The Canon Vixia HF G10 is an excellent piece of hardware, plain and simple. Between its powerful processor, CMOS Pro sensor and multiple shooting modes - including the ability to shoot in cinematic 24p framerate - the HF G10 is a video enthusiast's dream.
While it has its drawbacks, they are relatively minor and none of them make the HF G10 an unworthy purchase. But therein lies possibly the greatest issue with the HF G10: with a price point of $1499.99, actually buying and getting to experience such a great piece of equipment could be a bit of an issue. But if you've got the cash to spare and are looking for a high-end camcorder, then the HF G10 is the way to go. Read on to find out why.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The HF G10 is not the sleekest camcorder you will ever use. In fact, it's quite bulky (its dimensions are roughly 3.5 x 3.0625 x 6.375 inches) and heavy, weighing in at 20.8 ounces with the battery. A lot of its bulk is a result of its most attractive features, though - including the huge wide-angle lens, 32GB of onboard storage, 1/3" CMOS sensor, etc. - so it's the price of admission that is somewhat expected. But despite the larger size and heft of the HF G10, it's still relatively comfortable to hold, and that's coming from someone with smaller than average hands.
As is the industry standard, the start/stop record button is on the back of the device and is easily reachable with your thumb. Also in the back is the battery mounting area, the charging port, a viewfinder (that must be pulled out to activate), and a programmable button and wheel, which can be assigned to perform various tasks such as adjusting aperture, exposure, AGC limit, etc.
On the right side, there is the handstrap, a single speaker, and a flip-out door that nicely conceals micro USB, HDMI, and remote control ports. Towards the back on the same side is a switch for toggling between Intelligent Auto, Manual, and Cinema shooting modes, while towards the front is an external mic jack.
You may not need to use that, though, as a hot shoe - something I found to be an extremely nice inclusion - is found on the top of the HF G10, which is perfect for mics and other accessories. It's located right behind the zoom controls, but if you don't feel the need for an external microphone, towards the front are the left and right onboard mics. On the bottom are the tripod mount and the battery release switch.
Finally, on the left side is the power switch and, of course, the flip-out, 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD display. On the display itself, there are two physical buttons: one for switching between auto and manual focus, and one that can be held down for additional image stabilization, but those are just their default assignments. Like the custom button and wheel in the back, they can also be reprogrammed to do different things.
Hidden behind the display against the camera's body is the switch to toggle between shooting and playback, another toggle switch for turning on-screen info like battery life on and off, component out and AV out ports, and two SDXC slots.
Ergonomics and Controls
On the whole, the HF G10 has an intelligent, uncomplicated design. Buttons are well-located and easy to reach, and, as odd as it sounds, I really love that Canon chose to use little sliding doors to cover most of the ports and slots. It's a little thing, I know, but it seems much more graceful than just having them open or covered by little rubber nubs that are left dangling when they're pulled out.
Though I do like the minimalist design that keeps dozens of physical buttons from plaguing the camera's body, I do wish that there was physical camera button. Instead, to snap photos there's a virtual button that is found on the touchscreen display, which is not only awkward because I have to attempt to steady the camera while poking at the screen with my other hand, but also because its sensitivity is not very good (more on that in a second).
Having to pull the viewfinder out to get it to activate may not be the most immediately obvious design choice in the world, but I do think that it's a clever way to keep things compact and, once again, avoid having another physical button to perform that task. The manual focus ring on the lens offers a slight level of resistance when being turned that makes it comfortable to grasp and use.
Menus and Modes
The HF G10 is packed full of different modes and features which is obviously a good thing, but unfortunately the menu system is convoluted and not particularly streamlined, so it's difficult to find and use certain features when you need them. Once you sort of get used to it, you can see everything that the HF G10 has to offer, including decorations, which let you had various graphical elements to the picture, including stamps, watermarks, and even freehand drawings (you can doodle on the touchscreen with the included stylus). The touchscreen can also be used for zoom controls and selecting subjects to put into focus.
Another unique feature, like the decorations, is the video snapshot mode, which lets you take snippets of video (two, four, or eight seconds apiece) and arrange them to be playback to music of your choice. Similarly, there is the Story Creator, which basically creates suggestions for scenes based on what kind of story you want to make, you fill in those suggestions with your video footage, and it's all played back in chronological order to create a "story." So for the "Ceremony" template, the camera has a list, in order, for the scenes: "What's the occasion?" "Interview with the main character," "Planning the ceremony," etc. And you just tap on each one of those descriptors and you're taken to recording mode, complete with a suggested time for the length of the particular scene, to shoot your video for that scene within the storyline. You can add as many scenes as you like within a single story.
The HF G10 also features automatic face detection, and the camera allows you to set priorities for focus with multiple faces on screen. You can even adjust the autofocus by limiting it so it only applies to faces while letting you use manual focus for all other scenes.
And, of course, there are the general settings for the camera's functionality, like language, power save mode, date/time, battery info, HDMI 1080p output, zoom and focus speeds, etc.
The HF G10 has a massive display, measuring at a roomy 3.5 inches, which is great since it utilizes a lot of touchscreen controls in lieu of physical buttons. Its settings can also be adjusted, which is nice since some cameras lack that feature; information icons can be turned on and off, the screen can be set to automatically dim, and brightness can be adjusted to help with seeing the screen during outdoor shooting. The picture on the display is crisp and colorful, featuring TFT color at 922,000 dots.
My only issue with the display is that its touchscreen sensitivity is very poor. I often find myself repeatedly tapping it to get my commands to register, and in many cases its accuracy is off, too. This proves to be especially frustrating when attempting to navigate the menus and the poor sensitivity makes scrolling a chore, while incorrectly registered taps result in me selecting the wrong options.
Operating the HF G10 can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. But if you're not an expert with camcorders and opt to just use the Intelligent Auto shooting mode, you're still going to get excellent quality video as a result of how well the dummy mode adjusts settings on the fly. Because of the 1/3" 2.37 megapixel CMOS Pro sensor, low light situations are handled exceptionally well - even when rapidly switching from high to low light situations and vice versa - with very little noise. The reason this sensor, despite being only 2.37 megapixels, is actually better than those of the competition is because all sensors must be the same size, so having fewer megapixels allows for larger plates on the sensor. This lets more light in and makes for better low-light shooting; besides, most consumer TV resolutions top at or around 2 megapixels anyway.
Autofocus is reliable and accurate (and you can prioritize what subjects you want in focus by tapping them on the touchscreen) and the white balance is great; I rarely ran into any situations where white looked too cool or bluish.
There are some quirks to figuring out the interface and default shooting controls, though. For instance, even when you switch the camera to manual shooting mode, the focus mode is still set to automatic by default; you have to switch it over to manual yourself every time. That seems a little counterintuitive to me, seeing as the manual mode should have all settings switched to, well, manual.
And, as I mentioned, the menus are definitely a bit confusing, since they're all handled via the touchscreen and they're not very intuitive. Instead of having everything in one place, there's the function menu (which is broken down into multiple pages worth of options for video effects and settings like white balance, exposure, etc.), there's the settings menu (which is also further broken down into three separate pages for things like self-timer, recording mode, frame rate, etc.) and then there's also the filters menu in cinematic mode for all of the different visual filters. This is an incredibly deep and complex device with tons of different modes, options, and settings, which is great. But it can get a little overwhelming and difficult to remember where everything is when the litany of options it offers are scattered all over the place.
While there are plenty of manual controls to choose from (and that's something I really do appreciate) I don't like the way that they're all handled via the convoluted on-screen menus. Since tweaking and adjusting the settings brings up controls that take up the majority of the screen, it makes it difficult to even seen what my changes and adjustments look like. But besides that issue (and the fact that the poor touchscreen sensitivity makes any adjustments a bit of a chore), I really enjoy how the camera gives you the flexibility of manual controls while still finding ways to aid you.
For one, I absolutely love the manual focus controls. The focus ring on the front of the camera, as mentioned, is comfortable to use, and when you start adjusting the focus, the picture on the LCD display automatically zooms in digitally to provide focus assistance. Once you're sure that your subject is in sharp focus and you stop moving the ring, the picture zooms back out and goes back to displaying what you actually have in frame. This made it incredibly easy to manually adjust the focus on my own, and would help me set up shots with some really incredible looking depth of field (with my subject in sharp focus and its surroundings in a soft blur).
There are other assistive modes like putting up zebra lines for indicating what parts of the picture or overexposed and "peaking," which highlights subjects (in your choice of red, yellow, or blue!) to show what is in focus and what isn't.
There are also the previously-mentioned and rather unique story creator, video snapshot, and image effect modes, all of which are a bit on the gimmicky side and aren't particularly useful. I don't see most serious users utilizing these modes very often, but they're still a nice addition for, say, families that like to have fun and shoot a lot of home movies.
The battery life on the HF G10 isn't stellar, but that's to be expected with something as high-end and feature packed as this camcorder. It isn't terrible either, though; when shooting on the highest quality recording mode and using the LCD, the advertised "typical battery life" is 60 minutes. This is a pretty accurate estimate, but as long as you aren't shooting continuously for 60 minutes straight, you can usually get a little more than that out of each charge (about another 10 minutes or so). With the 32GB of onboard storage and shooting at MXP, the highest quality video, you can fit about 2 hours and 55 minutes worth of video on there (not bad, considering how great the video looks). So you'll have to charge it about three times if you're going to fill it up.
Adjusting different variables like the recording mode, using the viewfinder instead of the LCD screen, doing playback instead of recording, and recording to a memory card as opposed to onboard storage all affect the battery life somewhat. But truth be told, under most circumstances you'll only get a decent but not great amount of longevity out of the battery. What I will say is that unlike some camcorders that I've worked with in the past, though, the HF G10 holds its remaining charge well when not in use at all.
Video, Audio, and Stills Quality
The video quality of the HF G10 is nothing short of outstanding. The HD picture looks plenty sharp, and the Intelligent Auto handles adjustments like exposure and white balance on the fly quite well. In terms of the framerate, when shooting in standard Intelligent Auto mode (as opposed to cinema), the video was butter-smooth and featured little to no motion blur. I was impressed by how quickly the autofocus could adjust when switching subjects that were at different lengths from the lens; I especially enjoyed using the touchscreen to prioritize which subjects I wanted in focus, at which point the autofocus easily adjusted itself. Low light situations are handled well too, thanks in large part to the 2.37 megapixel CMOS sensor and DIGIC DV III image processor.
But while that's all to be commended, the part of the video quality that I was most impressed by was the cinema shooting mode. Shooting in 24 frames per second, progressive, the cinema mode looked smooth during playback but at the same time had just the right amount of motion blur, which gave my videos a quality that could only be described as, well, cinematic. I was really blown away by how slick and professional it made my videos look. And the icing on the cake was the slew of various filters that could be applied while shooting in cinema mode, including dream, memory (gives it a faded, misty look), black and white, and old movie, among others.
The onboard directional mic of the HF G10 is serviceable, but I would recommend investing in an external mic, especially since the hot shoe makes it so easy to put one on there. The onboard mic can detect the direction from which sound is coming pretty decently, but overall the quality is pretty flat and tinny. If you're going to invest in a camera that shoots video as high quality as this, you might as well get a mic that ensures that the audio is up to snuff, too. No point in shooting great-looking video that has mediocre sound quality.
The stills look good, as you can see in our gallery, but be warned: the HF G10 isn't pretending to be anything other than what it is, and that's a camcorder. In other words, there are no settings or options available for its photo-taking capabilities. You can't even adjust the resolution of the stills. All you can do with it is tap the on-screen "photo" button to take a still (which, as I mentioned, is a little inconvenient and may result in you shaking the camera a bit while the picture is being taken because you're mashing the touchscreen to get your press to register) and that's it.
Operation and Extras
The HF G10 can only shoot in AVCHD format, which is a little bit of a shame. I understand that in order for us to enjoy the high quality video that the camera can shoot to its fullest extent, it needs to be shot in a format like AVCHD, but I would have appreciated the option to shoot in something a little more universal, like MPEG-4. With the AVCHD files, you can't just drag and drop the files from the camera if you're using Windows XP, Vista, or Mac OS. They only work properly with Windows 7 (and the OS's Windows Live Movie Maker for editing) and they're not compatible with most online video uploading services like Smugmug. So if you want to view your videos as they're meant to be seen, you'll either have to connect your camera directly to your TV via an HDMI cable or use the included software - which is definitely serviceable and not difficult to use - to pull the files off of it and convert them.
In terms of what's in the box, the HF G10 ships with quite a bit. It comes with the standard AC power adapter, AV cables, and battery. But then it also comes packaged with a lens hood (always a welcome inclusion), three discs worth of software - one with Canon's VideoBrowser program, one with a transfer utility, and the other with photo, image, and music applications - a mini- to full-size HDMI cable (which I think is a generous inclusion), a stylus, a remote control, and for some reason, two mini-USB to full USB cables. I think the idea is that one is better for when you're one the go because it's thinner and shorter. Either way, it all makes for a very inclusive package.
There may be a few issues with the HF G10, like its bulkiness, poor touchscreen sensitivity, extremely sparse photo options, and cluttered menu system, but that shouldn't deter you from what is otherwise an incredible camcorder. But these are minor issues that you'll get over quickly when you see what the HF G10 is capable of doing; if anything, they're more of a disclaimer that nothing is perfect.
But it's definitely a steep price. Asking $1499.99 for a camcorder is a lot and for that price, you better be getting the best. And when it comes to the HF G10's video capabilities, I can safely say that you are. Those with an affinity for manual controls - once they learn the unintuitive menu system - will especially enjoy themselves here. But if you would rather just let the Intelligent Auto setting do its thing, you'll still get to experience excellent quality video. Either way, if you're in the market for a high-end camcorder and you've got the cash for it, the HF G10 should be at the top of your list.