zoom, which takes the shape of a rocker button, instead of a slider. It may take some getting used to if you're more comfortable with a slider, but we found it to be vastly superior and liked that the zoom speed can be adjusted. Best of all, operationally, is the onscreen menu and the ease with which manual adjustments are made.
Traditionally, a small joystick does this job with limited success. For those with fingers larger than a child's, this fiddly method of operation is hit and miss at best and certainly doesn't provide the sort of precision that the serious videomaker demands.
While a circular joypad remains, it is the inclusion of a wheel surrounding it that makes operation so much easier. The joystick is still used for navigation, while the wheel can be turned to make adjustments to focus, exposure, white balance etc. While it's certainly not as good as a dedicated focus ring, it's certainly the best alternative we've seen yet.
The HG10 has four HD recording modes offering between 5hr 30min and 15hr of footage depending on the quality, while the battery allows 110min shooting time using the screen or 115min with the viewfinder. Manual shooting options cover focus, exposure and white balance, while aperture and shutter speed can also be adjusted.
There's a choice of eight Program AE modes and options for softening outlines and emphasising or toning down contrast and colour saturation. Perhaps the best feature is the Cine mode, which when combined with the 25fps frame rate mode captures footage that looks as good as anything from the local cinema.
The HG10 appears to offer everything that the more demanding videomaker wants. Handling is faultless, the chassis is well balanced for handheld shooting and the control for manual adjustments is a revelation. Pictures are similarly impressive with no visible flaws.
Shooting in natural light, colours are impeccably resolved and realistic, while the sharpness and precision of the lens underlines why HD will soon replace mini DV. An entry on a calendar across the room that isn't visible to the naked eye was captured with unnerving accuracy, while sharp lines and complex patterns are perfectly replicated.
In the dark
When shooting in darker conditions, picture quality drops and the grain appears, but this is more to do with the camcorder's low light limitations than HD's shortcomings and is a common weakness on consumer models.
Also impressive is the built-in microphone, which appears to have a larger pick-up range than many rivals so that a separate microphone will only be required by the more professional videomaker. On the downside, the odd clunk on the chassis is recorded if you're clumsy with the controls.
Sadly, Canon does not supply the cable to connect it to an HD-ready TV. Furthermore, the HG10 does not use a regular HDMI cable. Instead, it uses a mini HDMI cable that will set you back £30. We had to visit six shops on Tottenham Court Road to find one.
As good as the HG10's pictures, sound and features are, the extra hassle of hunting down a pricey cable is unforgivable. For that reason alone, we are marking down an otherwise very impressive performer. If you can get the cable for free, it's a worthwhile buy, if not it may be better to walk on by.
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