Snow has been falling ever since Sunday, 17. On Monday, a blizzard hit the city and, like almost everytime in such cases, the whole damn place is paralyzed. Lucky me, I can work from home — the miracles of modern communications: I need a good internet connection and access to some teleconference rooms. Thus, I can easily provide remotely. That is — as long as power is on. The good part is that during the weekend I had more time to play with the new camcorder, the HFS10. I took it out in the park where I filmed some wild ducks and seagulls on the nearby lake as they were fed by the passerby. Not a big deal of a subject, true, but I was interested in the color and motion performance. I came back home wet. The snowflakes were pilling quickly on the cam, so I towed some paper towels from my pocket to dry the toy. The LCD panel was dripping. The joystick — don’t even ask. I removed the battery and put the camera in the pocket. Without intention, against the warranty, I also tested the sealing and the behavior in wet and cold conditions, although I would not take it under rain and, probably, I will not do this again. The whole gizmo was covered with water. I hurried back home, let it dry for a couple of hours, stuck back the bat, pressed the power button, hold my breath.
Joops! The lens cover opened, it was alive.
I pulled the files and opened them on the iMac. Time for a coffee.
Man, this gadget rocks! Those were the first footages I had the chance to take under proper light. Wonder why almost all tests on youtube are “lowlight test”? Because we get back from work late. That’s why.
And I’m glad I took it, basically trading my former Panasonic HDC SD100 — an excellent choice also, but with some limitations that I didn’t like — with this piece of marvel. Although I am a Nikon user, I cannot say that I have compulsions towards a certain brand. Actually, Nikon “lured” me intro its system back in the D80 days, but Canon creates some superb piece of equipment too, and this camera — Canon HFS10 — is no exception to this rule.
Back home I took some photos of the cam. All images are taken with my D700 and 24-70 F/2.8 combo, some with 50mm f/1.4G AF-S, with a single on-camera flash, the SB800, bounced and reflected in a large piece of paper. 😉 Click on them for 1024px versions in lightbox. In this second part of my review I will cover only the overall aspect of the camera and some comments on ergonomics. Part III will focus on camera operations. Part IV — on image quality, suggestions, and conclusions.
Remember, this are just my opinions, yours might be different.
HFS10 Review — Part II: Look & Feel and some spicy stuff
Once you pull it out of the box, the most striking (and exciting) aspect of the HFS10 is the lens. The protection curtain that covers the lens is very responsive, it opens and snaps shut in less than a second. The lens itself is very large having a filter mount thread of 58mm — the same for my Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 G AF-S. Compared to my previous camcorder, the SD100, this is a very pleasant surprise and big improvement. The lens is a Canon HD lens, with 10x optical zoom, 6.4-64mm on the 1/2.6″ sensor (equivalent to 43.5-435mm on a full-frame camera), a bit limited on the wide end but that does not bother me. However, the good thing is that on the wide 6.4mm end (43.5mm FF), the aperture sticks at f/1.8. The lens also provides an impressive f/2.8 for the tele 64mm end (435mm FF eq.) with very good separation of planes due to the narrow DOF. I believe that the 1.5 stop variation for the zoom range is stellar both for luminosity and depth-of-field — DOF. However, for shooting at the tele end, a sturdy tripod is needed. The camera is very light and vibrates easily with the wind. IMO camera jitter completely spoils a footage so I always use a tripod when I want to use the tele end. By the way, I have a very heavy Giottos tripod with a Giottos ballhead. The weight was the main reason I bought it. Even if cumbersome, a heavy tripod is always the option even for photo. Choose one that has a comfy carrying bag.
Having a biiig lens it’s a multiple advantage: proper lighting is assured which provides good quality footage and stills. Secondly, I can use all my 58mm photo filters also on the HFS10. Considering the collection of filters I have this is not a small thing: polarizing filters and neutral gradients are especially important. But I can easily find uses for all my color correction filters too. Finally, but not the least important, one can better attach a DOF adaptor to use dSLR lenses. The unit is more balanced.
Maybe it does not sound too much, but I usually carry both my camcorder and my D700 with the 50mm 1.4G lens. Having only one set of filters is an advantage. For the panny I had troubles finding a 38mm pol filter. I finally got a 43mm with a 38-43 adapter ring (shown above). Funny, the external diameter of the adapter had exactly the same size as panny’s lens tube so it looked very cool when mounted on the camera.
Compared to my previous camcorder this is a big plus. The Panasonic SD100 had a very small front lens element. The difference in size is considerable, thus the image tend to be more “film-like” because the bokeh is better and the effect of the DOF at larger apertures is considerably more pronounced. The image is closer to the one I get on the D700 with the 50mm attached: a more pleasant overall aspect that does not strike you but it creates the feeling of “natural”. You can better assess the size difference comparing the filter mounts for both camcorders, the Canon and the Panasonic:
At the bottom of the filter thread is the instant AF sensor. The focusing speed is very good.
Some words about the flash and the video lamp
Above the lens is the flash-mini video light combo. The small led on the left is the mini-video lamp:
This pops up whenever the lighting is not sufficient. The flash is quite sufficient for good indoor stills. The mini-video is suitable only at close distance. However, it is quite handy when you have something to shot in conditions that would otherwise require a very low shutter speed or complete darkness. The footage below was shot in total darkness and you can see that the mini-light has some serious power limitations, including a greenish cast that appears at the margins of the beam, on the illuminated subjects. However, remember that this “mini-light” is actually one small white LED that cannot work miracles, it is just a workaround when otherwise would be impossible to capture any video at all.
This footage shows another cool thing: the AF speed even in very poor lighting. Watch it again and see the sequence when I focus on the wrist watch. For me, it is quite impressive for just an isolated small source of light. Also, the colors keep very well, especially in the center (see the sequence with the hand). If for some unknown reason you cannot sleep at night and you want to shoot your pet while grooming, this mini-video light will do the trick:
Another image of the flash-mini video lamp, as seen from behind. The gizmo pops up quite snappy. The right channel mic is also in the image (the mask with holes, of course). The camera features two mics, each for one of the stereo channels. In my experience with the Panasonic SD100 I have never used the 5+1 features so a stereo audio recording capability is more than enough for me. In the third part of this review I will post some audio tracks (mp3). You can judge by yourselves the audio capability.
The left side of the camera includes the LCD panel and control buttons. Also, the left mic. Just below — the custom dial and the custom button unit. These two are excellent and useful control features. You can assign one of the 5 featured custom controls (exposure, focus, assist functions, mic level, auto gain control limit — AGC limit), access that specific manual control during shooting by pressing the custom button and changing the setting by rotating the custom dial. They are very conveniently placed and can be reached and operated with ease, without interfering with the mic and/or lens. The dial is very well damped, the rotation is smooth, without hiccups, and the button has a beveled margin that allows pressing directly from lateral or from behind. I find this solution for manual control of the camera very handy and much better ergonomically than the panny’s combination of pressing a small, sunken button and rotating the lens ring. With the panny I have very often placed my hand between the lens and subject trying to find the button or rotating the ring. This cannot happen with the HFS10 because the button and the dial have very distinctive forms and can be easily reached without looking at the cam. However, one big plus for the Panasonic SD100 is the possibility of controlling the aperture and shutter speed independently. This is not possible on the Canon. A workaround is the use of exposure control and/ or AGC limit, that might give a bit of latitude in under- or overexposing. More about all these in the third section of the review (“Operating the camera”).
The LCD panel. This is not very big, but just enough. All needed controls are present here: the joystick (menu item selection and confirmation etc), the FUNC button (that opens the menus), play, stop, playlist and camera/play buttons. More about all these in the next part of the review. However one important thing: pressing FUNC button and using the joystick allows quick selection of the following features: mini video light, setting digital effects, pre REC, background light balance, exposure, focus, mic level, toggle face detection and tele converter. Of particular importance are the exposure and focus options because you can assign one manual control for the custom dial and use another via FUNC and joystick. For example, you can assign focus for the custom dial and tweak exposure via FUNC and joystick etc. This enhances the manual controls capabilities of the camera. Cool. The round surface immediately above the joystick it is not a puffer, it is the remote sensor. The choice of placing this here is well thought because in the vast majority of situation you will point the remote somewhere between the LCD panel and the left side of the camera. Thus, placement of the sensor somewhere in front of camera would’ve been an unhappy solution.
Under the LCD panel, the left side of the camera features the speaker, the battery release switch (good idea; another location of this switch is prone to inadvertently release of the battery), the video snapshot button and the toggle display button. Also, the cover of the SD card compartment can be found here.
Immediately underneath the strap is the terminal compartment. This is a relief. On the panny, only the composite terminal was located under the LCD panel. The USB and the HDMI terminals were placed in the battery compartment, under the battery. It was impossible to use them without extracting first the battery which was a pain. Not the case here. All three terminals can be easily accessed and I even contemplate removing the strap (which I don’t use anyway) to have even better access. The HDMI terminal (green arrow) spits uncompressed HD which makes it ideal for direct capture on a dedicated hardware. Some cheap diy solutions have already emerged on the net, I leave you the pleasure to find them. It is important to remember that this is ful 4-2-2 uncompressed HD video signal which completely changes the rules of the game.
The red arrow shows the mini jack plug for the external mic and the blue arrow — the custom dial, seen from below.
Nothing special about the battery compartment aside from the reset to factory defaults button. I’m glad they did not put anything else here. Thumbs up, Canon.