Canon HV10 Camcorder Review

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**Video Performance ***(9.0)*

The Canon HV10 comes equipped with a very large 1/2.7" CMOS chip, with approximately 2,960,000 pixels (this translates to 2,070,000 effective pixels in HDV and 16:9 DV modes, and 1,550,000 effective pixels in 4:3 DV. CMOS chips have become increasingly popular with manufacturers for a number of reasons. First of all, they are produced on machines that can make other types of products – that sort of multi-purposing is a big money saver. Secondly, CMOS chips perform a lot more of the image processing on-chip, which cuts down on power consumption. Thirdly, and most significantly for consumers, CMOS chips allow for more precision image processing, meaning that individual pixels can be targeted for correction rather than the image as a whole, which is how most CCDs work. The particular CMOS chip on the HV10 does not necessarily have this type or processing, but that’s definitely the direction in which imaging is headed.

In order to fully evaluate the Canon HV10’s performance, we looked at both HD and DV video. Although most users will likely shoot, or intend to shoot, in HD, the fact is that sometimes HDV is just too large. If you plan on editing and you don’t have adequate storage or processing power, you’re likely to move pretty quickly to standard definition until you can afford the upgrade.

High Definition

In HD mode, the Canon HV10 records in 1080/60i, that’s a resolution of 1920 x 1080 at 60 interlaced fields per second. At 3000 lux, the equivalent of a strong, indirect sunlight, the image had superior color balance. These are absolutely the type of colors you want to see in a consumer camcorder – perfectly balanced with just a hint of saturation. Consumers, that is to say non-professionals associate strong colors with a good picture, whether they are accurate or not. Manufacturers, in an effort to meet public demand, often oversaturate too much, like the JVC GZ-MG505 or the Sony DCR-DVD403. The Canon HV10 is just on the cusp, and in our opinion exactly where the color balance should be.

The Canon HV10’s image is remarkably noise free, the other outstanding element of the picture. When an image is going to be projected on a larger screen, noise becomes more apparent. In this light, there was almost none to speak of. The apparent sharpness was good – what you’d expect from HD and far better than most standard def video – but there was a slightly soft look to the image overall. Of course, it could have strayed too far in the other direction, with a boosted contrast that created halos, but it didn't. On the whole, it’s hard to complain about this image.

The main competitor to the HV10 is Sony’s HDR-HC3, Sony’s only HDV high def camcorder under $2000. We loved that performance, as well, and the differences between the two are slim. The HC3 also had an excellent color performance, though the HV10 had more even distribution of the spectrum. Holding them up side by side, the HDR-HC3 lacked a little in the reds. The blues are clearly more saturated in the HDR-HC3, but it works in the Sony picture overall.

The biggest distinction between the HDR-HC3 and Canon HV10’s images is contrast; the Sony is definitely more contrasty. It made for sharper line edges, as opposed to the aforementioned "soft look" of the HV10. Boosted contrast helped add the appearance of higher resolution, even though the effective pixel count is lower than the Canon. However, we noted that the contrasty look of the HDR-HC3 also produced some halos along high-contrast lines. There is also a fair amount more noise in the HDR-HC3. It’s not something that jumps out at you, but then again, when you hold them up side by side, the HV10’s noise suppression is superior.

The conclusion on this showcase showdown? Damn, if they aren’t close… very close, but the Canon HV10 wins with its superior color balance and right-on-the-mark contrast.

So what else can we compare this too? While the HD market is blowing up, the number of camcorders actually available to the public (and press) is limited. Last year’s HDR-HC1 had less noise than its replacement, the HC3, and about equal levels of noise to the HV10. It also had less contrast than the HDR-HC3, but still more contrast than the HV10. The Canon is clearly more saturated in its color, but the color balance is better overall. The HC1 produced great greens, but the blues were under-represented.

Finally, we’ll compare the HV10 to its big, big brother, the Canon XL H1. Is this a fair comparison? No, not really, but it gives you a good sense of consumer versus professional demands. The Canon XL H1 (review forthcoming) uses three CCDs rather than a single CMOS sensor. The color performance is actually very similar. The XL H1 managed a better color distinction between similar tones, but saturation levels were surprisingly close. Apparent resolution was about the same, which is not surprising. The XL H1’s real strengths are in its versatility and manual controls, which are a world away from the tiny HV10.

Standard Definition

For a standard definition image, the Canon HV10 is outstanding. The color balance that we lauded had no trouble traversing the HD/SD divide. The only that you lose is resolution, which is far less than HD. Even so, compared to most SD camcorders, the HV10 had no trouble picking up fine detail. The noise levels were also minimal, just as in the HD image.

{column='Video Performance' models='Canon HV10,Sony HDR-HC3,Sony HDR-HC1'}

Video Resolution* (43.6)*

We tested the video of the Canon HV10 for its resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from that video through Imatest imaging software. First, we looked at the HDV footage. At best, the Canon HV10 produces 631.4 lines of horizontal resolution and 691.1 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 436360.54.

In standard definition, 16:9, the camcorder produced a more modest 546.1 lines of horizontal resolution and 368.8 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 201401.68.

These are really fantastic resolution scores, and far exceed that of the Sony HDR-HC3.

{column='Video Resolution' models='Canon HV10,Sony HDR-HC3,Sony HDR-HC1'}

**Low Light Performance ***(3.75)*

Ouch. We thought Canon fixed this problem - but the old beast that haunted Canon camcorder reviews on this site for years is back, with a vengeance, ready to mess with their new rockstar model. The large 1/2.7" CMOS sensor on the HV10 should provide a large surface area on which to capture light, and the surface area of the pixel-sized sensors on chip is really what low light performance is all about. Or so you'd think. In order to determine performance, we looked at the image in 60 lux and 15 lux light levels.

At 60 lux, the Canon HV10 failed to impress. Somehow, the sensor was not able parlay size into an effective defense again the dreaded forces of dim lighting. The image was very dark, and lost a good deal of color information. It was disappointing – some camcorders with equally large sensors don’t look this dark until 15-20 lux. Noise also picked up a good deal, and it created a fuzzy wash over the whole image. Thankfully, the fact that it’s got the resolution of high definition prevented the noise from obscuring most of the fine detail. The standard definition 6- lux did not fare as well. It had all the same problems, but lost a lot of detail.

The Sony HDR-HC3 was vastly superior in low light. At 60 lux, the HDR-HC3 looked a little nuclear, due to oversaturated colors. But the image was brighter overall, as well, retaining more information and staving off a lot of the noise. Sony is on their third generation of CMOS camcorders. Low light noise is always going to be the biggest hurdle for any CMOS camcorder (well and any camcorder period) in low light. Sony's first entries were somewhat weak, but they've tweaked and improved and now the HC3 does a decent job. However, you can tell that the Canon engineers have a bit less experience with CMOS for video.

The HDR-HC1 told the same story, though we had a harder time getting a proper white balance, which is always more tricky in low light. There was less noise in the HC1 than the HC3, and far less noise than the HV10. It’s very clear that Sony spent more time in their development combating noise than did Canon, which is a true shame considering how great the HV10 looked in bright light.

The Canon XL H1, the powerhouse professional-grade HD camcorder, also produced a much better image at 60 lux than the HV10. MUCH, MUCH BETTER. Noise levels were far lower.

So what could be done by a potential HV10 user to make a better image? Thankfully, the HV10, like upper-tier Optura line of camcorders, comes with shutter and aperture priority modes. In shutter priority, dropping the speed down to 1/30th of a second made a huge impact, with less-than-ideal blurring of moving subjects, but something you might be able to accept. With the 1/30th image, the colors improved dramatically, and the noise was turned down a notch.

At 15 lux, the Canon HV10 went further downhill, but at less precipitous a pace than most camcorders experience between 60 lux and 15 lux. Perhaps because the image was so bad at 60 lux, it didn’t have too far to fall. Color strength and definition decreased, especially in the reds. Noise increased at an even faster rate, and really took a dent out of overall image quality. This is not the sort of performance you should accept from a) a camcorder with an imager this large, and b) any camcorder that costs over $1000 of your hard-earned dollars. The standard definition image was the same, but with even less fine detail.

15 lux is a great leveler among performance of all camcorders, however. The HDR-HC3 stemmed a lot of the noise, but could not salvage color information any better than the HV10. The result was more fine detail in high contrast areas, but that was the only real advantage. The HDR-HC1 actually had worse color performance, with everything starting to flatten out towards a grey-brown. Noise was just as bad as the HV10.

Somehow, the Canon XL H1 produced an outstanding image at 15 lux. Maybe those large 3 CCDs had something to do with it. At any rate, this is an image you could be proud of, with brilliant colors and very low noise for the light level. Now you might say why are you crazy people putting the XL-H1 in this review. Well, first, it's again something good to benchmark against, but secondly, with the Canon XH A1 shipppng soon, you're going to be able to get that same performance for around $3,500 - still 3x the price of the HV10, but much more reasonable.

Because the light level is so low, we decided to consider both 1/30th and 1/15th of a second shutter speeds. With the latter, significant blurring would occur with any sort of motion – subject or camcorder – so a tripod or flat surface would be absolutely necessary. As you can see, the 1/30th image reduced the noise a great deal, but did not add much to color. The 1/15th setting did both, but the image would only be useful to shooting still images, snail races, and other sedate activities.

{column='Low Light Performance' models='Canon HV10,Sony HDR-HC3,Sony HDR-HC1'}

Wide Angle* (9.4)*

We measured the wide angle of the Canon HV10 in all the aspect ratios and shooting modes. In HDV, which is 16:9, the camcorder produced a wide angle of 47 degrees. This was repeated in the 16:9 standard definition. In 4:3 standard definition, the HV10 produced a wide angle 38 degrees.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.


  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Tour
  4. Auto/Manual Controls
  5. Still Features
  6. Handling and Use
  7. Audio/Playback/Connectivity
  8. Other Features
  9. Comparisons/Conclusion
  10. Specs/Ratings
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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