Many companies turn out SD-based camcorders in compact designs, simply because the flash-based technologies allow for much smaller models than those based on tape, hard disks, and mini DVDs. While Canon continues to offer compact AVCHD models, the Vixia HF20 and the HF200, the company's branching out with slightly more "pro" prosumer offerings in the Vixia HF S10 and the Vixia HF S100.
These two models, which record 1,920x1,080 60i video, feature a larger, faster f1.8 10x HD lens and a relatively large, high-resolution 1/2.6-inch 8-megapixel CMOS sensor, along with higher-end capabilities, such as SMPTE color bars, the ability to manually boost gain up to 18dB, fixed 70 and 100 IRE zebra stripes, and a user-assignable button/control dial combo. They differ only by internal memory: the HF S100 has none, while the HF S10 has 32GB.
Though it weighs a bit over a pound, the camcorder feels kind of light for its 2.8-inch-by-2.7-inch-by-5.4-inch dimensions. Still, it's no featherweight, and while I fit it into a loose jacket pocket, it's not very compact. With only a few exceptions, the camcorder has a nice, functional design, with intelligently laid out controls and a streamlined user interface. The larger size makes it a bit more comfortable to hold and operate as well.
Looking at the camcorder head-on, one of the first things you notice is the odd built-in lens cover that uses a closing-eye type rather than aperture-blade type of design we usually see. It wouldn't be notable except that when closed, the two plastic pieces tend to rattle against each other; since the camcorder is off, it's not a problem, just a minor irritation. Instead of putting the video light in the typical location on the side of the lens, Canon put it on the pop-up flash. The stereo mics sit on either side of the lens barrel. While they may be more susceptible to wind noise in that location (though I didn't have any problems), it allows for larger mics with better separation than the typical positioning above or below the lens. If that's not adequate, you can attach a mic via the mini accessory shoe on top of the camcorder. There's a 3.5mm mic input on the grip side of the unit, and the other connectors--USB, component, and miniHDMI--sit in a covered compartment underneath the strap. The strap does get in the way a little when you're hooking stuff up.
To one side of the lens Canon placed a new Custom dial, which looks, feels, and operates similarly to the control dial on Sony's prosumer models. You press the button to enable it, then use the dial to adjust whatever setting you've programmed it for--choices are exposure, focus, assist functions (70/100 IRE Zebra and peaking), mic level, and automatic gain control limit (0 to 18dB). I like it in the Sonys and here as well; it's a comfortable interface for adjusting options like exposure and focus, though I'm not fond of it for cycling through the Zebra and peaking options.
As usual, the zoom switch and photo button lie on top of the camcorder beneath your forefinger, with the mode dial right behind where an eye-level viewfinder should be; one of the biggest drawbacks of this model, geared toward enthusiasts, is the lack of an EVF. The power connector and 3.5mm headphone jack flank the mode button. One of the two record buttons lies under your thumb on the back. To the left of the zoom switch is the small, recessed power button which is a little to difficult to manipulate.