Vexed by the Canon Vixia HFS10, but it can still travel with me — as long as it behaves

I wanted to like the Canon Vixia HFS10. I really did.

hfs10I own two Canon cameras — the mercurial Canon 1D Mark III and the forgiving Canon EOS 40D — but when it comes to video, I’ve always shot Sony. Still, the HFS10 looked like the ideal travel companion. It was compact, light, had a terrific lens and most important of all, it seemed easy to use.

But looks can be a little deceiving. While this video camera shoots razor-sharp, high-definition video and conveniently stores it on a 32GB internal drive (there’s no tape to mess with, thank goodness) I found so many headaches with turning the 1920×1080 resolution video into something YouTube could understand without screwing up the aspect ratio that I nearly threw this camera out the window.

Just to be clear, I didn’t. It is, as I write this, being put in a box and sent back to Canon without a scratch.

But enough about me. Let’s go right to the videos I shot during our travels. Have a look at this embedded clip that I shot while we stayed at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort near Sarasota, Fla., a few weeks ago.

Looks just fine in the embedded version. But when you click on the video and watch it in YouTube you see the problem: A thick black border surrounding the image. No matter how many settings I tried to fix it, I either ended up with this border or I had a “scrunchy” aspect ratio that made everything look squishy. My colleague Jeffrey Lehmann, who hosts a PBS travel show, says aspect ratios are a common problem, no matter what camera you’re using.

After a few tries, I finally figured out how to make the border disappear.

The Vixia HFS10 is a true “prosumer” camera in that it combines features you won’t find on the entry-level cameras that the rest of the tourists carry, such as a microphone terminal, a decent lens and an advanced image sensor. The $1,300 pricetag will ensure that not everyone is carrying this Canon videocamera this summer, but the few who spring for it are guaranteed to have superior shots. If they can get past the aspect ratio issue on YouTube.

What I liked about it: The HFS10 is a cinch to learn. The menu controls are super-intuitive and have lots of options that you’d expect from higher-end professional cameras. Its autofocus worked well even in low-light conditions, but I particularly liked its face-detection system that automatically recognizes a human face and focuses on it, as opposed to some other inanimate object in the room. If only my other cameras could do that!

What I didn’t like: Besides the aspect ratio problems, I found the batteries ran down quickly despite promises of extended usage from new, “intelligent” Lithium-Ion technology. Although the HFS10 shipped with PC software, you were on your own to figure out how to run it on a Mac, which consumed several frustrating hours.

What others are saying: CNET gave it a so-so review, pointing out that although it shoots terrific video, the lens cover rattles when it’s closed (it does) and that it has no eye-level viewfinder (which it doesn’t). Wired liked the camera, calling it “a great shooter with a ton of features and technology.” And Digital Content Producer raved that the HFS10 produces images “far better than it has any right to.”

Although this camera isn’t without its frustrations, I think it makes a worthy travel companion for your summer vacation.