A few months ago we were in the market for a new video camera here at InfoMedia. There were several factors that I used to decide on a model, including price, image quality, and system compatibility. After some deliberation, I settled on the Canon HV40. Now that we’ve had it for a while and I’ve been able to put it through the ringer, I thought I’d share my thoughts about this little gem.
The HV40 runs about $700 and records HDV footage to MiniDV tape. There are similar models that record AVCHD to SD cards, but they’re going to cost you a little more. It has HDMI, Firewire, USB, and Component connectivity. When connected to an HDTV via an HDMI cable, you really get a feel for how good the picture is on this camera. Sadly, unless you are capturing footage directly into your computer through an HDMI connector, you will lose some image quality when the signal is compressed to HDV onto the tape. But trust me, it’s not a big deal. One of the first projects I shot on this camera was for chroma keying and even with the HDV compression, I was able to pull a nice, clean key.
For me, the key feature of the HV40 is that it shoots in 24P, that’s 24 frames per second progressive. If you’re not familiar with 24P, it’s the same frame rate that film is shot with and gives motions and movements similar characteristics to film. Please note that I am not saying this will give your images a film-like quality, but 24P is widely sought out by independent filmmakers shooting on video.
The other feature that I like about the HV40 is the external mic input. This allows you to plug a microphone directly into the camera and thereby get better sound than you would with the built-in camera mic. Most consumer cameras don’t have this feature, so this is a nice bonus of the HV40. There is also a headphone jack and the option to display audio levels on the viewfinder so that you can monitor your audio as you shoot.
The main drawbacks I’ve found probably won’t bother most consumers, but coming from a background of using professional cameras, the adjustment wasn’t easy. The manual controls leave a lot to be desired. There are no iris or focus rings, instead you can adjust exposure through the menu and focus with a little dial that isn’t that great. Also, the camera does some strange things when adjusting exposure, which make getting a precise exposure difficult. It will vary based on the brightness of objects in your scene. For me, this was a big issue when filming an actress wearing a white shirt and black pants in front of a green screen. If the camera took the exposure from the pants, she was overexposed, and underexposed if it used the white shirt to gauge exposure. You can work around it, but it takes some getting used to.
All in all, I think the HV40 is a great camera, especially at its current price point. It has just enough features to make it usable by professionals, but not enough to make it difficult for a consumer to use. I would recommend it for anyone from a hobbyist to a low-budget filmmaker.