Remember the first time you used high-speed broadband? Or the first time you fired up a 3D-accelerated game? You’ll experience that same excitement the first time you plug Canon’s miniature HV10 HDV camcorder in to your 60-inch HDTV. Instead of the fuzzy YouTube-esque video you get with your current DV cam, you’ll get video that jumps to life. It’s like, well, it’s like going from standard-definition TV to high-definition TV.
The HV10 itself is an amazing feat of miniaturization and cost reduction. Four years ago, a similar-size DV cam would have set you back $300 more than what the HV10 is selling for on the street today (about $950), yet the tiny Canon features a full-HD-resolution CMOS sensor, based on the sensor’s native resolution of 1920x1080 (1080i). Granted, that’s mostly marketing fluff because even though the sensor captures at 1920x1080, the extra pixels are trimmed, so the camera can write to the lower-resolution HDV spec, which is 1440x1080. Still, that’s a hell of a lot more pixels than a standard DV’s 720x480, and it shows.
While it pushes the edge on resolution, the HV10 plays it safe with storage. Eschewing the trend toward direct to disc, hard drive, or flash RAM storage, the HV10 uses traditional MiniDV tapes and can record an hour on each tape. That’s fine by us. You can get a six-pack of tapes for $20. Tapes are also a good medium for archiving. Since they’re so cheap, you can just toss them into the safe after capturing the raw video to your PC. If your hard drive implodes, you’ll still have your memories on tape as backup.
The camcorder features a built-in 3.1-megapixel camera and integrated flash that writes images to a separate MiniSD card. The image quality is just adequate, and the flash and flash metering could use improvement. We were also bummed that you can’t shoot images while you record video. You can, however, shoot still images off the tape after the fact, although the quality isn’t particularly impressive.
Unfortunately, we had several issues with the camera. We understand the push for smaller video cameras, but the HV10 is so small we could barely operate its controls. Fortunately, Canon uses a top-quality optical stabilizer to keep the camera steady, even when you’re reaching for buttons slapped into its every crevice.
Canon also leaves out mic and headphone ports. That’s a big no-no for anyone who wants finer control over audio. It also doesn’t help that Canon placed the microphone on the rear-top of the HV10—we found that the camera picked up our breathing on occasion. D’oh! There’s also no hot shoe for auxiliary lighting (the tiny white LED is inadequate beyond a couple of feet). Additionally, the auto white-balance tended to be a bit cool under both incandescent and fluorescent lighting.
Battery life, while not great, wasn’t bad. We recorded around an hour of footage at HDV res using a combination of the foldout screen and viewfinder. Canon says recording at DV resolutions will yield slightly more time on the same battery.
That said, you can’t make a camera this small with this much technology without sacrificing some features, but the lack of mic and headphone jacks probably won’t matter to the majority of potential customers, who will treat this camera as a basic point-and-shoot. And, as always, you can extend battery life by purchasing a larger battery.
It would be better if we didn’t have these kvetches, but we think the HV10’s pluses far outweigh its minuses.
1941 Incredibly small; one of the lowest priced HDV cams available.
The Thin Red Line A bit too small, quirky mic placement.
10x optical zoom, 6.1mm-61mm F/1.8-f/3
Rated Battery Life
AV in/out, component out, four-pin IEEE-1394, mini-USB (for still camera functionality)