Video Accessories Misc
- Written by John E. Johnson, Jr.
- Published on 25 December 2008
Just when you thought high definition video cameras couldn't get any smaller, Canon comes along and releases the VIXIA HF11. It is full high def (1,920 x 1,080) and will record it as 108060i, 108030p, or 108024p. It uses SD memory cards instead of tape, DVD-R, or hard drive, so it has no moving parts other than the zoom lens and focus. It has 32 GB of memory built-in, which will record nearly three hours at the highest bitrate option. It will not only fit in the palm of your hand, but also in your jacket or even just your pants pocket.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is some video camera.
- Design: Full High Definition (1,920 x 1,080) Digitial Video Camera
- Sensor: One 1/3.2" (0.31") CMOS
- Recording Modes: 1080i60, 1080p30, 1080p24
- Recording Bitrates: 24, 17, 12, 7, 5 Mbps
- Built-in Memory: 32 GB (Will Record 2 Hr 55 min at 24 Mbps)
- Uses Optional SD Cards for Additional Recording
- Lens: f= 4.8mm - 57mm, f/1.8
- LCD Screen: 2.7"
- Connectors: USB, HDMI, External Microphone, Headphone
- Minimum Focus Distance: 10mm
- Dimensions: 2.5" H x 2.9" W x 5.1" D
- Weight: 15.2 Ounces
- MSRP: $1,199 USA
Because the HF11 is small, there are less buttons than on some previous video cameras, and I like that. Functions are generally handled through menus here.
Folding the LCD screen open reveals a Spartan layout of controls, shown in the photo below.
You can see the 2.7" LCD screen on the left, with a joy stick toggle at the left end, VCR-type controls underneath (some of them have double functions for zoom and back lighting adjustments), and on the main body is a control to turn the information display on or off, a battery information button, an "Easy" button which sets all the controls for you so you can't make a mistake (the idiot proof button), and a slider to open a drawer underneath to put additional SD memory cards in place. Keep in mind that you can't use just any SD card. It has to be a high speed card that can handle 24 Mbps (Megabits per second) recording rate. When shopping for cards, it will specify whether or not the card is suitable for video recording speeds.
The top of the camera has the zoom lens control, a snapshot photo button, and the power on/off button. (When the camera is off, a bladed lens cover slides into place, as seen in the top photo.) There is also a cover for what Canon calls Advanced Shoe, which is for accessories.
There are four basic settings for the camera, selected from the Mode Dial shown in the photo below. Starting from the left are the settings for taking snapshots (red snapshot camera icon), taking videos (red video camera icon), playing videos and copying them to your PC (blue video camera icon), and viewing snaphots and transferring them to your PC (blue snapshot camera icon). The button to the far left of the dial is used to start and stop video recording.
The HF11 has a USB jack for copying videos to your PC and an HDMI jack to play them directly on your HDTV. These are located on the right side of the camera at the bottom. There is also an external microphone jack and a headphone jack, along with the DC input battery recharging jack on the rear of the camera.
The photo below shows the front of the camera with the lens uncovered (this only occurs when the camera is powered on.) Beneath the lens are the built-in stereo microphones, and to the right and top to bottom are a quick focusing sensor, an electronic flash for snapshots, and a small light for taking videos in darkened situations. You can also use what they call the Night Mode in very low light situations, but the shutter speed slows down so much, I found it not to be very useful because motion and slow shutter speeds (0.5 second) just don't work. You could put the camera on a tripod and take a video at night of a static scene, such as the final stages of a sunset. The built-in microphones worked typically for microphones mounted on video cameras. The sound was nice and clear, but you need to be no more than about 4 feet away from the subject to pick up their voices properly.
The remote control is small and has all the necessary controls. What this might be used for is to put the camera on a tripod and get in the scene along with the rest of your family, and start recording with the remote Start/Stop button. You could also use it when the camera is connected to your home theater receiver or HDTV via HDMI, so you could navigate the video files in the camera and play them without having to touch the camera.
Shown below are some of the menus that are displayed on the LCD screen.
The first one is the basic screen that you see while you are recording videos (you can turn it off by pressing the Display/Battery Info button). It shows that Auto Focus is on, the battery condition, how much recording time you have left, and the recording quality, in this case, MXP which is 24 Mbps. I see no reason to use any of the lower bitrate modes, because at this highest quality recording (24 Mbps), you can get almost 3 hours of recording on the built-in memory card. Also, in the Bench Tests, you will see the effect that lower bitrates have on the image sharpness, as measured by the MTF50 standard.
The menu below is the most extensive of all the menu screens, and it is here that you set the frame rate, in this case, 1080i60. I used a mixture of 1080i60 and 1080p30 for the review. As you will see in the bench tests, however, 1080p30 produces images that are slightly less sharp than 1080i60, which surprised me.
You also turn on the Image Stabilization button from this menu. I found that I preferred to have it on all the time since I shoot hand held in general, rather than using a tripod. It made a huge difference in the steadiness of the image.
In this menu (below), you set the camera to Program mode, TV (Shutter Priority: you can adjust the shutter speed), AV (Aperture Priority: you can adjust the aperture), Cine mode (this gives a film-like look to the video), and Night mode.
White balance is set in the menu shown below. Auto White Balance (AWB) worked pretty well, but there were situations that I needed to go into other modes. In particular, I found that scenes in shady areas really did require the Shade mode (the icon of the house with diagonal lines to the right), and Tungsten (incandescent bulb) mode was needed when indoors with incandescent lighting (the icon of the lightbulb).
The bitrate is set using the menu shown below. MXP is 24 Mbps, FXP is 17, XP+ is 12, SP is 7, and LP is 5. In LP, you can record more than 12 hours of video. However, the image quality is compromised as you will see later. Your home videos will become more precious to you as the years pass, and you will want them to be high quality. Use the MXP mode and get an additional high speed SD card if you think you will be recording more than 3 hours before you have the chance to transfer them to your PC.
When you are ready to copy your videos to your PC, you have to connect the battery recharger as well as the USB cable. Set the Mode Dial to the blue video camera icon (third from the left in the photo of the Mode Dial shown several photos above). Move the toggle to PC/Printer (photo below) and then press the toggle. Your PC will see the camera as an external drive. The videos are stored in several directories, and you need to copy all of the directories to your PC. First click AVCHD, then BDMV, and you will see the directories where the videos and associated information are located.
A screen shot of the directories you will see are shown in the second photo below. The most important directory is the STREAM, where the videos are stored as *.mts files. I create a directory on my PC with the date, such as Videos-10-08, and copy the STREAM, CLIPINF, etc. subdirectories into it. For future videos, I create another directory to copy them into. Then, after you have made sure your videos have been copied properly by booting your video editor and opening a video file, you can delete videos from the camera to make space for new ones. To open a video in your video editor, go to the STREAM directory, and you will see all the *.mts files. To delete videos, set the Mode Dial to the blue video camera again, but without the USB cable connected. You will see icons for each video (third photo below). Use the toggle to scroll to the video you want to delete (it will be highlighted with a yellow border), press the Func (Function) key, scroll to the garbage can icon and press the toggle.
I spent a lot of time with this camera because it was so much fun to use.
Battery life was about 1 hour of picture taking. Even though the VIXIA HF11 doesn't have any moving parts (motors) except for the focus and zoom, there is still the LCD display, which uses lots of power. The camera is small, so the battery also has to be small. The result is perhaps even less battery life than some cameras that do have other moving parts. This can be solved by simply purchasing an extra battery, making sure it's charged, and keeping it in a small plastic bag of the the type that can be sealed, like Ziploc®. Nevertheless, the advantages of a camera that uses memory cards are that the camera can be more compact (the HF11 is incredibly small), and there are no major moving parts that can break down.
Fortunately, I had it during a trip to Maui, Hawaii, where there is a plethora of beautiful subjects to photograph. All photos (video frames) shown here are unmanipulated except to size them so they will fit on these pages. The Auto White Balance mode was used, except where specified.
Let's start with a shot of the beach, looking towards the northern part of the island, seen in the distance. From the azure blue skies to the deep green foliage, it makes me wish I was still there. As this was an early morning shot, with the sun low and to the right, you can see the shadows of palm trees on the sand.
I shot this plant with light coming from behind. It illuminates the yellow and green of the leaves. It was a good test for red as well, and it looks great.
Speaking of yellow, this is a yellow Hibiscus. All the subtleties of the leaves are shown in excellent detail.
Here is another Hibiscus, of the pink variety.
And, the red Hibiscus. For both the pink and red Hibiscus, I had to set the camera to shadow mode, even though the flowers were not in deep shadow. Otherwise, the color was too blue. The red looks a bit oversaturated, which is a common problem with digital cameras.
Large beds of flowers decorate all the gardens in commercial areas of Maui, and this one is New Guinea Impatiens. Every color is represented here except deep blue. The deep pinks and reds are oversaturated. These problems can be overcome in the editing stage with your PC non-linear editing program. If you show the video direct from the camera to your HDTV, it will look oversaturated as it is the original unedited version.
This flower is the Bird of Paradise, found all over Hawaii, and it California too. This shows red, greens, and blue. With all those addtional lines of high definition image, the color simply has much much greater depth than you would get with an NTSC video camera.
The following two shots were in the late afternoon, with clouds hiding the sun, but I was able to get the reflections of the sun coming across the water. Notice in both photos, there is a small dark triange in the right bottom corner. This represents one of the only complaints I have with the HF11. That is the hand strap. Unless you put your hand through the strap, it tends to fall foward and will block the corner of the photo. I make a lot of shots at odd angles where I cannot use the strap because it would prevent me from getting that angle. So, therein lies a problem Canon should address. Change the strap mounts so that it cannot fall in front of the lens. If these photos were simply snapshot camera photos, I could fix the problem in PhotoShop, but I can't do that with the video (without some much fancier editing software).
In December, we attended a Christmas party at Filoli Gardens. We do this every year, and this time, I had the VIXIA with me.
Here is the entrance (the party was in the evening), shot in Auto White Balance mode. Notice that it looks quite yellow.
Switching over to Tungsten mode for the rest of the photos, I obtained this, which looks much more natural.
Inside the home were lots and lots of decorated trees and plenty of ornaments. Here are some that were in a basket (all of the ornaments, along with myriad other goodies, were for sale at the party as it was a fund raising event). The soft gold pastels are rendered perfectly.
The VIXIA does very well with blue. Most digital cameras don't have a problem with blue. It is the deep reds and yellows that often cause the difficulties. I want to note here also that the incandescent illumination in most rooms was not very bright. So, here is an area where the VIXIA HF11 excels: in low to medium illumination.
These fresh cranberries look edible right off the computer monitor.
The weave of this cloth is very detailed. Light was coming from behind the cloth. Note that camera strap problem in the bottom right corner. Canon needs to address this.
On the way home from the party, I noticed this house that was covered with Christmas lights. I shot it in Auto White Balance mode. I did not use the Night mode, because it was just not necessary. This camera is very sensitive.
The test with a single bright light in the dark showed typical streaks. This will reduce detail with specular reflections. The only camera where this did not occur was with the Sony PMW-EX1 that we tested a few months ago. But that is a much more expensive camera and has three larger sensors. Nevertheless, this is an issue I hope the camera manufacturers will address in future designs.
Here is my standard shot of a vegetable rack in a grocery store. White balance looks good.
These pink roses were sitting on a table in my dining room, illuminated from diffused light coming from a nearby window. I could not resist. The nuances of the soft petals are all rendered in fine detail. Not to mention the beautiful color.
Overall, beautiful performance in all kinds of lighting situations.
On the Bench
Falloff in the wide angle lens setting showed negligible variation across the field of view. In fact, it was no more than about 0.1 f/stop variation in brightness consistency.
Video cameras seem to be getting better and better in this regard. I was used to seeing much more variation, particularly at wide angle settings. 0.1 f/stop is essentially no variation at all.
Canon is renown for their lenses, and maybe I should not be surprised.
At the longest telephoto setting, I got essentially the same results. This is really a very even response. You can expect your videos not to have any vignetting at all.
Here are the MTF50 sharpness (otimal resolution for viewing) test results for 1080i60 and 1080p30. Both were taken in the MXP mode (24 Mbps). The chromatic aberration results are in between each of the MTF50 graphs. The third MTF50 graph is from 1080p30 at 5 Mbps.
So, you can see the following: At 1080i60, the MTF50 sharpness value is 612 LW/PH (Line Widths per Picture Height), while at 1080p30, it is 559 LW/PH. The 1080p30 is also undersharpened, while the 1080i60 is essentially sharpened the right amount. So, it would seem that the 1080p30 video is not quite as sharp as the images at 1080i60 in terms of MTF50 which is the optimal sharpness for viewing (I duplicated the test to make sure). Chromatic aberration is also better with the 1080i60 images, although it may be an insignificant difference. Overall, chromatic aberration was about the same as other cameras in this price range, but much higher than the more expensive Sony PMW-EX1.
Now, in the third pair of graphs, taken at 1080p30 and at the lowest bitrate of 5 Mbps, the MTF50 value dropped to 433 LW/PH. So, it seems obvious that, all other things being equal, the higher the bitrate, the sharper the picture. The 5 Mbps image is also undersharpened by quite a bit, but even the corrected MTF50 value in the 5 Mbps graph which takes this undersharpening into account still does not bring the MTF50 value up to what it is at 24 Mbps. It could mean that trying to sharpen an image with such a low bitrate would introduce too many artifacts. The chromatic aberration is a bit higher as well.
Here is the Chroma DuMonde test pattern, which is a standard in the TV industry. It is very close to the original, with just a hint of oversaturation.
The gray scale is shown below, followed by the test results. Whites are not attenuated, so you may experience an occasional blown out highlight. The noise level is more than the Canon HG10 that we tested, but less than the Canon HV20.
The Q-60 color chart has the right tints, but is a bit underexposed.
The ColorChecker SG results are good. The top right corner of each color square is the way it should look, and the bottom right corner is the way the HF11 reproduced that color. Perhaps a little overexposed though.
The test where I measure the time it takes to go from a wide open aperture (lens is blocked) to closing down when exposed to a bright lamp indicated a longer time than I have seen in previous cameras I have tested. This may be due to the apparent higher sensitivity (you can take videos with very low ambient lighting).
The Canon HF11 is a superb high definition video camera. It takes great videos, even in poor lighting, and is small enough to carry in your pocket. At $1,199 MSRP it is not the cheapest HD video camera out there, but it is certainly one of the best in terms of the price to performance ratio.