Canon may not have been first out of the gate with a flash-based camcorder -- or second, or third -- but its debut model, the £700 high-definition HF10, gets it right the first time. A sleek black compact model with a well-rounded feature set, great video and excellent performance, the HF10 definitely deserves a spot on your short list of potential home-movie camcorders.
The petite HF10 weighs about 380g with SD card and battery and measures 73 by 64 by 129mm -- small and light enough to fit into a large jacket pocket, which is about as good as it gets on the horizontal designs. It's significantly more compact than its cousins, the hard-disk-based or tape-based . The plastic body feels quite solid, too.
Fortunately, the HF10 doesn't seem to suffer from the usability issues that usually accompany shrinkage. The controls remain large and easy to operate, though Canon has relocated many of them. The Function button and joystick, which call up and navigate frequently needed shooting settings, now live on the LCD bezel.
We're not big fans of designs that do this, mostly because we find it more difficult to simultaneously operate the controls and hold the camera steady when they're on the LCD than when they lie under our right thumb. In addition, manually focusing with the joystick on the camcorder's smallish 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD can be a pain, regardless of the zoom-view focus assist.
Its optically stabilised f/1.8-3.0 12x zoom lens has a longer reach than the typical 10x lens available in this class, but the rest of its features are pretty common in Canon's prosumer models. For video, these include aperture- and shutter-priority exposure modes, three fixed/one variable zoom speed options, a video light, Instant AF and a wind-screen filter.
For still photos, metering, flash and burst and exposure bracketing options become available as well. The camcorder also supplies a complete set of ports and connectors: component or HDMI out for direct-to-TV playback, mini headphone and mic jacks, and USB for downloading to computer.
The HF10 incorporates 16GB built-in flash memory and a slot for SDHC removable flash memory. Its less-expensive little brother, the , lacks only the built-in memory and comes in a more mundane silver. It records AVCHD video at a maximum of 17 megabits per second -- 2 hours 5 minutes of video -- and can hold up to 6 hours 5 minutes of video at the lowest bit rate of 5Mbps.
That higher bit rate goes to support the full 1,920x1,080-pixel capture, the norm for most of this year's new models, compared with 1,440x1,080 pixels for older AVCHD camcorders that required only a 12Mbps maximum bit rate. You can record best-quality movies to the card as long as it's a Class 4 SDHC or better (Class 6 is currently fastest): the we tested with worked fine.