By eliminating the need for bulky MiniDV cassettes or integrated hard drives, Canon has made the high-defintion Vixia HF100 one of the lightest, most portable camcorders on the market today. Utilizing the AVCHD format, which is quickly becoming standard in HD digital camcorders, the HF100 records full-frame (1920 x 1080) HD video directly to high-capacity SD memory cards--despite the protests of videophiles who claim it does not provide as good a picture as the competing format, HDV. Controversy aside, the Canon Vixia HF100 is outfitted with a 3.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, which offers plenty of power to provide sharp, well-rendered videos that will capture every last detail in brilliant high-definition.
Vixia HF100 Design
The HF100 is smartly designed, and every button, knob, and wheel is crafted with the camcorder's compact profile in mind. While the HF100 is light, it still has enough heft to keep steady, and it felt comfortable in our hand. The camcorder lacks an optical viewfinder, making the 2.7-inch widescreen LCD the only means of framing or previewing clips. The LCD is adorned with video control buttons for Playback mode and a joystick for navigating the menus and adjusting the camcorder's settings. Despite its diminutive size, the joystick presented no difficulties.
Canon makes the most of the limited real estate on the rest of the camera, allowing the right hand to control higher functions, such as recording and zooming, and leaving finer details like exposure settings and scene modes to the left. The HF100's menu system is well laid out and very informative, with helpful tips and easy-to-understand instructions throughout. The LCD is clear and vivid, and it performed quite well even when exposed to direct sunlight. For dark environments, the HF100 is equipped with a white LED that projects light forward onto your subject, though it's not bright enough to improve the scene's illumination.
Owing to the camcorder's small size, the HF100's HDMI port is not full-size and requires a mini- to full-HDMI cable (not included) to communicate properly with a television.
Footage shot with the HF100 was impressive, with gorgeous colors and an astonishing ability to capture minute details both up close and at a distance. The AVCHD compression seems up to the task of HD recording, and though we occasionally detected jagged edges and lines in high-motion scenes, the overall clarity was satisfying. The camcorder's 12X optical zoom also deserves special praise, as does its optical image stabilizer, which kept the picture steady and under control even at full extension.
The HF100 features both a 30p Progressive mode, perfect for videos intended for a television screen, and a 24p Cinema mode, which gives home movies a softer, more film-like appearance. Both modes offer a smoother-looking video clip, sacrificing some sharpness but eliminating the jagged lines that are more noticeable in the camcorder's standard shooting mode of 60i (60 frames per second, interlaced). Audio recording was fine, too; the camera comes with a wind filter that performed adequately.
Storage and Battery Life
Unlike the nearly identical Canon HF10 digital camcorder, the HF100 does not come with built-in memory; you must buy an SDHC memory card separately. The 16GB SDHC Card we used allowed for just over 6 hours of recording in long play (5-Mbps) mode and 2 hours of recording in high-quality (17-Mbps) mode.
The battery provides about an hour of juice per charge, which is adequate but definitely less than HD camcorders such as the JVC Everio GZ-HD5, whose battery lasts 80 minutes--but adds quite a bit of bulk and weight. Canon recommends plugging the HF100 into the wall with the included power adapter when backing up video files to a PC or viewing movies on an HDTV.
Michael Patrick Brady is the Editor ofCamcorder HQ
Canon Vixia HF100 Verdict
For such a small camcorder, the Canon Vixia HF100 is remarkably versatile, with a variety of settings and modes that should be enough for any type of videographer. It's a strong argument in favor of AVCHD as the choice for high-definition recording in the future, and it's an excellent choice for consumers interested in getting maximum video quality in the smallest of camcorders.