I got my new Canon HF100 Camcorder on Wednesday, and managed to take it out for a few minutes this week. Basically I was looking to shoot some footage, get the data off the flash memory card and into Final Cut Pro. This is just to get an idea of how easy it it, and what it looks like to shoot with this HD format off the shelf, and without any tinkering.
The HF100 is smaller than it’s older siblings … Such as the HV30. That’s due to the absence of any tape drive mechanism. The first thing I noticed is that you want to hold it at chest-to-waist level, but the record start-stop button is placed to be convenient for holding the camera at eye-level and using your thumb on the back of the camera … Which is kind of weird because there is no view finder, just a very nice view screen that folds out from the left side of the unit. (Heh, heh … I said “unit.” <$1 to Beavis & Butthead>)
I would have probably opted for using the space reclaimed from the tape drive to provide a viewfinder and a little more surface area for ergonomics. Also a start/stop button on top of the camera would be nice.
One thing to keep in mind … I’m not trying to do full-on production with this camera, although it will be used for some of my Web content. The purpose of looking at this camera is to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of AVCHD with the intent of buying a Prosumer-level camera down the road. This little baby will be my pocket pal and high-quality webcam.
I shot the footage using the Cine look, which applies a film-like Gamma to the footage, and in 30PF mode … 30pfs progressive frames. Canon says this mode was intended specifically for providing progressive frame footage for web applications.
Right off the view screen you can see the footage is spectacular for a camera of this size and price range. One minor irritant is that using the full-auto exposure controls can give you some pretty obvious color shift when panning and zooming on an image … in my case, with this footage taken on a partially cloudy day in San Francisco, this mean the sky would shift from blue to gray depending on what the overall content of the framed image was. There are exposure overrides on the camera, but, again, for a little camcorder not intended for pro use, I can live with it. Especially since I’ll be shooting with it indoors with fixed lighting and little or no zooming.
Getting the camera home, I popped the SD card into my card reader, read a few short technotes on the web, and copied the contents of the card into a folder on my hard drive before launching Final Cut Pro 6.
Bringing up the log-and-transfer window, Final Cut found the footage in my AVCHD folder without me having to look for it. The process is almost identical to the process for using Panasonic P2 media, but without the concise and very manageable (although cryptic) file naming that’s implemented for the P2 footage.
I took a default import and wound up with 1920×1080 (anamorphic) ProRes 4:2:2 footage. The files are not small, as one minute of footage comes in at around a gig. The bandwidth (17mbps) is such that I can edit it comfortably on a 2.4 GHz Intel Core2 Duo iMac.
Weirdness is that the footage comes in at 29.97. Dealing with the 24PF footage off of the HV20 involved some compressor magic, and I think I’ll probably have to do some digging to get the footage transcoded exactly the way I want it, but for purposes of this little “getting to know you” session, I’m really happy with the HF100 Camera, the AVCHD footage, and the ingest into Final Cut Pro.
One other not about the camera. It was moderately windy at the Presidio of San Francisco the day I shot the footage (It’s more-or-less always moderately windy at the Presidio), and there was quite a bit of wind noise in the audio. I’m going to be exploring a number of audio options, including using a BeachTek XLR adapter/Preamp and shot gun mics. External mics do seem to be a necessity with this camera for just about anything more demanding more quality than some home vids (which could probably be said for just about any consumer level camcorder.)
On the whole, I’m really happy with this camera and the technology in general. More later …
It just occurred to me that I never updated this post.
Well, almost 5 years later, and this camera is still going, still relevant, and still commanding a fairly high price on the market. It’s a good camera.
It has become my goto for interview-style work where cinematography on the level of an HDSLR is not required for the piece, and I’m more concerned with shooting fast, shooting long, and always having good images.
I still don’t love the AVCHD codec…Although some higher end DSLRs are starting to offer the I-Frame version of the codec that is much more suitable for doing visual effects work. I still transcode all of my footage to 1080p ProRes quicktimes for editing, although now that I am switching to Adobe Premiere CS6, this might no longer be necessary as it can efficiently handle editing of temporally-compressed codecs, such as H.264.