Regarding the new Canon cameras

I know I said that this blog is closed, but I got messages from people asking me about my opinion on the new Canon camcorders, announced yesterday. Instead of emailing each and every one of you separately about them, here’s a quick post instead. Also, thank you to everyone who emailed me in the past 2+ weeks to wish well for my health and express their surprise, sadness (and in one case, …happiness) for the closing of this blog.

So, the (quite possibly) last of the HV-series, the HV40, adds just a customizable button and “true” 24p, without the need of pulldown removal. If you already have an HV20 or HV30 and a utility to remove pulldown out of PF24, or you just never shoot in PF24, then there is zero reason to buy this camera. It doesn’t worth the upgrade from a previous HV camera. It’s only a good solution if you are using a different, cheaper/older, camera. And it’s even less of interest if you live in a PAL country, as the only new thing you are going to get is the customizable button (PAL cameras don’t have 24p support). LAME.

The real interest is not in the HV series anymore. In my book, the HV series are dead in the “DV Rebel” amateur artistic videography. Long live the HV series. The interest is now in the AVCHD-based HF-S series. These two new models (HF-S10 and HF-S100) have some really good features, and only “lose out” to the HV40 in five departments. First, the good things about them:

Pros of the HF-S10/S100 compared to the HV20/30/40

– 8 MP sensor (in RED terms, that’s a 3K resolution, similar to the upcoming RED Scarlet). The picture captured is 8 MP and then it’s resized down to 1080p. Depending on the algorithm used to resize down the image, it should produce some very good quality picture, not only compared to the previous king in the consumer market, the HV series, but also compared to some prosumer cameras!
– It uses the brand new DigicDV III sensor. This sensor, in addition to the features mentioned above, is also faster. This means that Canon CAN optimized their h.264 AVC encoder to cram more quality while encoding at 24mbps. So, even if its 24mbps bitrate is the same as the HF11/HF100/HG20/etc cameras, the new faster sensor allows for more optimization of the encoder used during recording. More encoder optimization, better final quality.
– The new sensor is 1/2.6″ size, which is bigger than the HV-series’ 1/2.7″ size. Bigger sensor means shallower DoF, and better quality. Overall, that’s a 5% difference though, and quite honestly, not a huge difference. You will still need to zoom in at around 75% to get some nice-looking background blur.
– More dynamic range. Canon in fact specifically advertises this.
– Full 1920×1080 recording, instead of the HV’s 1440×1080.
– Zebra support. The HV series have that too, but this is a first for Canon’s AVCHD cameras, so it’s worth mentioning.
– Gain support. This is the first consumer Canon cameras ever to offer Gain/ISO control! With their Tv/Av modes, exposure compensation & locking, and now gain support, you can get a lot out of these cameras, only losing very little compared to having full manual control. Only extreme cases would require you to have a light meter and full manual control.
– Better focus roller. Unfortunately, this camera doesn’t have a full focus ring either, but its focus roller is bigger and more accessible than the HV series’.
– CineMode has *most probably* moved to the Colors Settings, rather than the ‘Programmed AE’ menu found in the HV series. If this is indeed true, it is a very good thing, as it will allow you to use a cinema gamma/look, while you can use your camera in Tv or Av mode at the same time, to properly control it. [Update: Unfortunately, no, it’s still in the Program AE menu]
– Focusing has been improved, by including color peaking and targeting, and face targeting. Overall, the camera has 3-4 ways of focusing. Still, the LCD screen is the same 2.7″ as in the HV series, I would have personally preferred an upgrade to 3.0″.
– Advanced auto-exposure, with the help of the DigicDV III.
– Much better still picture support and software controls for it.
– No LCD overscan. What you see on the screen is what it’s been recorded. On my HV20 I had ruined quite a few shots because its LCD has overscan.
– Color bars with Test Tone. To be used to calibrate third party hardware that work with your camera.
– No tapes. For some, this is a downside, for me, it’s not. I had enough of the tapes.

Cons of the HF-S10/S100 compared to the HV20/30/40
– No true, native 24p support. This is NTSC HV40’s new feature. NTSC HV20/30 cameras don’t have that either, they can only shoot in PF24. Removing pulldown for AVCHD using the freeware method is not fool proof: A/V sync issues appear overtime. And Cineform’s NeoHD utility costs $500. So yeah, I am kind of pissed at Canon for including true 24p in their dying HV40, and not to the HF-S series. For us, Sony Vegas users, this is a blow. Update: Cineform now sells a new product, called NeoSCENE, that removes pulldown of HDV and AVCHD. Costs just $129. Good to hear that at least someone can make money out of Canon’s screw ups.
– No Video input. This means that you can’t record (telecine) your old VCR tapes via your camera anymore. Or record your gameplay from a gaming device.
– Mini Advanced Shoe, instead of Full Advanced Shoe. This is a deal breaker if you already have Full Advanced shoe add-ons, like in my case, the VL-3 light & the DM-50 microphone. Even worse, there is no converter from Mini to Full in the market as of this writing (there’s only a $30 Mini-to-Cold shoe converter which is not useful in my case). I hate it when companies try to break existing standards on a whim to diversify their market while it doesn’t need diversifying.
– No viewfinder. Not a big deal for me, I never used it on my HV20. I always use a stabilizing gadget anyway. I never shoot handheld. And when I do, I hate that footage and I throw it away.
– The Canon site says that the HF-S series require 3 LUX as minimum illumination, while the HV series can deal with 2 LUX. However, measuring LUX capability is not very standard, so while the pixels are smaller in the HF-S series (more crammed pixels in the almost same-sized sensor), it should be up to par with the HV series in terms of low-light support. Possibly not better though. Camcorderinfo’s review in a few weeks will clear this up for us.

What I personally find annoying with the HF-S series
– No 24p native support. It’s stupid of Canon to give true 24p support to a much inferior quality-wise camera like the HV40 is, and not to the HF-S series. I am EXPECTING that the traditional refresh that Canon does every August to their camcorders will have this feature added to the HF-S series. So I might wait for that August refresh before I buy the HF-S100.
– The Mini advanced shoe is not compatible with my Full advanced shoe microphone and VL-3 light. That is $200 down the drain for me.
– The 58mm filter thread used is too huge, and all my 52mm filters might show vignetting if I use a step-down ring. The lens itself, quality and speed-wise, seems to be the same as in the HV series btw.
– No full focus ring. Thankfully, the new focus roller seems to be better than my HV20’s.
– Still, no full manual support.
– No ability to rotate the screen’s contents without rotating the screen (useful for 35mm adapter usage).

I would have gladly paid an extra $500 to the cameras’ price (estimated between $1200 and $1500) for these annoyances to go away. Still, if Canon updates the firmware with true 24p in August, I will go for the HF-S100 regardless.

Update: Some screenshots from an HF-S series stream.


Bill wrote on January 6th, 2009 at 5:18 AM PST:

Thanks for putting this together.

Eddie Johnson wrote on January 6th, 2009 at 12:35 PM PST:

Thanks for the update. I trust you a more then any other webpage. Hope all is well with you & your family !

Bob wrote on January 6th, 2009 at 3:08 PM PST:

Ditto! Thanks! Now I’ll read it…

Joe wrote on January 7th, 2009 at 1:12 PM PST:

I’m really sorry to hear that you’re blog’s coming to an end. This has been one of my all-time favorite spots on the internet. Thank you for feeding my inner-geek for the last 2 years. I understand that your health and off-line life need to come first, but you will be missed.

Tom wrote on January 8th, 2009 at 4:21 PM PST:

First of all thanks you for all your posts – here, on Vimeo, and elsewhere. I have gone through many frustrating moments with Vegas that you helped resolve.
I’m an HV20 owner and now a 5D2 owner too and your advice has held in good stead for both. In the event you don’t uncork the blog (more permanently this time 😉 ) then thenks again. Please look after the most important things in life first – Health, love and chocolate. Not necessarily in that order! Tom

dustin wrote on January 9th, 2009 at 9:05 AM PST:

Life is complete again. Thanks for the review. I to was going to email you to write one I am glad patience won out. Will you at least consider keeping the technical portion of your blog updated? Your technical expertise helps keep our lives healthy wealthy and wise……which the universe will return to you for your endless transfer of knowledge.

Sdeming wrote on January 9th, 2009 at 10:32 PM PST:

Eugenia, you have been a huge help and inspiration for me. Thank you so much for your contribution(s) to the HV community. I wish nothing but the best for you and your family.

Brian Boyko wrote on January 10th, 2009 at 5:12 PM PST:

I just bought a brand new HG20. Some of the features in the HF-S series look compelling, but on the other hand, the HG20 dropped in price to $550.

I was able to sell off both HV20s, hopefully, the HG20 will be my tapeless solution.

Moving workflow to Sony Vegas (I still think FCP renders faster on a single core, but with Vegas I’m essentially able to brute-force the problem with my new quad-core, overclocked computer.

I’m using Sony Vegas 8.0c for right now, though I’m probably going to upgrade to 8.1 once all the compatability kinks are worked out.

Trevor Marshall wrote on January 11th, 2009 at 7:33 PM PST:

I have two HV20 and three HF100.
When the HF100 is put into 24p mode the Cine is automatically selected and “movie mode” appears on the display whenever the unit is switched on. So the HF-S10 may have Cine advantages over the HV20/30 but not over the later HF-100.

In fact, the lower light rating of the HF-100 (1 lux) is significantly better than the S series. I will wait before buying anything new. 24p native would be nice, but I have Neo-HD and so pull-down is not an issue, and my current workflow is quite acceptable. So all the S series offers me, IMO, is the ability to lock focus on a face and track it. Something I would only do very, very, occasionally. It it even works 🙂

Oh – and the Zebra support would be nice too, but I can do without it… Same for gain support – it is amazing how well the fully auto TV mode of the HF-100 manages to (pretty nearly) always get the exposure just right…

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on January 12th, 2009 at 10:14 AM PST:

>So the HF-S10 may have Cine advantages over the HV20/30 but not over the later HF-100.

I think you have a few things confused. The HF and HV series are all using Cinemode the same way, as part of the Programmed AE menu. It has nothing to do with the PF24 option. The HF-S series use Cinemode on their Colors menu, so it’s the HF-S that has the advantage, not my and your camera.

>and the Zebra support would be nice too, but I can do without it…

Not if you are serious about how you shoot.

Jorj wrote on January 14th, 2009 at 11:03 AM PST:

Hi Eugenia,

Thank you so much for updating your blog with the latest and greatest Canon info. I am in love with the ability to create that CMOS HD cameras offer. The HF-S100 looks great except for your noted shortcomings. The goofy feature decisions Canon makes on it’s product line has kept me from buying in. I found the HF 100 for $545 at today, an attractive price for the features. I am looking at what Sony is doing in this area, too. Using Vegas 9.

Jomaro wrote on January 14th, 2009 at 2:10 PM PST:

Happy to see the update,, Thanks Eugenia 🙂
We love you.

mario wrote on January 15th, 2009 at 8:24 AM PST:

Hi Eugenia,

You said:
It’s stupid of Canon to give true 24p support to a much inferior quality-wise camera like the HV40 is, and not to the HF-S series.

It is simply not true. All Canon HD consumer cameras in 2008. were more or less the same in picture quality right from the camera. They will be more or less the same in 2009. too, regardless of the series (HV, HS, HF and so) and what camcoderinfo will say in their reviews. I know that because I tried all of them (from 2008.).

Now I have only HV30 (and good old GS-400). I took HV 30 because it is the biggest, it has (no ideal) VF, I can deal and know what the gain is (also not ideal, but we all know the trick) and it has the best workflow in Vegas and Ulead MF6 with smartrendering in both so the final picture quality is the best and workflow is the fastest because most parts of my video are not rendered at all. I can’t do that with AVCHD – even if I cut only a second from my video the whole video will be rendered in Vegas and I lose quality (and time). And AVCHD 24 mbps forget it for now in Vegas and Ulead. I don’t want to buy new programs or PC. I would rather give that money for better cam or cam accessories.

Picture quality: it depends not only on cam functions, but much more on handling in some situations (for most people it is not all ideal like for you because you only use tripod) and knowing what your cam can do. Most people rarely use tripod and I know that and see that almost every day.

What I know also that I will never buy cam without VF because in real life I would than be like blind old man in many many situations (and with some prosumer cam also). Cam without VF on the beach and sun is like children toy. And I like beaches and sun on summer.

So I will wait and hope that in 2010 (or later) somebody will make something what looks and handles like GS-400 and shoots HD like HV-30 (or even better) for consumer price.

And one big big cons for the whole Canon and Sony HD consumer family from last 2 years is: very bad low light capability compared to GS-400 (and GS-400 wasn’t the best in low light compared to some other Sony SD cams). It is not camcoderinfo but mine examinations, but HV-30 needs 4,5-6 dB more Gain than GS-400 in same conditions, or 100 Lux more light. It is very much in some situations and you need much more light. And HV-30 was best consumer HD in low light last years (but not so much like camcoderinfo said).

So, I wait for better low light capability in consumer HD cams too. Until then, I have 2 very good consumer cams – HV30 and GS-500.

Tape, solid memory, HDD , mpeg2 or mpeg4 – it is not so much interesting to me – give me good handling cam with body which doesn’t look like box of cigaretes, with good and easy manual settings with more buttons on cam’s body, with good low light capability and with pivoting VF – and I will buy that one. There is nothing like that in what I see for 2009. from Sony or Canon. And I would also give 500 $ more for cam like that. But, there is big hole in price between consumer and so called prosumer cams, much much bigger than 500 $.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on January 15th, 2009 at 9:43 AM PST:

>It is simply not true.

Yes, it is. The DigicDV III chip is superior to the HV’s II version.

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