Canon VIXIA HV40 HD HDV Camcorder with 10x Optical Zoom
Camera & Photo
When you take what you shoot seriously, you need a serious camcorder that lives up to your demands. The Canon VIXIA HV40 HD camcorder does the job with astonishing high definition detail and color reproduction. The VIXIA HV40 delivers the unparalleled … see full wiki
Camcorders are tough to review. The wide skill sets of consumers who purchase them as well as their diverse needs make for a ton of different approaches, though none that are necessarily one-size-fits-all.
So, as in my review of the PS3, I'm going to concentrate on those things that I think are important to the majority of people looking at camcorders on amazon.com. If you are a highly experienced shooter and need technical specs and measured results, I'd suggest a quick look at some of the dedicated digital video review sites, of which there are plenty. As for me, the following are the issues that mattered. My video background: I worked for a few years at a television studio, shooting and directing, and have been shooting home video since the 80's, progressing from cameras attached to VCR's through VHS cams, 8MM, Digital8, and HDV, so I've played with a bunch of goodies. That said, on with my review:
FORMAT: The first thing anyone purchasing a camcorder needs to decide on is recording format. Do you want to record to local memory (flash or hard drive) or removable media. For me, it's a no-brainer. I wanted removable media so that a) I'd be able to keep archives and b) there was no chance that I'd fill up the camera with no way to offload the footage in the field. Those two issues eliminated built-in memory right off the bat. Also, digital tape is well supported and easily streams video via firewire to my computer for editing - the downside? It's done in real time. That's not a horrific issue for me though, and certainly not enough for me to trade to a hard drive system.
FEATURES: The HV40 is packed with features. It's an upgrade from the HV30, which was a minor upgrade from the HV20, both of which received rave reviews from press and consumers for quality and ease of use. I own an HV20, so I was ready to go with the HV40.
The lens on the HV40 is a Canon 10x optical zoom with optical image stabilization (as opposed to digital stabilization, which is not nearly as good) and has fantastic optics. The zoom switch is a HUGE upgrade over the one on the HV20, allowing for incredible control (the old one was a barrel, this is an actual raised switch - all the difference in the world!). Auto focus is fast and accurate, and it never had a problem finding focus. Above the lens is a video light, which is ok in a pinch, but not fantastic.
Shooting modes include 60i (60 frames-per-second, interlaced) 30p (30 frames-per-second, progressive), and, new to this model, true 24p (24 frames-per-second, progressive) that gives a very film-like quality. Note that your editing software must support it, but if it does, it's fabulous looking.
The HV40 also shoots still photos (as many camcorders do) though it uses the Canon Digic image processor, which gives great quality and continuous shooting. Two pretty neat features: you can capture still photos to a memory card as you're shooting video, and you can capture still photos to a memory card FROM video you've already shot, and it's all transferable via the USB port. Very neat.
The LCD screen is a healthy 2.7 inch widescreen unit and looks great. There's also a hot shoe on top of the camera (with a removable cap that stays attached to the camera, unlike on the HV20), an HDMI terminal for connecting directly to a display, and a wireless remote control. There are, of course, many additional features that are too plentiful to list here. I've included the big highlights, but you might want to take a look at the manufacturer's description for more.
QUALITY/USABILITY: In a word: fantastic. The quality of the video is stunning. I've loved my HV20 since I bought it, but the HV40 looks even better, at least to my eyes. Plus, as I mentioned, you've got the new 24P mode which adds new creative options.
There are plenty of shooting modes: you can select the frame rate and choose from a number of program scenes if you wish, or simply leave it on auto. You can select preset white balance settings or do a manual white balance, and of course control manual focus and other settings if you wish. All in all a great variety of shooting modes that should fulfill pretty much anyone.
The camera is light and easy to hold for long periods of time, the focus is fast and accurate as I said, and tape noise handling is great.
I found low light performance to be excellent. On a recent trip to the Luray Caverns, I was able to capture everything I wanted to get, and the focus, color registration and clarity were phenomenal.
Battery life is also very good - I didn't have any issues during a recent road trip, shooting a lot during the day and charging overnight.
I had absolutely no problems transferring my finished footage to my computer via firewire. I tested importing to my Mac as well as my PC, and neither posed the slightest problem. Two issues I'd like to point out here for Mac owners: iMovie and Final Cut Express do not support native 24p editing, and both import HDV using Apple's Intermediate Codec, which is a lossy compression that is not compatible with Windows, and is not true native HDV. I'm not making qualitative statements here - I just wanted to give folks a heads up to do the research if these might be issues for you. As an aside, I edit using Sony Vegas Platinum which has no such issues and is a fantastic, reasonably priced product that supports 24p footage (though it's PC-only).
INCLUDED SOFTWARE: Forget it. Use a third party solution. As I said, I've been very impressed with Sony Vegas, though you have to get at least the Platinum edition to support HDV editing (I bought the Platinum Pro edition that included Sound Forge - a great value).
CONCLUSIONS: Fantastic. I have no complaints whatsoever. The HV40 is simple enough in auto mode for my 9-year-old son to use, but has the features that I find necessary to shoot what and when I want.
Best in class, hands down.
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