Last year’s tape-toting Canon HV20 stormed into our camcorder charts, with only a clutch of more expensive shooters keeping it from the number one spot. So it was with barely concealed gadget lust that we opened the box of its replacement, the cunningly named HV30.
Still bearing the same outsize-growth tape housing, it bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor from every angle. Only the new model’s colour change – from silver to a more stylish looking black – would set them apart in an identity parade.
Look closer and you’ll see some other giveaway changes. The hot-shoe cover no longer runs the risk of separation from its host, thanks to a handy tether. The ill-advised zoom ‘strip’ has been replaced with a far more traditional rocker. And the screen is now festooned with a ‘Multi-angle Vivid LCD’ sticker, a testament to its enhanced colour reproduction.
We assumed that Canon had been busy overhauling other features, but it seems its team spent most of the year browsing eBay and playing Solitaire because the hardware is virtually identical.
Not that we’re complaining. Tape-based HDV still aces AVCHD when it comes to pure hi-def video quality. Smaller AVCHD cams are catching up but, for now, HDV is still the best option for video purists.
This does mean the HV30 is bulky in comparison to some shooters, but it’s no breezeblock. You also get some great features held over from last year. A 25p mode (the PAL equivalent of 24p) is designed to give your masterpiece a ‘pro’ film-like feel by switching to a frame rate closer to that of actual movies. Add Canon’s ‘Cine’ setting, which tweaks the colours to a more cellulose look, and you can give Hollywood a run for its money.
The 25p mode really comes into its own in low light. Because it’s a slower, progressive frame rate rather than standard, interlaced 1080i, the camera has more time to expose each frame – giving vastly improved results on most consumer cams in the gloom.
Those who seek manual controls won’t be disappointed and there’s that all important hot shoe for adding a video light or boom mic, as well as a lens thread for adding one of Canon’s excellent wide-angle or telephoto adaptors.
We can’t blame Canon for the ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach but there are a few things wish could have been changed. The menu system’s getting long in the tooth - it’s functional but hardly friendly. And HV20 users will be disappointed to find the same awkward, static viewfinder – better to use the screen instead.
For such a large camcorder the HV30, like its predecessor, is also surprisingly uncomfortable to use with larger hands. The low-grade hand strap on the side doesn’t help and you may find you need thumb contortions to hit the record button and function key if your glove size tips towards ‘XL’.
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Then there’s the question of how long tape can hold onto its HD crown. Mini DV tapes are cheap and a ’60 minute’ one will hold just under half an hour of top quality HD footage – not bad. Editing is easy on even modestly specced machines, compared to the processor hogging process with AVCHD, but getting it onto your PC or Mac is more of a faff than AVCHD’s instant drag and drop simplicity.
For now, though, tape remains the top dog for picture quality. Those hunting for pocketability and ‘hit go’ ease of use should look elsewhere, but purists will love the HV30’s features and performance.