Last year Canon wowed us with the HV20, a butt ugly 'corder that turned out stunning footage. Now it's back with the HG10, featuring the same beautiful-on-the-inside electronics but with a handy 40GB hard drive where the old tape deck used to be.

It's also switched to AVCHD, which is fast becoming the format of choice for consumer HD cams now that user-friendly editing software has finally arrived on PCs and Macs. That thrusts it into the ring with Sony's HDR-SR7E, the 60GB version of the HDR-SR8E.

Still ugly

It's as well it's not a beauty contest, because the HG10 would have been booed off the stage. But if the HV20 taught us anything it's not to judge a cam by its creaky plastic case, so we'll hold back on the taunts for now.

At least Canon's tried to make it prettier. The camera's now smaller – the most compact hard disk recording AVCHD cam money can buy, fact fans – and sturdier. It's not a Sony, but it looks altogether more like something you could be convinced to drop £800 on.

While the HG10 has a smaller hard disk than the Sony, it's still good for more than five hours of top quality footage, or 15+ hours if you don't mind a dive in quality. It also wipes the floor with the competition when it comes to battery life: an impressive two-and-a-half hours of staying power.

Superb video performance

When it comes to video performance, Canon hasn't disappointed. Colour is superb, and even low-light performance isn't too shoddy. A special 'Cine' mode does an even better job in well-lit scenes, leaving our socks well and truly blown.

Canon wants budding film-makers to use the HG10, and it's included some nice features to help them. A hot shoe, threaded lens (for filters and the like) plus mic and headphone ports mean all the gear you need can be added on. Then there's a seriously comfy rocker with three different zoom speeds we could happily caress all day.

We're less sure about the new menu controller. Sony has its touchscreens, Panasonic its one-handed joysticks – now, drum roll please, Canon has the 'Navigation Control Dial'. Cue party streamers and tickertape.

Actually, cancel them – turns out it's just a screen-mounted, four-way rocker surrounded by a spinning nav wheel. The iPod camcorder, perhaps? Not quite. To move around the menus you can either use the usual up, down, left and right, or give the wheel a spin with your thumb to zip through the options. Except that it's a bit too zippy, and combined with the tiny menu icons tends to leave your head in a spin of its own.

Handy manual controls

Sorry, Canon, but Sony's user-friendly touchscreen menus are still our fave. But wait, there's more to this control dial than we thought. Switch out of 'Auto' mode (Canon's not-quite-as-slick answer to Sony's 'Easy' mode) and suddenly it becomes a precision manual adjustment tool. For manual focus mode it functions like a proper focus ring on a manual lens, with the screen also instantly magnified to help you tweak to perfection. We like.

So is it for movie moguls? Yes. Holiday footage? No. But the trouble is, we've already seen everything the HG10 can do for budding Tarantinos in the better, more serious HV20. So if you want pure pro control with the ultimate in video quality, the HV20 is still the daddy. If you don't, buy the Sony.


Stuff says... 

Canon HG10 review

An all-round performer that shoots great footage, but is beaten by Sony's SR7E for style and Canon's own HV20 for features