Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Canon Vixia HF11 Camcorder

Still Features (9.25)
Canon stocks its camcorders with ample still features, and the HF11 received the same set found on the HF10. While the Panasonic HDC-SD9 only offers 1920 x 1080 still image capturing, the HF11 can capture stills in the following sizes: (Photo Mode) 2048 x 1536, 1920 x 1080, 1440 x 1080, and 640 x 480; (Video Mode) 1920 x 1080 and 848 x 480. Images can be captured in Super Fine, Fine, or Normal quality and saved to either the 32GB of internal flash memory or an SDHC card.

We experienced a significant bug with the HF10—when capturing images to the internal flash memory, it would take an exceedingly long time to actually save each file. Up to 20 seconds per image could be spent waiting for the darn thing to save. Well, the HF11 has solved this glitch—to an extent. Now, there is minimal wait time after capturing an image, let's say roughly three seconds. However, we still experienced a random occurrences of huge lag times—up to 45 seconds to process. This is a finicky system, and Canon needs to fix it.

All Manual Controls that are available in Video mode are also available in Photo mode—Exposure, Focus, White Balance, etc. You can also set Scene Priority modes, though Cine color is not available in Photo mode. Image Effects can be applied in Photo mode, but they are limited to Black & White and Sepia Tone. A Self Timer can be set to 10 seconds and images can be played back in 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10-second intervals. The HF11's flash has three settings: Auto, Manual, and On.

Like all high-end Canons, the HF11 can meter an image in three different modes: Evaluative, Center Weight Average, and Spot. In Evaluative mode, the screen is divided into multiple sections to obtain an average exposure for the entire image, which is applicable for most shooting environments. The Center Weight Average mode hones in on the subject in the middle of the frame and adjusts the exposure according to the subject's information. In Spot Meter mode, a certain portion of the screen is matched to the subject in the center of the frame.

There are also four speed modes that images can be captured in: Single, Continuous Shooting, Hi-speed Continuous Shooting, and Auto Exposure Bracketing. In Single mode, only one image is snapped per press of the Photo button. About five images are captured per Photo button press in Continuous mode. In Hi-speed Continuous Shooting mode, five images are recorded at once but at twice the speed of Continuous Shooting. Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) will capture three images—one at Auto exposure, one at an EV notch up (+0.25EV), and one at an EV notch down (-0.25EV) for a selection of different Exposure levels.

The Photo menu can be accessed by pressing the Function button located on the LCD panel. All options are arranged vertically like the Video Function menu. The Photo menu contains the following items:

Photo Function Menu
Shooting Modes Shutter Priority AE, Aperture Priority AE, Portrait
Shot Metering Evaluative, Center Weight Average, Spot
White Balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Manual
Image Effects Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Soft Skin Detail, Custom
Digital Effects Black & White, Sepia
Capture Speed Mode Single, Continuous Shooting, Hispeed Continuous Shooting, AEB
Image Quality LW (1920 x 1080), L (2048 x 1536), M (1440 x 1080), S (640 x 480)

The Photo Administrative menu contains the following options:

Photo Administrative Menu
Camera Setup Self Timer, Zoom Speed, AF Mode, Focus Assist, AF Assist Lamp, Focus Priority, Image Stabilization, Auto Slow Shutter, Review
Memory Operations Memory Info, Card Info, Media: Movies, Media: Images, Initialize
System Setup Battery Info, Wireless Remote, Beep, Power Save, Quick Start, Image Numbers, Component Out, HDMI Status
Date/Time Setup Time Zone/District, Date/Time, Date Format
Close Close

The HF11 is close to a low grade digital camera in terms of features, so you will get a lot out of still image capture on this camcorder.

Still Performance (5.5)
The still performance of the Canon HF11 was tested shooting an X-Rite Color Checker chart, then running the stills through Imatest imaging software to determine color accuracy, noise, and saturation. At best, the Canon HF11 produced a color error of 10.9.

This color error was identical to the Canon HF10. The HF11 scored more poorly than everything else in its class, sadly—the Panasonic HDC-HS100 (and HDC-SD100, presumably), the JVC GZ-HD40, Sony HDR-SR12 (and Sony HDR-CX12, presumably), and Samsung SC-HMX20 all offer more accurate color in their still photos.

The noise measures 1.4825%. This score, fortunately, is closer to the average. Only the Samsung SC-HMX20 and Panasonic HDC-HS100 were better—though both were better by far. Finally, the saturation measured 114.6%.

Out of the lab, the Canon HF11's stills produce a very noticeable amount of noise. The manual control set, described in the previous section, is quite good, but this is no replacement for your still camera.

Still Resolution (23.98)
The still resolution of the Canon HF11 was tested by shooting an Applied Image ISO 12233 resolution chart at an even, bright light. The photos are then run through Imatest imaging software to determine the resolution, measured in line widths per picture height (lw/ph). At best, the HF11 produced a horizontal resolution of 1341 lw/ph —with a 0.97% clipping and a 3.02% oversharpening. The vertical resolution measured 1312 lw/ph—with a 2.07% clipping and a 7.55% oversharpening. These scores were a little lower than the Canon HF10, inexplicably so, but was otherwise average for a camcorder in this class. We're planning on re-running these tests immediately, so stay tuned for an updated set of results soon.