Canon’s new MiniDV-based Vixia HV30 is a slight upgrade from the HV20, adding a 30p progressive shooting mode and compatibility for the company’s new high-capacity batteries. At 1.2 pounds, the camera build is rugged and easy to use, but it's also a bit bulky. More important, the HV30 boasts the same 3-megapixel CMOS sensor as the HV20, which means this model shoots excellent video.
As is so often the case with Canon products, on-screen menus are clear, and the button layout is excellent: Record and Play are well marked, and other often-used and necessary controls fall within easy reach of your thumb. The small joystick provides instant access to quick review, audio levels, and exposure controls, which we love. A video light and external microphone port are on board, too, as is a hot shoe.
The LCD is easy to read in bright sunlight, and there’s an option to push the brightness way up if needed, at the expense of about 10 minutes of battery life. And unlike the other cameras in this roundup, the HDMI port on the HV30 accepts a full-size HDMI connector, so you can easily connect the camera to your home display with cables you’re already using.
Our footage from the HV30 looked fantastic. Colors were balanced and true to what your eye sees. Details were sharp at both ends of the zoom spectrum. And at full zoom under good light—assuming the cam is stable—frame grabs are equivalent to shots from a $300 8-megapixel still camera. Even in low light, where noise definitely creeps into the frame, the cam rendered light levels and color definition accurately. Auto-focus wavers somewhat in very low light, but there’s a well-positioned manual focus wheel on the left side of the lens for those situations.
The new 24p cinema and 30p progressive modes both provided slightly smoother video footage, and the 24p mode has a touch of film-like motion blur that might be appealing to those who find 1080i video overly digital and sharp. With these options, the HV30 has a video mode that will please almost any shooter; we just wish the camera made the jump to full-frame HD video. The resolution is capped at 1440 x 1080.
Recording in HD doesn’t mean you’ll get less time out of a MiniDV tape—a 60-minute tape is still good for an hour of recording. A full charge with the supplied battery allows for about 80 minutes of recording time. All of the audio we captured sounded robust and clear.
If shooting on tape doesn’t seem like a problem when paying almost $900 for a camcorder, the HV30 is an excellent choice. We’d be slightly happier if Canon packed in some editing software, but since MiniDV is supported by every editing suite available, there is no shortage of options for users who want to manipulate the great clips they’ll get from this camcorder.
The Canon Vixia HV30 offers excellent video quality in a wide range of illumination, and we can’t discount the proven and fully edit-suite–compatible qualities of MiniDV. The Canon is an excellent camera, and a great choice for a broad audience.