The optics are good in this video camera. In return for a relatively modest zoom range, more light gets through to the CMOS sensor, so you get less noise on your videos. The autofocus is lightning fast, and there's a button to press and hold if you need powered image stabilisation (to optically reduce camera shake).
The two main mode choices are "dual shot mode", which means fully automatic, and which allows you to film video or take pictures, and "M", which lets you choose to take video or photographs (you can flip from video to still, but it takes longer than in dual shot mode). The camera gives good results when operating on full auto mode, but with the slider set to "M" you can also take as much manual control as you like, once you've got used to the slightly fiddly control mechanism. In still mode, it's an 8M pixel camera (the high-resolution setting is 3264 x 2456, but this is cropped to 1840 pixels high if you want a 16:9 ratio photo. In video mode, it records at HD 1920 x 1080, at 50fps interlaced or 25fps progressive. There's no 50fps progressive option. At the top-quality data rate of 24M bit/s, the picture quality is very good indeed. There is no SD (standard definition) 4:3 mode.
From an ease-of-use perspective, this camera has a built-in automatic lens cover (behind the 58mm filter, should you choose to fit one), and an automatic video light/flash, which pops up when required. The "mini advanced shoe" socket (a mini hot shoe) is hidden under a flap that slides back inside the camera. There are no loose parts that you can drop or otherwise misplace. You have a choice of LCD touch screen or viewfinder (the viewfinder has a dioptric adjuster, so you can adjust it to your eyesight). You need to open the LCD display to choose the program mode (Programmed AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, "Cine Mode" or one of a number of presets (sports, sunset, portrait, etc), but once you have selected, you can close the LCD and use the viewfinder and the manual control, which is located just below and to the left of the lens. The manual control can be configured for focus, exposure, shutter speed or aperture (if Tv or Av modes are selected), microphone level and video AGC limit. You press the button on the end to choose the functiom, and twiddle the tactile metal knob to set the desired value. You need to be careful not to brush your finger over the adjacent microphone.
At the highest quality mode, the 32 GB of built-in memory is good for about 3 hours of video; the long play mode gives you about 12 hours of recording time. Only the two highest quality modes give you square pixels, and thus true 1920 x 1080 resolution. You can plug in two SD/SDHC/SDXC cards to extend the recording time; realistically, it's battery life that's likely to be the problem, at about 180 minutes with the supplied BP-808 battery. Budget to buy a Canon BP-819 High Capacity Battery Pack as well.
There are microphone and headphone sockets, as well as component, HDMI and USB connectors, and a socket for a wired remote. You get a wireless remote included with the camera, which is handy if you have a tripod and want to be in the action.
Overall I am very impressed with this video camera. As you would expect from a high-end Canon product, it is very well put together and straightforward to use. If you are a digital video enthusiast, it comes with all the manual controls (focus, exposure, etc.) that you would hope for to give you total control over the footage. If you just want to point and shoot, the automatic settings still give very rewarding results.
The technical details are covered in the manufacturer's description and the excellent review by Peter (another Vine reviewer) so I'll focus on my personal Pros and Cons:
- Excellent image quality and stabilisation when filming hand-held
- Very easy to use without reading the manual, especially if you are already familiar with Canon cameras
- Dual memory card support, with "relay record" feature to ensure you don't run out of space mid-shot
- Copes well with low light conditions. I filmed a live performance in a theatre and got excellent results. I strongly recommend that you use the "PF25" mode for the best performance in low light, although you will still get a little bit of focus hunting in low contrast (as with most digital cameras).
- I see slight image ghosting in low light conditions when using "powered IS" image stabilisation, but it is not terrible
- I find the flip-out touchscreen to be a little unresponsive and clumsy at times, although it is quite easy to navigate the menus