UPDATE 1/25/2009: New models released with bigger lens and larger chip (potentially better in low-light: HF S10, HF S100. Some new features: zebra striping, manual gain control, new custom assignable wheel, pre-record function, face detection
UPDATE 12/20/2008: New Intel core i7 chipset tested by legit reviews. Faster than quad core rendering with Vegas: i7 Vegas benchmark.
UPDATE 11/30/2008: WD-H37c wide-angle lens has been replaced by the WD-H37II. Not sure if it’s very different and if it has less CA at full zoom. There are some video’s on vimeo with this lens (http://vimeo.com/2268037). Given its similar size and weight most likely it still has some CA but couldn’t clearly tell from the video.
UPDATE 7/24/2008: new models HF11, HG20, HG21 will be released in September with a new higher bit rate mode at 24Mbps (from 17Mbps). You might see slightly more detail in low contrast areas if you watch very, very closely (various patterns like sand). However difference is not dramatic but certainly would give you bit more headroom to re-encode if you want to do PP. Reviews: Camcorderinfo HF11 review and Watch Impress HF11 review. The camcorderinfo review seems to indicate that possibly Canon tweaked the Auto W/B (more similar to HV20/HV30) but too early to tell. One HF11 video on Vimeo looked to me to have an auto W/B more like HV20 (more reddish and less of the bluish cast).
Since my Canon HV20 HD camcorder suffers a bit from tape motor noise, I’ve been looking for a decent replacement that will give similar resolution and quality. I will keep my HV20 for the numerous archived tapes I have (including mini-dv). Here’s my casual HF100 to HV20 comparison and usual caveats apply. I’ve posted this time raw files also (links are all on vimeo).
I also review here the 0.7x WD-H37C wide-angle lens since I think this is a must since the focal length starts around 43mm (typically 35mm would be considered neither zoomed in or out). Unless you do a lot of zooming I strongly recommend a wide-angle lens.
HF100 with optional BP-819 battery + WD-H43 wide-angle lens (see comment under WD-H37C)
The HF100 is solid-state HD camcorder that records to secure digital cards. Direct competitors would be the Sony CX7, but the upcoming Sony CX12 (around September) should be a closer match. The SR11 could also be considered a competitor since this is a new model and has better quality than the CX7 (the CX12 is expected to be similar in PQ to SR11). However technically it’s a different category since it’s a hybrid HDD model (and little bit more expensive therefore). The Canon HF10 is the same as the HF100 except it’s black and it has an additional 16GB internal memory (=2hours at highest quality). The HF100 is the better deal right now since you can buy 16GB for around $65 and the HF10 is $200 more expensive.
I don’t go into the photo capabilities of the HF100 but if you don’t have a digital camera, it’s fairly decent from my limited tests. Otherwise a compact digital camera is sharper and has less color bleeding.
The size is a bit smaller than the HV20. One reason is the lack of a viewfinder and the compact memory card compartment. If you have bigger hands you might overreach the zoom control, so I would test this in store if you’re unsure about the handling. I found it comfortable to hold once I adjusted the strap properly.
The zoom control feel is very similar to the HV20 but the control is slightly bigger. You can alternatively use the zoom buttons on the LCD screen (at 1 fixed zoom speed).
The screen is I believe same resolution as the HV20 but brighter and much easier to see in bright light (which is important since there’s no viewfinder anymore). Also like the HV20 you can ‘calibrate’ the brightness using a grayscale bar which is pretty useful.
All settings are done using the 4 way control on the LCD screen and I found it pretty quick in use. Push in and you get the quick menu. Pressing the func button will call up the typical adjustments. Also there’s single dedicated backlight on/off button. Other features: quick 1sec stand-by mode (goes in ‘sleep’ mode for default 10 minutes and turns on very quickly).
The HF100 batteries shows now remaining time in minutes, the HV20 shows only bars. Also if you close the LCD, the HF100 goes automatically in stand by. After 10 minutes it will automatically turn off (can be disabled if desired). I recommend the BP819 additional battery which lasts much longer than the standard battery. When fully charged it shows about 167 minutes (about twice as much as standard battery).
The HF100 records using the AVCHD codec and features several quality settings. The highest setting features a full 1920×1080 resolution at 17Mbps. The default is the standard mode and it was clearly not as sharp so I’d recommend changing this to FxP when you setup the camera the first time.
The HV20 max resolution is slightly lower at 1440×1080 but I don’t think this has much of an impact in terms of absolute resolution (measured resolution at ccinfo was around 650×650 which was one of the highest scores).
The recording is on SDHC cards and these can be found pretty cheap nowadays. A 16GB Class 6 SDHC card costs around $65. This will give you about 2 hours recording time. Also since these cards are of the newer SDHC type, your computer may not be able to read those (my 1 year old Dell computer with built-in card reader couldn’t). I bought the Sandisk mobilemate USB reader for this. It’s very small and cheap and it will also allow me to make card backups on my notebook.
Note the AVCHD codec requires a pretty fast computer to do decent editing (e.g. at least duo-core fast CPU, 2GB memory and decent 256MB+ video card, preferably a quad core). I got a ratio of about 1:15 for 2-pass VBR WMVHD using Vegas Pro 8 on a duo-core with 2GB memory (so it takes 15 hours to encode 1 hour video). A quad-core is typically about 2-3x faster.
I was able to use following (latest) software to edit the HF100 files: tmpgenc Xpress (latest revision supports AVCHD now); Sony Vegas 8; Pinnacle. I had trouble with Visual Studio 11.5. The playback speed was too fast but most likely this is a computer setup issue. I also recommend getting the CoreCodec for a small fee. It renders the AVCHD files faster than the free K-lite codec pack.
NOTE: I found a bug in Sony Vegas 8 rendering the AVCHD files to WMVHD. You will notice that blacks become dark gray and whites light gray. Two workarounds: 1. In the Pro version add a "Secondary Color Corrector FX" to the entire video track and then select the "Studio RGB to Computer RGB" preset. 2. Set project properties to 32bit and choose gamma 2.2 (see here more info: Glenn Chan – Vegas color spaces). However not sure if there’s an equivalent workaround for the platinum edition.
Second I noticed that Sony Vegas doesn’t offer a good resize filter and therefore I noticed sharpness loss downscaling to 720p. Best to stick with 1080i resolution and use another program to downscale (i.e. tmpgenc xpress).
One thing that needs to be addressed is archiving. With mini-DV tapes it’s pretty straight-forward since you can use the tape itself to archive since they are fairly cheap. However with flash cards that’s not the case and you need to backup somewhere. Recommended advice (depending how important the recording is) is to keep at least 2 copies. Typically one on hard-disk and at least one on DVD. Be aware that most CD/DVD’s have a limited lifespan. I backup therefore on the more expensive DVD+R Taiyo-Yuden
DVD’s which should last considerably longer than regular DVD’s. Please refer to this article for more info: How To Choose CD/DVD Archival Media
Audio quality and features
The audio is stereo 2 channel. I did a quick channel seperation test turning 360 degrees with a fixed audio source. As expected for an internal small mic it was difficult to clearly hear left from right becoming different in volume. I also tried an external headphone mic (from fxsupport.de) and with that I got better channel seperation.
The audio recording volume of the internal mic is pretty good and not too low. You can adjust the recording input volume if desired (however the auto mode will avoid clipping). You don’t hear any camcorder noise in the recording but I did notice that it does pick up little bit the zoom motor at highest speed. But it’s not very loud and most may not even notice this (I guess a fair trade-off with a decent auto recording volume level). You can also use an external mic and you can adjust recording input volume and turn on/off ATT. Overall I really liked the audio quality and it did pick up even faint sounds very well and undistorted. Here are some audio examples: http://vimeo.com/4123378 and http://vimeo.com/946990
I recommend an external mic if you want better stereo seperation (I use one by fxsupport.de) which has good channel seperation and creates a great stereo sound.
Video quality and features
For indoor I found that the HF100 produced very similar picture with surprisingly just slightly more detail than the HV20. I also tested the HF100 30p mode and noticed a very slight increase in resolution but otherwise alsmost indentical compared to the 60i mode. The 30p mode though makes fast movements little bit less fluid than 60i. So you may want test this for yourself.
I also tested the cinemodes with different framerates indoor and found remarkable better picture quality indoors especially in the progressive modes. Here you see a comparison between the different framerates and cinemode indoors: cinemode indoor comparison. Note noise levels and the text sharpness.
For outdoors I noticed a different white balance and closer to neutral than the HV20 (which is more red). Also the resolution I noticed was slightly better. I did see some slight hint of AVCHD artifacts but it’s very difficult to see unless you pause and zoom 2x at the right place. Regarding white balance more later on that.
I also noticed purple fringing as expected (typically on overexposed areas only). But it’s not worse than my HV20 which is my comparison. The HV20 appears to more purplish in nature, the HF100 is more bluish. You can reduce and eliminate the fringing in most instances by reducing the exposure (if an option). The LCD screen shows pretty well the overexposed areas (even with the lack of a zebra striping feature). In cinemode I noticed the purple fringing was pretty much eliminated (but cinemode is not for everyone since outdoors it’s little bit soft and has lower contrast and saturation). See the photo gallery to see some cinemode examples. Here’s a cinemode video from another user: http://vimeo.com/871449.
Otherwise you can reduce the fringing in post processing. The best filter I found so far is the Sony Vegas Pro Color correction #2 filter. You first use the color picker and point on the area and then adjust hue/saturation/luminance to get the right area targeted (with show mask). Then lower the saturation and fringing is pretty much gone. Another often available option in other software might be the chroma keyer filter: duplicate the video and lower the saturation. Then choose the chroma key range and make that range transparent. However I only saw the fringing in the typical bright overexposed areas. So this is not as common (well depending on your scenes you shoot).
The HF100 – like the HV20 – overexposed slightly at times like most cams and it’s visible in some instances (e.g. the outdoor vimeo video). But this is expected in the evaluative metering since it evaluates shadows and highlights in the entire picture. You could use the custom reduced brightness setting to reduce explosure and get little bit more detail. Here’s an example where I tried that: http://vimeo.com/862711
UPDATE: I did more testing using the custom mode with different settings. I found the brightness -1 often showed more detail, however in very bright conditions it looked a tad dark for my taste. Second I found that increasing contrast and saturation may look nicer at times, but can cause bad clipping especially on people’s faces. So I’d recommend leaving it in default or use custom mode with reduced contrast -1 to reduce blown highlights (and/or use post processing if you want to correct).
Here are 3 very low-light examples. First comparison is side by side with HV20 in auto mode (wall color is more like HV20 but darker). Second is HF100 in low-light outdoor, and last is in cinemode 24p (click to get larger images). Also see the Cinemode comments in low-light. Cinemode with 30p (or 24p) performs very well under these conditions. Here are 2 low-light video’s I posted on vimeo: http://www.vimeo.com/897818
and Seatle by night
In low-light I found that the HF100 chooses a very greenish white-balance and it overexposes. The latter is the same as the HV20 but the W/B remains more reddish. On the other hand I found more detail preserved with the HF100 and lower chroma noise which is typically more visible than luminance noise. You can adjust W/B settings to correct if desired. To mitigate I found cinema mode showed much better W/B and more accurate exposure. At 60i cinemode is a bit dark so I recommend using 30p or 24p in this mode (indoors). I decided to switch to cinemode always with 30p in low-light. I had great results with this and you get a clean image with good auto W/B (in daylight I still typically use 60i and no cinemode).
Note: pretty much all camcorders have an incorrect Auto W/B in low-light (and digital camera’s as well). You can use the indoor W/B to adjust if desired.
Regarding outdoors as mentioned earlier the white balance is more ‘neutral’ than the HV20 (more blue). However just like the HV20 the auto W/B can be off when it’s very bright outdoors. This usually shows as too much blue and sometimes too much red as well. Again this is typically only when it’s very bright and I’ve seen Auto W/B being little bit off with most camcorders.
I was able to reproduce the magenta sky issue in Auto W/B and I found that if you switch to the daylight W/B program it increases yellow and will typically get rid of the magenta sky. This greatly reduced the color cast issues but I still saw few (uncommon) instances where even with daylight W/B in bright conditions there could be a slight color cast (noticeable if you have white areas like clouds). Best option in that case is manual W/B. This is not uncommon with most camcorders, however Sony for instance errs on the green side and will be less noticeable to most users (except on faces perhaps). It would have been nice if Canon offered a custom color temperature adjustment setting or a custom color channels adjustment (like on most of their digital camera’s).
Here are two examples showing both auto and daylight W/B modes. First example: Blue sky
. Note trees should have reddish cast. To me the auto W/B reminds me of the HV20 in this particular scene and your personal preference may vary. Second example: Auto W/B example
and Daylight W/B example
. To summarize, I think most people would find that the daylight W/B in outdoor scenes produces more pleasing colors. Note that the auto W/B program is dynamic and in most scenes the auto W/B is fairly good.
You still can do W/B correction in post processing and it’s fairly easy to do. I found increasing green and sometimes decreasing little bit blue (and/or red) worked well with very bright outdoor scenes shot in auto W/B. I also noticed that like almost all camcorders, if it’s very bright the HF100 tends to overexpose at times and can be too contrasty. This can be reduced as well with a brightness/contrast filter. But better option is to adjust this in the camera using the custom image effect mode with lowered contrast and/or lowered exposure (if overexposed).
If you absolutely don’t want to do any post-processing and don’t want to use anything else than auto W/B, you may want to check out several vimeo video’s under different circumstances to see if you like a camcorders auto W/B. But remember you do have couple of options in recording: use daylight W/B or use the cinemode (if you’re ok with the reduced contrast/sharpness). The cinemode can be combined with custom mode but I haven’t test this combination yet.
Here’s comparison of just the outdoor white balance modes (shot outdoor slightly cloudy/partial sunny, low sun):
Also I found a weird bug with my HF100. If I switch from (skewed) custom W/B to auto-mode under the right conditions, then sometimes the auto-mode gets stuck in the custom mode. Turning off/on fixes it but I wonder if this is a common problem or if I have a defect unit. UPDATE: I got a 2nd HF100 and the problem is now fixed.
Regarding image stabilization the HF100 is very similar as the HV20. Meaning you don’t get very much… The wide-angle lens helps a little bit but I wish Canon would at least allow you an option to increase stabilization (even at the expense of resolution). The JVC/Panasonic models I’ve heard are better at this (but have little bit less resolution).
The Prodad Mercalli video filter can be used to try to reduce shakiness. Here’s a video illustrating this: http://vimeo.com/871174
Wide-angle lens WD-H37C
I did some testing with this wide-angle lens and so far I found no resolution loss or vignetting at the wide-end. I posted video here: http://vimeo.com/855992
I found the (more expensive) Canon wide-angle WD-H43 lens for the HV20 (with a step up ring) performs much better at the tele end and didn’t show a resolution los. However it’s pretty heavy and large and not sure if the weight would damage the ring over time. I decided to keep both and use WD-H37C most of the time when I don’t require full zoom (and removing the lens is also an option to get more zoom).
Here’s a picture showing the WD-H43 attached to the HF100 using a step-up ring (left). Picture on the right is with the WD-H37C lens:
The HF100 has almost the same manual controls as the HV20. You have aperture and shutter priority modes and several scenes and a cinemode to increase mid-range detail. You also can choose 24p, 30p or 60 frames interlaced. On top of that you can create a custom mode with adjusted saturation, sharpness, contrast and brightness (similar to the Sony’s A/E shift). There are only 3 steps (-/+1) for each of these setting but it’s nice they included this since most cams don’t allow you to change most of these settings (on Sony camcorders typically contrast, saturation, sharpness and aperture/shutter are not adjustable and no progressive modes are offered). These settings are memorized when you turn off the camcorder. One thing missing is color temperature adjustment as mentioned earlier which would have been nice to have.
You can adjust also manual exposure and focus. I checked the manual focus and it works well enough but a higher resolution screen would have been great. Also a focus ring unfortunately seems to be a thing of the past with consumer camcorders… With the zoom assist you see the image zoomed-in for a couple of seconds when you adjust it. I was able to confirm a good focus this way but I rarely needed this feature since the auto focus is usually pretty fast and precise also when I quickly zoomed in all the way. Note that the minimum focusing distance ranges from 1 meter to 1 cm in tele mode.
I now and then use infinite focus for landscape shots to play safe. You can set infinity focus by holding the directional pad up for 2 sec in the focus mode. Downside is that the focus is not kept when you change the zoom. Well at least according to the manual… The infinity symbol disappears but it appeared to be still in infinity focus.
Here’s little bit more info on the cinemode program. The cinemode reduces the gamma output curve which effectively increases detail at highlights/shadow areas and reduces contrast and saturation. It also lowers sharpness (which could be close to the raw image sharpness?).
Also here are 2 examples for very low-light using cinemode 24p: Low light example #1
and Low light example #2
. The progressive modes work best with cinemode to get a brighter picture (and 30p seems to be a good compromise to get decent fluid motion).
Outdoors is a bit different. First most would find it soft and missing contrast. So not for everyone. It does have though a very clean picture and you can do good post-
processing on this. Second it does have more mid-range detail and less purple fringing I’ve seen so far. So your mileage will vary. You can also combine custom mode with cinemode to increase contrast and saturation. I haven’t tested yet how this compares to default mode.
+ Excellent resolution and slightly higher than HV20
+ Good fast focus similar to the HV20
+ Lot’s of manual controls including choice of aperture/shutter priorty modes and different frame rates
+ Slightly larger zoom at 12x instead of 10x for the HV20
+ Retains better detail and has less chroma noise in low-light than HV20
+ Great dim/low-light quality for consumer camcorder using cinemode with a progressive mode
+ Good audio and good recording volume level, it does pick up slightly some zoom motor noise at highest speed
+ Good AVCHD encoder at highest quality
+/- more neutral less warm W/B than HV20 (which one you like better is personal preference but you can adjust W/B mode if desired)
– In sunny bright conditions the Auto W/B can be off with too much red and sometimes too much blue as well
– Sometimes greenish cast in full auto mode in very low light (cinemode W/B is better)
– Some bluish purple fringing in overexposed areas but similar to HV20
– No feature to indicate overexposed areas (zebra striping)
– No viewfinder (I never use it personally)
– No fixed Infinity focus when changing zoom level (and a distance indication would be nice, or at least infinity symbol)
– Optical image stabilization could be more corrective (but not much different from HV20/SR11)
– Editing AVCHD format in general requires a powerful newer computer (compared to HV20 mpeg2)