The menu system itself has been updated, giving a smoother feel and the ability to choose font size. Since the 69mm (2.7-inch) display is the typical low-resolution model, the small fonts look pixellated and will be hard for some to read. It does stand up pretty well in direct sunlight, however.
Navigating down on the joystick while shooting triggers a fly-up menu to pop up the video light (which works in still photo mode), digital effects, 3-second pre-record, backlight and exposure compensation, manual focus, mic level, face detection and a digital teleconverter. The options are slightly different in still mode: you gain flash and lose the mic and teleconverter. It's especially pleasing that you still have quick access to functions that you don't assign to the custom dial.
The S10 also incorporates this year's features, which include Video Snapshot, producing 4-second clips used to create a 'highlights reel' effect (the camcorder ships with a music CD). We like the idea, but the implementation can be annoying. You enter Video Snapshot mode by pressing a hard-to-feel button on the left side of the camcorder in the LCD recess. A blue outline appears on the display. When you press record, a highlight travels around the blue outline counting down your 4 seconds. It stays in Video Snapshot mode until you switch to playback or press the button again. While we like the way the display feedback works, we'd have preferred a separate record button, or a choice on the mode dial, rather than having the isolated button.
Performance and quality are top-notch at both the S10's maximum 24Mbps bit rate and 17Mbps. Recording capacities are about 5.5 minutes per gigabyte and 7.8 minutes per gigabyte, respectively. Canon recommends a Class 4 or better SDHC card.
The camcorder focuses quickly and accurately, even in low light. While battery life is pretty average for its class, it recharges fairly quickly. Canon claims it takes 10 minutes per half hour of battery life.
The optical stabiliser, as usual, works well out to the end of the zoom range. The video looks great: sharp, with saturated colours, and excellent exposures with relatively few blown-out highlights. The DigicDV III processing does a solid job of maximising the dynamic range. Living-room light-level recordings look quite good as well. There's some noise and softness, but that's to be expected. Audio is crisp and clear.
The camcorder's not perfect, however. Outdoor shots show some purple fringing on high-contrast edges, and there's some colour shift in reds and blues. Still photos have a slightly overprocessed look as many camcorder stills do, and the flash does odd things to the saturation, but, overall, they're not bad.
If you're a video hobbyist or a pro looking for something cheap and portable to complement your workhorse equipment, the Canon Legria HF S10 delivers a much better shooting experience than many HD camcorders, as long as you can live without the electronic viewfinder. The HF S100 is probably the better deal though, since the price of a 32GB card should be less than the price differential between the two models.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet