With high-definition televisions showing up everywhere from living rooms to sports bars, it's making more sense to capture life's moments — our kids' first steps, school plays and Little League games — with the same resolution and clarity.
Canon hopes consumers will agree and toss their grainy analog and standard-definition camcorders in favor of what it calls the world's smallest and lightest HD camera. Its upright-style HV10, which lists for $1,300 but is available for less than $1,000 online, weighs less than a pound and fits easily in the palm of your hand.
Its 2.7-inch sensor captures HD video to standard MiniDV cassettes in 1080i — 1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels — and also records in standard definition. Canon was not the first to bring a consumer-grade HD camera to market, but the HV10's ease of use and sharp picture clarity make it worth the wait.
You can monitor what you're filming through the camera's view finder, or flip out the bright widescreen LCD. The screen can be twisted and placed back flush with the camera's side, providing a great opportunity to step away and use the remote control when filming with a tripod.
Camcorders were made for the youth sports parent, so I tested the HV10 at a couple of my son's football games.
The first, an outdoor game on a sunny day, showcased the HV10's "Instant AF" auto focus and its optical stabilizer that's supposed to keep the image clear and stable.
The camera followed the action well, constantly refining its focus to keep the picture sharp. The stabilizer helped compensate for my less-than-steady hand, although the shake became a bit more noticeable when the camera's 10x optical zoom was pushed to its full range.
The camera does have some odd ergonomic qualities, and its small size — due to my large hand — complicated access to the controls.
The zoom toggle is operated with the right hand's index or middle finger, which left my other fingers looking for a place to rest so as not to interfere with the camera's optics.
The record button was easily accessed with my right thumb, but the tiny nearby menu button and dial, which scrolls through menu options, proved tough to navigate. The rear panel's function, focus and exposure buttons — important if you decide to venture off automatic mode — are placed so flush with the body that I had to use my fingernails to press them.
The camera's internal microphone sits atop the unit near the back, and it picked up my unintentional narration and fellow parents' gripes about missed calls as much as the hits from between the hash marks. This would be more easily forgiven if there were a plug for an external microphone, but there's not.
The camera's lithium-ion rechargeable battery let me film most of the game, but it fell a bit shy of its documented 75-minute charge span.
The HV10's next test was a night football game, and it proved more than up to the task in low light. The video looked just as crisp as the day contest, although the camera often had to work a little harder to find its focus.
Where the HV10 really shines is when the video is piped onto an HDTV.
You'll need to use either the included "component out" cable or buy a four- or six-pin FireWire cable, as there's no port to connect an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) output connector.
Playback controls are hidden under the camera's LCD screen, or you can use the included remote to scan and play the footage.
No HDTV in the house yet? No problem. Just use the standard video cable to view recordings in a downgraded format on your regular set.
The HV10 also doubles as a 2.76-megapixel digital camera, although I tend to be skeptical of any electronic device that tries to do another's job. Its built-in flash helped out indoors, but I had to give the camera a chance to find its focal point or my pictures came out blurry.
If given the choice and an extra hand, I'd always stick with my dedicated still camera. But I have to admit, being able to snap pictures while simultaneously recording video is kind of cool.
The camera captures images to a miniSD card — not included — and getting the photos out of the HV10 was seamless. I was able to transfer them to my laptop using a provided USB cable, and also was able to bypass the computer and output shots directly a PrintBridge-compatible printer.
Transferring videos to the computer works well, but the task requires a FireWire cable and video editing software. Neither is included.
The HV10's disc contains just an image browser and some drivers, so you'll have to find an editing program that can handle high def. Apple Computer Inc.'s iMovie HD can do the trick for Mac users, and Canon is offering a free copy of Pinnacle Studio Plus through the end of January.
I used a Pinnacle trial version, which let me move my regular-definition videos to my computer but not my HD content. I'll have to put the tapes aside for a later date.
At more than a grand, the HV10 puts a bit of a premium on making the high-tech jump from a standard camcorder.
But it's easy to use right out of the box and wows with its superior image quality, quick focus adjustments and helpful optical stabilization.
Sure, it has ergonomic shortcomings, but they're long forgotten when you're watching your home movies in all their high-def glory.
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