Review: Canon HFS11 Camcorder

Canon’s newest mouth-watering camcorder is both high-def and high-style. But is it high-quality? You better believe it. Does it have drawbacks? You better believe that too.

Not much bigger than a can of Red Bull, the HFS11’s high-quality lens takes exceptional moving images, helped by the 1/2.6-inch CMOS sensor and digital image processing. Colors pop more vividly than Wavy Gravy’s closet, yet still appear true to life. Just about everything we shot looked distinct and sharp; almost three dimensional in appearance. The cam also performs well in brightly lit settings and in low light. We were able to shoot indoors in the evening without our video looking like a noisy VHS tape. We were especially impressed with fine details that showed up throughout. Stills look great — but real talk — practically nobody uses their camcorders for photography.

The only issue we had with the picture was its puzzlingly poor auto-focus at close range. In brightly lit, high-contrast settings the camera had difficulty focusing on vividly colored objects. When we tried zooming in on some flowers on our front walk, the cam repeatedly rendered them as an ominous red blob, floating eerily above beautifully vivid green leaves. (It was not an issue shooting indoors, or in average light conditions.) Perhaps with a little more practice this would have ceased to be an issue, but we never got around it.

The controls are something of a mixed bag. We loved the knurled manual focus control on the front end of the camcorder, while the zoom is Usain Bolt fast and more responsive than a Ferrari. It zoomed in on distant objects with remarkable grace and focused nearly instantly in auto-mode.

The rest of the controls, however, are merely so-so. Too many functions that should be dedicated buttons on the camcorder are concealed in the menus. There are some spectacular features buried in there that we really love — 24p and 30p modes, manual gain control and all sorts of specialty shooting options — but they’re a pain to access quickly. Canon has added a control knob to help get you through its menus; if you’ve used Canon cameras or camcorders before, you’ll find the them familiar.

But it’s not all about the buttons. Throughout most of the range of its 10X zoom lens, the HFS11 gives a clear, steady shot with minimum shake. And, since it has optical rather than electronic image stabilization, we didn’t have to sacrifice picture quality for digital effects that essentially just chop off the edges of a shot. While we did see noticeable jitters at 10X when shooting distant buildings without a tripod, it still did very well for that kind of close-up shot. And when we tried the Reality Show Cliché Shot (walking, talking and filming self all at once) it was flawless enough to reveal every blemish — even the ones we weren’t previously aware of. It’s not a Steadicam, but it certainly tops the nausea-inducing shake you’ll get with most models if you try walking while filming.

Overall, however, we were exceptionally pleased. Although we do have a few reservations, it’s hard to find a better shooter that doesn’t come with oysters and vodka.

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