Pros: Excellent picture quality even in low light; good range of features; easy to use for novices and enthusiasts alike.
Cons: Poor microphone placement; no 5.1-channel surround option; no optical viewfinder; control dial is fiddly.
When it comes to producing easy-to-use camcorders that deliver on picture quality, Canon has an enviable track record – and the HF S10 is no exception. Everything about it screams quality, from its fit, finish and comfortably weighty feel, down to the components inside. These include a 1/2.6-inch CMOS image sensor with an effective video resolution of 6.01 megapixels and an improved Digic DV III processor, which now includes face detection. You also get 32GB of flash memory (enough for three hours of video at the highest quality setting), and an SDHC card slot for expansion.
The real beauty of the HF S10, though, lies in its careful balance of features and functionality: it’s as simple or as complex to use as you want it to be. You can choose to point and shoot when you need to monitor the action rather than output, or use the menu system to take full control, with a wide variety of options in between.
These range from tweaking the white balance settings for certain shooting conditions (such as indoor tungsten or fluorescent lighting, for example) to using a variety of shooting modes (such as Aperture Priority), along with professional features such as colour peaking and zebra patterns, so you can optimise focus, exposure, and more manually.
Most options live up to Canon’s ease-of-use promise, with the exception of the mini control dial by the lens. It enables you to call up and use all kinds of manual features – such as focusing – while you shoot, but it can be fiddly to use. A proper lens ring would have been better.
Canon has missed a trick when it comes to audio. There’s no 5.1-channel surround option, and the stereo microphones are oddly placed on either side of the lens. On the blustery day of our shoot that meant the HF S10 picked up a lot of wind noise, even with noise reduction on. Your best bet may be to buy an external microphone and mount it on Canon’s proprietary mini hotshoe on the top of the body instead.
Where the HF S10 wins through, of course, is with its picture quality. The results are simply stunning. Play your footage back on an HDTV or computer screen and you’re rewarded with natural-looking images with good skin tones and colour balance, and a very high level of detail.
This review is one of six in a HD Camcorder Group Test.