Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon jumped into the hard disk camcorder market today with its HG10, the company's first high-definition hard drive camcorder and the world's smallest, weighing 19.92 ounces with the battery inside. That 40GB hard disk gives you 5.5 hours of AVCHD recording at its highest quality setting, compressing the video at 15Mbps. If our sneak preview of this camcorder is any indication, that's going to result in some sweet-looking high definition footage. Here are our impressions.

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

Canon HG10 is World's Smallest Hard Disk-Based HD CamcorderS

While this HG10 shares a lot of specs with the Canon HR10, its DVD-recording HD camcorder brother, this new shooter feels extremely compact in the hand, and while it is indeed the world's smallest hard disk HD camcorder, it's not too small, still giving you easy access to its controls. We especially like the scroll wheel on the widescreen viewfinder instead of that touchscreen on models from Panasonic and others, which in the real world tend to end up such a smudged-up mess it's hard to even see your video underneath all those fingerprints.

A slight disappointment is the life of the standard battery included with the camcorder, which Canon says will give you an hour of shooting, and that's without the LCD viewscreen on. If you want longer battery life, you'll have to spring for the extended battery, which lasts a quoted 2 hours and 15 minutes.

We especially like the way Canon applies its AVCHD codec, different from the way this compression is being used by Sony and Panasonic. Canon's compression scheme is able to lightly compress some scenes, while more heavily compressing others. For example, a simple clear blue sky can stand a lot more compression than a complicated crowd scene or a bunch of flowers.

How does the resulting footage look? Canon was unable to show us any video coming out of this camcorder at our preview session in New York, but we did see some of the HR10's 12Mbps footage which looked excellent with very few compression artifacts. The good news is that this HG10 compresses its footage even less, at a rate of 15Mbps, so it'll probably look even better. Even at that 12Mbps compression rate we saw, it looked every bit as good as HDV footage, which compresses at 25Mbps. It was some crispy-clean HD video, remarkably sharp with excellent color saturation and accuracy. Big thumbs-up.

This HG10 is recording in 1080i HD, at 1440x1080 at all compression settings. As is the case with most 1080i camcorders, only 1440 pixels per scanline are written to disk to save space, anamorphically squeezed from this HG10's 1920x1080 sensors to 1440x1080 on disk, and then stretched back out for the full 1920x1080i when it's played back.

Canon also uses "super range optical image stabilization," which uses a gyro sensor that detects motion, and sends a signal to a processor that tells a lens-shifting element to move. Then a processor analyzes the image, and if it determines the framing could be even more stable, it sends a signal back to the lens to tweak it further. It's an optical system, but it has a unique ability to feed back even more information in a second pass of stabilization. The result is good stabilization of high-frequency shaking as other systems can do, but also stabilization of subtle hand movements.

Overall, this looks like a great new camcorder from Canon. Its AVCHD format is finally becoming more widely accepted, too, with Apple's Final Cut Pro editing software now compatible with the format, along with the excellent Windows video editing application Sony Vegas Pro 7e. Unfortunately, Adobe hasn't jumped on the AVCHD bandwagon yet, but Adobe officials told us they were feverishly working on it. Adobe is planning to include AVCHD support with future updates of Premiere Pro CS3, which we hope will trickle down to Premiere Elements. But you can still edit this camcorder's footage without buying any more software, at least on the PC—Canon said a version of the Windows-only Corel (formerly Ulead) VideoStudio 11 will be included with this HG10 camcorder.

Canon says the HG10 will be priced at $1299, and will ship in early October in the United States.

UPDATE: The Sony SR5 is now the smallest hard drive-based camcorder.