Canon goes HD-camcorder crazy at CES

Canon has gone all-in with its high-definition camcorder announcements at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company announced nine new Vixia models today, all of which offer flash- or SD-card-based storage. Although they're very small and light, none of the new announcements are pocket camcorders.

In addition to new models in the company's highest-end S series of Vixia camcorders, Canon is also introducing two new Vixia lines: the mid-range M series and the lower-end R series. Canon's only remaining tape-based consumer camcorder will be the lonesome-but-principled Vixia HV40.

All the new Vixia camcorders are compatible with SDXC cards, a ridiculously high-capacity version of the SD card format that will allow for storage of up to 2TB.

Several of the new Vixia models offer more than one storage option: either a combination of internal flash storage and an SDHC/SDXC card slot, or two SDHC/SDXC card slots. Those with multiple storage formats will have a feature that Canon is calling Relay Recording. While filming, Vixia models with Relay Recording automatically switch between internal flash drives and storage cards to allow for uninterrupted footage during playback. This is one of several advantages the new HD camcorders hold over 8-Track tapes.

Canon claims the new S series and M series models offer improved optical image stabilization controls for both wide-angle and full-zoom shots, handled differently. Wide-angle optical stabilization has been rejiggered to compensate for a larger range of motion, while pressing a dedicated Powered IS button at full zoom locks in on a subject and compensates for slightly shaky hands.

Canon is also touting the touchscreen controls on its new S series and M series camcorders, which include a touch-based motion tracking feature, a touch-to-focus feature, and touch-based exposure controls. Scrolling through video clips and images for playback is also similar to Apple's vaunted CoverFlow feature in iTunes.

Vixia HF S Series announcements

The new S series camcorders all capture 1920-by-1080 (1080p) AVCHD video at 24Mbps, and offer low-light optimized CMOS sensors, Digic 4 processors, 10x optical zoom lenses, 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD panels, and 8-megapixel still photo capture.

Canon Vixia HF S21
The S series models can also down-convert high-definition AVCHD video to standard-definition MPEG-2 video, which is friendlier for sharing clips on the Web or burning standard-definition DVDs; Canon says the down-conversion process retains the source AVCHD file. The downconverted standard-definition video allows wireless transfer via Eye-Fi cards.

The highest-end consumer model for 2010 lineup is the Vixia HF S21 ($1400, due in April), which offers 64GB of internal memory and two SDHC/SDXC card slots, and has a 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD in addition to an eye-level viewfinder.

The other new models in the S series offer the same specs, except for the storage capacity and the eye-level viewfinder. The touchscreen-controlled Vixia HF S20 ($1100, due in April) offers 32GB of internal memory and two SDHC/SDXC card slots, while the touchscreen-only Vixia HF S200 ($1000, due in April) records only to its dual SDHC/SDXC card slots.

Vixia HF M Series announcements

The three new Vixia HF M series models also feature 1080p AVCHD recording at 24Mbps, Relay Recording, Powered IS, and touchscreen features, but they offer only one card slot instead of two. The M series models also offer smaller 2.7-inch touchscreens, smaller CMOS sensors, and lower-resolution 3-megapixel stills, but slightly more powerful 15x optical zoom lenses.

Canon Vixia HF M300
The Vixia HF M31 ($800, due in March) hosts a 32GB flash drive and an SDHC/SDXC slot; the Vixia HF M30 ($700, due in March) has an 8GB flash drive and an SDHC/SDXC slot; and the Vixia HF M300 ($680, due in March) records only to its single SDHC/SDXC card slot.

Vixia HF R Series announcements

The three entry-level Vixia HF R series announcements ratchet down the specs a bit, but they still capture 1920-by-1080 (1080p) AVCHD video at a lower bitrate (17Mbps). Key differences include the lack of a touchscreen LCD (the M series on-screen controls are navigated with a small joystick), a smaller CMOS sensor that maxes out at 2-megapixel stills, the lack of a Powered IS button for full-zoom shots (you still get wide-angle image stabilization, however), and a 20x optical zoom lens.

Canon Vixia HF R10
The Vixia HF R11 ($700, due in March) stores to a 32GB flash drive and a single SDHC/SDXC card slot; the Vixia HF R10 ($550, due in March) offers an 8GB drive and an SDHC/SDXC slot; and the Vixia HF R100 ($500, due in March) records to an SDHC/SDXC slot only. Like their higher-end cousins, the R series camcorders also offer the Relay Recording feature.

Read more of our coverage of CES 2010.

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