Monday, March 14, 2011

Two amazing little cameras from Canon

This weekend I saw the Canon HF G10 and Canon XA10 at the Camera Company show. When Canon announced these cameras back at CES, I was intrigued because:
  1. though they use a small sensor, the native resolution of the sensor is 1920 x 1080.
  2. they have several pro-features including color peaking for focusing and full manual controls.
and the XA10 also includes a detachable handle that adds XLR audio jacks.

But there's been some other interesting things going on over the past month - notably the Sony NXCAM Super 35mm - and I sort of forgot about these cameras. But that might be a mistake.

Canon Vixia HF G10

These are small cameras; on first inspection they look fatter and beefier than the previous top-of-the-line consumer camcorders from Canon like the VIXIA HF S20, but that's really an illusion, the HF G10 is only fractionally bigger, and 50 grams heavier.

They are also molded in a matte-black plastic with a creased leather-like pattern on the surface, which has a dramatically different appearance when compared to the bright-shiny smooth plastic of the HF S20. I'm not sure if I like it or not.

The other big visual difference, apart from the large detachable plastic lens hood on the front of the camera, is the rotating focus ring just behind the front of the lens.

View finder showing color peaking (red outline)

Canon has given us a large focus ring on the front of these cameras, and that's nice and useful. One of the problems with high-end consumer cameras is that while they may have many features found on pro cameras, these features are often accessible through screen menus or tiny little buttons and wheels. So it's really nice to have this large focus ring to work with.

Even better, when you turn the ring, the viewfinder jumps to a 2x view to help you focus. It drops back to regular view shortly after you stop spinning the focus ring.

Zooming is still accomplished using a tiny slider at the back (top) of the camera. It's not a nice rocker, and I wish you could switch the focus-ring to operate the zoom if you wanted to, but that is not the case.

On the other hand, the HF G10 has zebras, full manual settings, and it adds color peaking to help with focusing, and waveform displays to show exposure. The size of the body and the lack of audio inputs not withstanding, when it comes to shooting controls it's getting harder to differentiate this from the pro cameras like the Canon XF100.

Canon XA10

Adding XLR Audio
And if XLR inputs and dials for adjusting audio levels are important to you, you might consider the XA10. It's basically the same camera as the HF G10, but it comes with a detachable handle that adds the XLR inputs and controls. That adds another $500 to the price - compared to the HF G10 - putting it just $1,000 south of the price of the XF100.

As appealing as the handle is, once you start adding XLR audio inputs, your little camera will get more unwieldy to work with. I think I'd rather shoot dual sound (record to a Zoom H4n or similar) OR use a Beachtek DXA-2T or similar audio adapter and then feed audio into the mic input. For me, that makes particular sense as I already own an older Beachtek!

Canon XA10 Audio Controls

Low Light
Unfortunately, I didn't get to shoot any footage with these cameras, but they were showing some demo footage, and it looked impressive. Low light performance is supposed to be really good - one of the advantages of having large pixels on the sensor - and the lens is f/1.8 - 2.8 (compared to the f/1.8 - 3.0 for the HF S20.) It will be interesting to see how it compares in testing to the latest high-end Handicam from Sony, the HDR-CX700V.

Canon XA10 XLR Audio Jacks

Having played with the HF G10, I'm even more impressed with it. It's an AVCHD camera, and lacks the 50Mbps MPEG-2 Recording, 4:2:2 Color Sampling of the Canon XF100 (another reason I might not spring for the XA10) but it packs a lot of features in a small form factor, and the image quality won't be that far off from the XF100.

I wish I had one. (Note: they should be shipping shortly.)

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