Pure Digital’s Flip has proven that it’s possible to build a super-small flash memory camcorder and offer it up for fewer than two hundred bucks. But there are tradeoffs with going small and cheap, like optics and battery life. Canon takes a completely different tack with its newest solid-state cam, the Vixia HF S10, which delivers some fantastically brilliant moving pictures, but at a stiff cost.
The HF S10 parlays the durability and weight savings of solid-state storage, a new Digic DV III processor and a spacious 9.8mm (diagonal) CMOS sensor into a high-performing prosumer video camera. Canon’s top-of-the-line dual flash camcorder sports 32GB of onboard memory that delivers just under three hours of dazzling, sharp and nicely saturated full 1920 x 1080 60i HD recording at 24 Mbps straight from the carton. What’s better, you can snap good-looking (if occasionally over-processed) eight megapixel stills in the midst of your motion picture making. The S10 also has an SDHC expansion slot which can double its capacity. (You can add a fleet footed 16GB SDHC card for less than $40.)
Canon’s continued the evolution of its relatively intuitive menu system by locating most key controls on the periphery of the 2.7-inch LCD. It includes the usual array of creative shooting options plus legit aperture and shutter-priority modes. The big-eyed 10x zoom boasts an aperture range of f1.8 to f8 for more cinematic depth of field shooting and the shutter speeds go from 1/8 to 1/2000 of a second.
Out in the field, auto focus and auto exposure were both very impressive in a wide range of situations, from the intense brightness of the beach to shady and contrasty venues. Every camera suffers indoors, thanks to low light, and everyone complains about it, but the S10 did a credible job with low light shots and it’s clearly better than previous cams of this ilk.
The sound system is also improved by the placement of microphones on the sides of the lens barrel. Their location and ample size create noticeably better stereo separation and audio quality.
Edging towards the precipice of controversy, Canon chose to omit an eye level viewfinder, so you have to rely on the flip-out LCD. Traditionalists may cringe, but I don’t miss it and I doubt you will, too.
There is one little bugaboo with this camcorder and it has nothing to do with its shooting performance. Canon chose an internal spring-loaded eyelid type lens cover that chatters like a loose set of dentures at the slightest vibration when it’s closed.
Should you get this camcorder? We think so, provided you’ve got the budget. It’s a great shooter with a ton of features and technology that’ll you’ll enjoy for a long time, but if you’re budget’s tight (and whose isn’t?) you can save a couple hundred bucks if you go for the HF S100, which is exactly the same without the onboard memory.