Hands down, the Canon Legria HF S10 (Vixia HF S10 in the US) generates the best high-definition video and still images we've seen from a small camcorder. Add the impressively deep and professional manual controls, and you have an excellent-albeit expensive-camera for advanced videographers that will also appeal to many casual users.
The Canon Legria HF S10's 1/2.6-inch CMOS imaging chip records 1080 horizontal lines of video at 60 interlaced frames per second (60i), 30 progressive frames per second (30p), and 24 progressive frames per second (24p). The camera includes 32GB of built-in flash memory and supports SDHC cards, and it encodes the video as AVCHD files with data rates up to 24 mbps, the format's maximum capability.
In our subjective evaluations, viewers judged the Canon Legria HF S10's HD video and 8.6-megapixel still images to be slightly better than those of the next-best camcorder (the Panasonic HDC-TM300).
Among our test group of six new high-definition camcorders, the Canon Legria HF S10 ranked at the top in video quality under both bright lighting and low lighting, earning an overall video-quality score of Good. Under both lighting conditions, its images exhibited crisp colour rendering and sharpness; under low light, they showed just a touch of noise.
Audio capture is another strong suit, as the Canon Legria HF S10 again came out at the head of the pack. The camcorder earned an audio score of Good, with noticeably better clarity and volume than rival camcorders offered.
In still-image quality the Canon Legria HF S10 again outranked the competition, with an overall rating of Very Good. Although exposure quality and colour accuracy were its major strengths, it landed near the middle of the pack in sharpness and distortion. You might get better image quality from a good digital photo camera, but not much better.
The battery life, at about 100 minutes on a single charge, is perhaps the Canon Legria HF S10's main drawback, but it was still efficient enough. A few other camcorders in our test group had around 2 hours of battery life, with one model-the waterproof Sanyo VPC-WH1-offering more than 3 hours of power.
Once you're using the Canon Legria HF S10, the automatic mode on the camcorder works well enough and lets you capture high-resolution stills as you record HD video. The face-detection feature adjusts focus and exposure to enhance skin tones.
Of more interest to dedicated and more-experienced users is the camcorder's potent set of features and controls. You get an accessory shoe, as well as microphone and headphone jacks. Notably, however, the camcorder also offers two sets of "zebra stripes" to help set exposure levels, generates colour bars and tone for calibrating display equipment, and offers good control over the aperture, shutter speed, and white balance.
A control dial mounted under the lens eases adjustment of the exposure and microphone settings. In addition, it lets you really fine-tune the camcorder's focus; together with the camera's peaking feature, which outlines subjects in a bright colour when they are in focus, the dial helps the Canon Legria HF S10 provide excellent focus control and feedback.
The Canon Vixia HF S10 does have a few weak spots. Its menu structure requires some work to master (but the included manual is excellent). The image stabiliser on its 10x-optical-zoom lens is just okay-we've definitely seen more-effective stabilisers on other HD camcorders, such as the Panasonic HDC-TM300. And the Canon Legria HF S10 lacks a viewfinder other than the 2.7-inch flip-out LCD; you must depend on the LCD to frame shots, check settings, and review footage.
None of those issues are deal-breakers, though, especially when you consider the camcorder's best-in-class video quality and fine-tuning capabilities.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>