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Our Canon HG10 Torture Test At Hot Import Nights

San Mateo (CA) - "No sir that video camera is too big, but that small one is OK," the security guard told us as he pointed to our Canon HG10. We were waiting to get into the Hot Import Nights show in San Mateo when the staff said our shoulder-mounted JVC HD-110 was too big. We placed all of our trust into the handheld HG10 and by the end of the night we were drooling at the quality of footage that was recorded.

VIDEO - Sample footage of Hot Import Nights taken with the Canon HG10

Hot Import Nights is a curious mix of souped up cars (rice rockets some people call them) and attractive models... ok let’s not lie, we really only cared about the models. Held several times a year in different parts of the United States and Canada, the show attracts thousands of camera and camcorder-toting fans. While small cameras are ok, large ones require a press pass - a pass that we neglected to apply for.

But that’s ok because the security guards said management wasn’t concerned about the small camcorders... "not commercial enough" they said. However, after five hours of constant recording we are now big fans of the HG10.

I have to admit that most of us had some serious doubts about the hard-drive based camcorder because we’re used to big Betacam and MiniDV video cameras. We believed the quality of the AVCHD wouldn’t capture motion effectively (you hear this all the time from the video forums). We also though the hard drive would crash after being jostled around the show floor, but we were wrong on all counts.

Hot Import Nights is an extreme filming environment because of the crowds, constantly changing lighting conditions and finicky models who tend to scurry away at random times. Getting around and above the crowds was actually easy for us as we hired 6-foot 2-inch tall Shelton Romhanyi to handle the camcorder. We don’t want to stereotype Asians (I’m one after all), but the crowd tended to be on the short side and Shelton was easily able to film by simply pushing people out of the way or by extending his arm into the stratosphere.

We kept the camcorder on for the entire show and used the LCD screen for approximately three-fourths of the time. We did chew through one standard battery and went half-way into an extended battery. The camera was put on auto settings and recorded in 1920 by 1080 24p at 15 Mbps bit-rate.

We didn’t have a single drive crash despite being constantly bumped by the crowds. Despite not having a tripod, the shots look amazingly steady thanks to the HG10’s optical image stabilization. You can see that at work in the sample clip towards the end where we zoomed into the Go-Go dancer.

Speaking of the Go-Go dancer, people constantly repeat the mantra that AVCHD will produce artifacts when recording fast motion. We certainly did not see that when looking at the raw footage that was imported into Sony Vegas. We did have some motion blur, but that is from the 24p recording mode. Take a look for yourself as we’ve posted up the same clip in 1280 by 720 on Vimeo. Just as a caveat, Vimeo further compresses any uploaded video so it definitely won’t look as sharp as the original H.264 render at 8 Mbps. That file weighs in at 81 MB - we’re willing to post that up if there’s enough feedback.

Camcorders are experiencing the same evolutionary complaints as digital cameras when they first started appearing on store shelves. People complained about image quality, but each new model continually upped the pixel count and there is a much bigger benefit with going digital. People could preview their pictures right away, something that you have in hard-drive camcorders like the HG10. We were able to play back clips during the event and if the shot wasn’t good enough, then we simply walked back to the model and did a reshoot. Sure you can do that with MiniDV camcorders, but it just isn’t that easy.

Sadly we purchased the Canon Mini-DV based HV20 at the same time as the HG10. After our experiences at Hot Import Nights, it’s clear that HG10 is a superior camcorder for what we do. Anyone want to buy a barely used HV20 in Southern California? I’ll give you a good dea :)