- Good quality video, extensive range of manual options, HDMI capable
- Mini-SD card slot prohibits recording options, viewfinder poorly placed, a bit on the chunky side
The Canon HR10 is a decent enough DVD camera, offering impressive high-def visuals at a relatively affordable price. However, there are several competing models on the market which offer a superior performance.
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The DVD camcorder is like a wounded beast that refuses to die. Despite having fallen from favour in the casual market (where 'HDD' is the new black), and being soundly ignored by serious videographers (who prefer the versatility of video), the format continues to persevere; bloody but unbroken. For some at least, it would seem that the allure of the 'Instant DVD' has lost none of its appeal.
Canon's latest addition to this contentious format, dubbed the HR10, is a DVD-based camcorder capable of capturing footage in high definition. What's more, it marks Canon's first foray into the AVCHD video codec, which offers superior rates of compression (previous high-def cameras in the Canon range have adhered to the HDV format). It supports dual-layer discs (DVD-R and DVD-RW) and records in bit rates of 12Mbps, 9Mbps, 7Mbps and 5Mbps; allowing up to 27 minutes of recording time at its highest quality. All up, the HR10 is a fairly typical HD-DVD device, comparable to Sony's HDR-UX5E. While it gets the job done in a fast and user-friendly manner, proponents of superior technology are unlikely to be swayed.
As already mentioned, the HR10 utilises the AVCHD format as a means of increasing storage space. This allows you to burn a substantial amount of high-def video to disc while retaining a similar level of image quality. Video performance was solid across the board, with the True Progressive HD CMOS sensor offering faithful colour fidelity and excellent resolution. Although highlights occasionally appeared blown out and noise levels became noticeable in low lighting, we were nevertheless quite pleased with the overall performance. Being a high-def camera, the clarity of images is naturally very sharp, sporting a 'Full HD' resolution of 1920x1080.
When it comes to build quality, the HD10 is surprisingly hefty for its size. At well over 500g, it's not something you can throw in your jacket pocket and forget about, but at least the added weight ensures your footage will remain smooth and steady. Using the device is relatively straightforward, with Canon's familiar directional stick making a welcome return for menu navigation. The range of manual options on offer is quite extensive, including 13 programmed AE modes, adjustable exposure levels, shutter and aperture-priority modes, adjustable white balance, image quality adjustments, video effects and a built-in flash for still photography.
Our only reservation in terms of design has to do with the position of the viewfinder. When pressed against our eye, the majority of camera controls -- including the directional stick, power button and mode switch -- were obscured beneath our cheek. This effectively forces hands-on users to rely on the 2.7in LCD display. On the plus side, the LCD is relatively bright and offers decent viewing angles. The HD10 also comes equipped with a 10x optical zoom, which is pretty average for a camcorder in this price range.
A somewhat less forgivable omission is the lack of a secondary recording device. Although the HR10 comes equipped with a Mini-SD slot, it can only be used for capturing and storing photos. By contrast, the Panasonic HDC-SX5 is fully compatible with SD/SDHC memory cards, boosting recording time by up to 240 minutes. Some camcorders even come equipped with a hard drive in addition to a DVD recorder. In the face of such competition, the HR10's functionality is severely limited.
One annoying side-effect of the DVD format is the lengthy finalisation process, which is necessary to playback your movies on a DVD player. Depending on the amount of footage stored on a disc, this can take anywhere between five and 10 minutes. Of course, the disc-making process is still a lot quicker than using a HDD or tape-based camera, which would require you to import your footage to a computer first. Nonetheless, it remains an annoying quibble.
Once a disc has been (finally) finalised, it can be slotted into an AVCHD-compatible player for instant playback. Bear in mind that owners of standard DVD players will need to record their footage in SD mode if they want to watch the movies on the device.
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