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Minor upgrades for top-notch video camera

  • Story Highlights
  • Very minor upgrade from the HV20; still has small performance issues
  • Generally excellent video quality, great HDV camcorder
  • Camcorder has solid feature set for its class, is well designed
  • Fixed eye-level viewfinder needs a better eye cup
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By Lori Grunin
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(CNET) -- Don't look for any great advances here: the Canon Vixia HV30 is a very minor upgrade from the admittedly top-notch HV20.

It has a sleeker-looking black body, introduces 30p progressive mode, and supports the high-capacity BP-2L24H lithium-ion battery, but otherwise remains the same as its 2007 predecessor.

Of course, that makes it a well-designed prosumer camcorder with a useful feature set, good overall performance, and excellent video quality. It's relatively big, weighing 1 pound, 5.4 ounces, though it fits into a large, loose jacket pocket. I like the black chassis more than the silver, but the tape housing feels a little flimsier than I remember; when gripped for shooting, the cover moves a bit.

In all other ways the build quality seems solid, though, with tethered covers over the Advanced Accessory Shoe, HDMI/FireWire ports, and mic/headphone/component out jacks.

The 2.7-inch wide-screen LCD is kind of small and at 211,000-pixels not very high resolution, but it's sufficient for manually focusing.

The eye-level viewfinder is relatively large, but doesn't pull out or up, and I wish it had a softer eye cup. In addition, I just had to laugh at the Catch-22 diopter control. Since it's right on the viewfinder, you have to move your head away to get your finger on the switch, which means you can't set it for your eye pressed close.

The HV30 supplies both a video light and a flash for shooting stills. As always, I really like the built-in electronic lens cover.

Shooting with the HV30 feels easy and natural. Canon places the most frequently used options--notably exposure compensation and microphone level--under the control of the set button/joystick.

Other shooting options--program, shutter- and aperture-priority, cine, and scene modes, white balance, image effects, and still-image mode--get called up via the function button and navigated with the joystick. Since your thumb controls all of the activity, it's pretty straightforward and fluid to use.

The HV30 uses the same 1/2.7-inch 3-megapixel CMOS sensor as the HV20, capturing 1,440x1,080 (1080i) HD or wide-screen SD video (despite Canon listing 1,920x1,080 resolution in its specs, HDV does not support 1920-pixel horizontal resolution).

For SD, it downconverts to fit MiniDV 720x480 format. The camcorder also incorporates the same f/1.8 10X zoom lens, which uses the company's Super-Range Optical Image Stabilization, a technology that tweaks the results based on feedback from its image processor.

As long as you use the eye-level viewfinder instead of the LCD, which lets you better brace the camcorder, the stabilization works very well zoomed to its maximum. Since it's harder to keep the camcorder steady when held out in front of you, the stabilization will likely be less effective.

In retrospect, I think the HV30's video quality deserves a better rating than we gave the HV20 at the time. In good light, the video rivals that of the Sony HDR-HC7, its primary competitor, delivering excellent color, sharpness, and exposure for its class.

Low-light video quality, while not spectacular, is still above average; it's a bit noisy, but as long as you don't use the Night Mode preset the shutter speed doesn't drop so low as to be unusable, and the camcorder seems to have sufficient dynamic range to record in fairly dim conditions.

Focus performance in low light is just OK. It's not terribly slow at finding and locking on still subjects, but if you're zoomed in, the focus can continue to pulse gently even when locked.

As of this writing, the Vixia HV20 is still widely available and costs significantly less than the Canon Vixia HV30, making it an excellent deal. Both are usually cheaper than the competing Sony HDR-HC7--and without the annoying touch screen--making either one a necessary addition to your short list of HDV camcorders. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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