When most people think about video cameras, Sanyo is not the first company that comes to mind. For the past decade, the Japanese manufacturer has been content to sit in Sony and Canon’s shadow, producing cheap and basic alternatives to its elite rivals. The flash memory–based HD1010 is another Xacti model cut from the same affordable cloth — but this time there’s nothing basic about it. Sporting more modes and features than some top-of-the-range models, it is a remarkably advanced camcorder for the asking price. What’s more, it takes surprisingly good video, including a much-coveted Full HD 1080p mode. For $999 it is an excellent performer only slightly let down by a finicky user interface.
The standout feature of the HD1010 is probably its video quality, which is surprising given its entry-level status. The front of the model is dominated by a nice fat lens, which gives an indication of its superior quality. With its plus-sized 1/2.5in CMOS sensor, effective pixel count of 3560k and maximum video resolution of 1920x1080, the HD1010 is certainly better equipped than the average sub-$1000 camcorder. We were particularly impressed by the sharpness of images, with detailed objects — such as leafy tree branches — exhibiting little digital smearing. Colours also didn’t disappoint, although you may need to fiddle with the included white balance presets to get more accurate results.
When it came to low lighting, the HD1010 acquitted itself incredibly well. Our footage remained relatively bright and highly detailed with minimal noise disruption. We did notice some ghosting in dimly lit environments, but this was easily remedied by disabling the camera’s auto shutter. Of course, the downside to this is reduced image clarity, though for the most part our footage remained perfectly usable. When it comes to camcorder design, there is no mistaking a Xacti for anything else (with the possible exception of Sony’s tribute/rip-off model, the HDR-TG1). The HD-1010 adopts the same trademark pistol grip that has become synonymous with Sanyo cameras. It looks more like a ray-gun-cum-electric-shaver than a camcorder, and may prove awkward to operate if you’re used to more traditional units. However, a little hands-on practice soon alleviates this problem (provided you can get used to the lack of a handstrap).
With dimensions of 54x90x112mm, the HD1010 is one of the smallest HD camcorders on the market, though its awkward L-shaped design is rather ill-suited to carrying around in your pocket. Nevertheless it remains a very portable device. Unfortunately, some users may find their footage looks shaky due to the camcorder’s tiny size. The absence of an optical image stabiliser doesn’t help matters either (instead, an electronic variant is used). This probably explains why Sanyo opted for an underpowered 10x optical zoom, as anything higher would have required a tripod.
One thing we love about Sanyo camcorders are their handsomely crafted instruction manuals. The HD-1010’s grandiose 200+ page booklet is amazingly comprehensive; covering every mode and setting on the camera, alongside a multitude of shooting tips. It makes a nice change from the bilingual, maze-like leaflets that usually come packed with camcorders. It’s just as well, because the Xacti HD1010 has a lot of different functions to get your head around.
There are multiple autofocus options (ranging from total range to super macro), eight scene modes (full auto, sports, portrait, landscape, night portrait, snow & beach, fireworks, and lamp), three auto-exposure settings (multi, centre, and spot) and four white-balance presets (sunny/cloudy/fluorescent/incandescent) — and that’s just the auto settings! Delve into the manual settings and you’ll find options to adjust aperture (f/1.8, f/2, f/2.4, f/2.8, f/3.5, f/4, f/4.7, f/5.6, f/6.8, f/8), shutter speed, gain/ISO, video and photo quality, exposure, white balance, noise/flicker reduction and microphone volume (to name but a few). Unfortunately, the HD1010’s unconventional shape coupled with its unwieldy joystick makes it difficult to adjust some of these settings. This isn’t helped by an unintuitive menu, which does a good job of burying certain functions from view.
Annoyingly, Sanyo has chosen to remove HDMI ports from the camera body, which means you’ll need to lug the included docking station around whenever you want to watch your footage on a TV. On the plus side, this has left room for a microphone and headphone jack, allowing you to capture professional sounding audio.