Canon Vixia HF100 Camcorder Review
The Canon HF100 ($899 MSRP) comes from a good pedigree. It\'s nearly identical to the Canon HF10, which received our seal of approval earlier this year. The HF100 offers all the same image quality, manual controls, and form factor, but loses the 16GB internal memory of the HF10. Sure, you save $200, but think about what you\'re losing first. The HF10 only records to removable memory cards, like the Panasonic HDC-SD9 or Sony HDR-TG1. Card memory is portable and easy to use, but those cards fill up quickly, and they\'re not particularly cheap. It\'s better to have a secondary recording medium if you\'re on a long vacation or far from a camera shop.
Video Performance* (10.5)*
The Canon HF100 is equipped with exactly the same imaging specs as the Canon HF10. For a detailed look at image quality, including lots of cross-comparison frame grabs, jump to that review.
The HF100 has a single 1/3.2-inch CMOS sensor with a gross pixel count of 3,310,000. The effective pixel count in video mode is 2,070,000. This is a new sensor for 2008, smaller and more densely packed with pixels than we saw on the 2007 models like the HR10 and HG10. However, Canon managed to offset these potential factors in image quality reduction by improving two other areas. The outputted resolution on its AVCHD camcorders increased from 1440x1080 to 1920x1080. Secondly, the maximum bitrate was increased from 15Mbps to 17Mbps.
*3000 lux 1080/60i auto
3000 lux 1080/30P auto
3000 lux 1080/24P auto
First, we ran the Canon HF100 through our standardized testing. We shot a DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 3000 lux. Under these more or less ideal conditions, the HF100 looked great. There was no substantial difference we could see between the HF100 and the HF10. The HF10 seemed to crush the blacks a little more, meaning the black areas were flatter and darker. By contrast, the HF100's blacks looked a little rougher. The difference was negligible. In both camcorders, the image looked great.
Comparatively, the Sony HDR-SR12 offered the strongest competition. Many readers have pointed out that, overall, the SR11/SR12 does a better job with dynamic range than the Canon HF10/HF100. We agree. The Canons tend to blow out faster and lose detail in the shadows faster. In some outdoor shooting we took with the HF100, we witnessed some purple fringing along very high contrast areas. It's minor, and it doesn't show up in this chart, but it can happen. However, the Canons are undeniably sharper. And overall, we prefer the Canon color.
The Panasonic HDC-SD9 can't compete with either the Canon HF100 or the Sonys. The colors are too highly oversaturated and the fine details are downright fuzzy in places. Finally, we compared the Canon HF100 with its HDV cousin, the Canon HV30. Once again, we were impressed to see that AVCHD encoding (now in its third generation) has gotten to the point that it can compete head-on with HDV in terms of image quality. In fact, we saw a little more artifacting in the HV30. Overall, most people will not see a difference between them in moderate to bright light.
The Canon HF100 also offers the same multiple frame rate options that we've seen on all its HD camcorders this year. All the above comparisons were made with the camcorder shooting in 1080/60i (1920 x 1080 at 60 interlaced frames per second). When we switched to 1080/30P (1920 x 1080 at 30 progressive frames per second), we saw almost no difference in color quality or sharpness this bright light. It was the same issue with 1080/24P (1920 x 1080 at 24 progressive frames per second).
However, when we took the camcorder out of the lab, the substantive difference of frame rates became apparent. Slower frame rates mean delayed and slightly blurred motion. In bright light shooting, this is strictly going to be an aesthetic choice for the shooter. It looks neither better or worse, though decidedly less crisp. You'll see a big difference in low light, however, which we'll get to later.
3000 lux Cine mode
Finally, we looked at the Canon HF100's Cine mode. This is a great feature for shooters looking to avoid the oversaturation that standard amongst consumer camcorders. In this mode, the gamma curve is adjusted to match that of Canon's pro camcorders. In effect, this means that the highlights and shadows are compressed and the mids are expanded.
Overall, the HF100's image quality is very good - among the best HD camcorders we've seen this year.
The video resolution of the Canon HF100 was tested by shooting a DSC Labs resolution chart at an even, bright light, then looking at the playback footage on an HD monitor. At best, when shooting in 1080/60i, the camcorder was able to produce a horizontal resolution of 675 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical resolution of 600 lw/ph. We ran the same tests again in 1080/30P and 1080/24P and got the same results.
These are extremely impressive resolution results, and confirm everything we've seen related to the typical 'sharpness' associated with HF100 video clips.
Low Light Performance***(14.13)*
The low light testing of the Canon HF100 took part in three stages. First, we shoot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux, then compare the results with our huge bank of images from previous reviews. At 60 lux, the Canon HF100 did a decent job at retaining color and fine detail, but the reduced sensor size this year seemed to cost it some sensitivity when we compare it with last year's Canon HG10.
60 lux 1080/60i auto
Strangely, there was a small but noticeable difference in image quality between this and the Canon HF10. Even though they share the same imaging set, the HF100 lacked as much fine detail in towards the edges of the shot. In the middle, the sharpness looked the same, but the blacks were noisier and not as even as they were on the HF10. There was a hint of this in bright light, but it became more pronounced when the lights dropped.
Comparatively, the Sony HDR-SR12 looked really good. There was definitely noise, but the SR12 managed to keep it at a finer grain than the HF100. Color performances were similar, but the Sony SR12's slightly duller looking colors may be preferable to shooters. The Panasonic HDC-SD9 was well below the HF100 and SR12, with practically neon colors and much less fine detail.
60 lux 1080/60i auto
When we shifted the Canon HF100 from 60i to 30P, there was a marked increase in color strength. Overall, the image is also brighter.
In 24P mode at 60 lux, there is an even bigger jump in color.
When we lowered the light to 15 lux (in 1080/60i), we were surprised to see how much color information the HF100 was able to retain. Sure, it's noisy as hell, but it's fairly rare to give colors this good under such low lighting. The Sony HDR-SR12 did not give the same level of color, though the noise was of a finer grain. The Panasonic HDC-SD9 was the darkest and least colorful of the three. It is simply not a low light performer.
The second stage of the low light test involves shooting the same chart while steadily and continuously lowering the light while watching an waveform monitor. We determine sensitivity by seeing how low we can dim the lights and still have the camcorder producing a peak of 50 IRE. The Canon HF100, shooting at 1080/60i was able to accomplish the job at 11 lux.
At 1080/30P, the camcorder could produce the same results at 6 lux.
At 1080/24P, the HF100 produced 50 IRE at only 4 lux.
Comparatively, last year's Canon HD camcorders that featured the larger CMOS sensors, including the HG10 and HV20, along with this year's HV30, all produced a higher sensitivity in low light - no surprises there. However, the Canon HF100 was far superior to the Panasonic HDC-SD9, proving to be over twice as sensitive in this particular test. Sony scored somewhere in between, on average, except for the Sony HDR-UX20 DVD camcorder, which proved to be poor in low light.
The third stage of the low light testing involves shooting an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then exporting frame grabs to Imatest imaging software to determine color accuracy, noise, and saturation. According to Imatest, the Canon (shooting in 1080/60i) produced a color error of 10.4. The noise measured 1.525%. The saturation measured 81.28%.
When shooting in 1080/30P, the color error was 9.86, the noise was 1.14%, and the saturation was 102.4%.
When shooting in 1080/24P, the color error was 10.4, the noise was 1.0875%, and the saturation was 105.9%.
These scores indicate that the HF100 did not score identically to the HF10, even though testing conditions were completely identical. The color accuracy was slightly better and the noise was slightly worse, but still within a range of similarity. The Sony HDR-SR12 scored very close to these, as well, and proved to be an excellent low light performer.
Overall, the Canon HF100 is a strong camcorder to have in low light shooting.
*The HF100 is equipped with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), a shake reduction system that functions by isolating the lens element from the body of the camcorder. OIS is far more effective than Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) because it doesn't sacrifice resolution. This year's stabilization competition is tight. The JVC GZ-HD6 exhibited the best OIS we've seen to date and Sony's OIS is pretty solid. Canon hasn't really seen that success thus far.
We tested the effectiveness of the HF100's OIS using our custom-built shake emulator at two speeds--Speed One and Speed Two. Speed One's shake frequency emulates typical handheld shake while Speed Two is closer to shooting during a bumpy car ride. The HF100 displayed an 85% shake reduction at Speed One and a 52.65% at Speed Two, which places Canon in the back of the pack. The HF10 performed slightly less effective at Speed One, with a 75% shake reduction.
**Wide Angle **(9.6)*
We measured the maximum wide angle of the HF100 using a vertical laser. The HF100 was set to manual mode with OIS disabled during testing. The video clips were then interpreted on an external monitor to attain a true wide angle reading. The HF100's maximum wide angle measurement is 48 degrees, which is right on par with the HF10.
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