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Canon Legria HF S10 review

27 Feb 2009
Our Rating 

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Specifications

Canon's HF S10, tested here as a pre-production model and due to ship in April, is among the first AVCHD cameras to sport the company's new Legria sub-brand, differentiating it from its Vixia counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic.

In addition to a maximum compression bitrate of 24Mbits/secs for full-resolution 1920 x 1080/50i HD video, the HF S10 also features a combination of built-in memory recording and playback, as well as a range of features that will attract serious users. The combination of 32GB built-in memory and the largest available SDHC cards provides up to 64GB of solid-state memory on which to record and play back full 1920 x 1080/50i Mpeg-4/H.264 movies and stills. And if that's not enough, it's not only possible to copy clips from one medium to another (individually or collectively as user-defined playlists), but the HF S10 provides a seamless overflow from one storage medium to the other when the first fills up.

Features that will prove attractive to serious users include an external microphone input and switchable AV/headphone output, with manual control over input levels. Excellent-quality images are produced by its 1/2.6in Cmos image sensor, new DIGICDV III image processing for better clarity and colour definition. The HF S10 also boasts face-detection technology; Pre Rec, which enables you to cycle-cache three seconds of video before hitting the Record button in order that unexpected actions aren't missed; colour bar for lining up output on external devices; and the zebra-pattern, white-peaking visual monitoring system.

The HF S10 comes with a 25p progressive shooting mode, which is ideal for uploading to the web in 720p HD or display on large-screen LCD displays where interlaced frame scanning is to be avoided. Program AE and Shutter-Priority AE menus contain a Cine Mode filter, which, when used in conjunction with the 25p option, will satisfy those seeking that certain 'film look'.

The 10x optical zoom Canon HD Video Lens is controllable either by the small toggle on the upper rear of the body or with the mini-joystick on the left side of the LCD frame. It's fast and responsive to operate, and facilitates three user-defined settings for smooth ramping of zoom starts and stops. Surprisingly, its digital zoom isn't bad, either - at 40x, the images are clear and don't display the expected blockiness that results from digital processing. It's not so good at the full 200x digital zoom, but that's no surprise, although the Super Range Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS) counteracts wobbly hand-held camera work impressively well. Once slight complaint is that the manual Custom dial, positioned close to the lens, can be difficult to operate when you need to make fine adjustments.

The full range of manual control options are available here, with the Custom dial being used to make adjustments to focus, exposure, aperture and audio input when the appropriate mode is selected. The 2.7in colour LCD provides several display options, and you can keep an eye on such functions as audio input levels while recording. The HF S10 can be connected to an HDTV via mini-HDMI (cable not supplied) or the supplied Component cable (for which the sockets exist under a body-formed panel under the hand strap on the right). A mini-B USB socket and cable is provided to transfer movie clips and images to your Mac.

Facilitating the maximum 24Mbits/sec bitrate possible under the existing AVCHD specification, the Legria HF S10 produces images that are unquestionably superb. However, importing the raw clips into Premiere Pro CS4 highlighted a number of problems that might be attributable to the fact that Canon uses H.264 High Profile at Level 4.1 (up to 24Mbits/sec) whereas Sony and Panasonic use H.264 Main Profile for their consumer AVCHD products at Level 4.0 (up to 18Mbits/sec). This isn't a problem when using iMovie or Final Cut Pro, but could be a problem on lower-powered Macs where no intermediate transcoding is undertaken. Note that an Intel Mac running Mac OS X Leopard is required for AVCHD editing.

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