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I had a battered VHS camcorder that finally died and would not be easily fixed. It was time for a new camcorder and I thought the best thing was to go all the way to high definition (HD). And not just any HD -- I wanted to go tapeless, as well. Ultimately, I settled on the Canon Vixia HF11, a tiny HD camcorder that records on built-in and SD-card flash memory. I've now had the HF11 for a year.
WHAT IT IS
The Canon Vixia HF11 really is tiny, about the same size and weight of a Coke can. It will easily fit in a jacket pocket, and I often carry it in the "cargo" pocket of cargo pants. Within this tiny package is a full-fledged HD camcorder that saves video in the AVCHD format. The HF11 has 32 GB of internal memory and it has an SD card slot for more memory. At the maximum recording rate of 24 megabits per second (Mbps), the HF11 will store about 3.5 hours of very nice video on the internal 32 GB of memory. I normally use the 17 Mbps setting, which improves the storage to about 4.5 hours. I also have 16 GB and 32 GB SD cards for more storage flexibility.
At the front of the Canon Vixia HF11 is a 12:1 zoom lens. You hold the camcorder with your right hand and the right index finger operates the zoom control. Although it takes some time to get used to it, it's possible to do smooth zooms and to smoothly vary the speed of zooms, something that gives finished videos a professional look.
One side of the Canon HF11 is a 2.7-inch flip-out LCD viewfinder. Just to the left of this screen is a tiny joystick that's used to navigate the camcorder's menus. It's actually pretty easy to sit down with the HF11 and set it up, especially if you have experience with other digital camcorders.
A battery slots into a rear compartment on the Canon HF11, and a slider on the camcorder's underside quickly releases the battery for fast changes. The battery that came with the HF11 (part number BP-809) holds about 80 minutes of power -- I also bought a bigger battery (BP-819) that supplies about 2.5-hours of operating power.
Surprisingly, the Canon Vixia HF11 has just about every type of connection you can imagine on its tiny case, including HDMI, component video out, USB, analog audio out and a microphone input. It came with a component cable (which allows you to view HD plabacks on a monitor with component inputs) but not an HDMI cable. Note that the HF11 does not have a FireWire port.
In addition to being an HD camcorder, the Canon Vixia HF11 takes competent still images. The resolution of the still camera is about 3.2 megapixels and the quality of the images is not spectacular. They are okay, though... and are much better than pictures from the typical cell-phone camera.
The Canon Vixia HF11 records HD in the 1080i format. I paid about US$900, but it dropped in price to about US$800 before it was replaced by the Vixia HF20. Amazon UK has the Canon Legria HF20 (the UK successor to the Vixia HF11) priced at £699.99.
There are lots of manual settings for the Canon Vixia HF11 and there's also an easy-to-use automatic setting called "Easy." I use the Easy setting most of the time and it works pretty well. The HF11 is ready to record in about 6-7 seconds after pressing the on/off button. With your right hand inserted through the strap on the side of the HF11, your thumb controls the start/stop record button and your index finger controls the zoom. I'm used to much bigger cameras and was skeptical about using such a tiny thing, but I got used to it quickly.
Stereo microphones at the front of the HF11 record pretty clean sound, although they are a little susceptible to wind rumble. Still, I've been impressed with the audio, particularly at places like concerts.
The video quality from the Canon Vixia HF11 is just astonishing. When everything is working well, pictures are beautifully sharp and clear. I personally can't believe that something so small and inexpensive makes such beautiful pictures. Judge for yourself -- I shot some video at a performance by Natasha Bedingfield and posted it to YouTube at:
I have several other HD YouTube videos, all shot with the Canon Vixia HF11, so you can get some idea of what the camera looks like in all light levels.
Obviously, the HF11 looks best in lots of light. However, it is better than I expected in low light, such as in your home at night. It's certainly not perfect but it's not as bad as other camcorders I've seen.
The biggest visual flaw of the Canon Vixia HF11 is that highlights sometimes get blown out, making the picture too bright and losing detail. The only cure is to take the camera out of "Easy" mode, switch on the manual exposure control and reduce the exposure. This is not hard to do but it has spoiled a few shots for me.
There is one other downside to the Canon Vixia HF11, one that caught me off guard. The camera is dead silent, so the only cue that it is running is a small red/green dot in the flip-out LCD viewfinder. If it's a red dot, you're recording video -- if it's a green dot, you ain't recording nuthin'. The camera seems to turn on quickly, as the monitor shows video and the zoom lens can be controlled. However, it takes another couple seconds before you get the green dot that says the camera is paused and ready to record. This fooled me many times at first, thinking I was recording when I actually was not. I lost several priceless shots that I would have had if I had waited another second to press the "Record" button. Frustrating. I'm used to the start-up delay now, but it's been a painful lesson.
I have a powerful PC and use Corel VideoStudio Pro X2 to edit the AVCHD files from the Canon Vixia HF11. The software works well if I render files to Windows Media (WMV) format, but it has a serious glitch if I render to AVCHD. For this reason, I don't recommend Corel VideoStudio Pro X2 -- but that's another story. The HF11 comes with some very basic editing software that does work, but it's basic and only does the simplest of transitions.
I generally transfer all the video files from the camcorder's internal memory onto a SD card, then plug the SD card into my computer. From that point, I can do whatever I want with the video in the computer.
There's lots more I can say about the Canon Vixia HF11 but this is getting quite long. If you have any questions, please drop me an e-mail.
I really enjoy my Canon Vixia HF11. I love its video quality, portability and ease of use -- I take this thing with me just about everywhere because it is so small and so good. However, I have to watch out for overly exposed highlights and to be careful not to press the record button before the camera is ready. Also, editing and distributing HD videos takes a LOT of computer power and all the tools are frankly just not quite there yet.
Still, I've shot more video in the past year with the Canon Vixia HF11 than I did previously combined. It is a lot of fun and a great little HD camcorder.