Canon has announced its smallest-ever professional grade handicam. The XA10 weighs a paltry 820g (1.8lbs) fully loaded, and shoots 1080p HD video in H.264 and the more edit-friendly AVCHD format. Canon is pitching it somewhere between the prosumer market and as a ultra-portable rig for outdoor, action sports, live news and tight-spot shooting at the pro level. But at an estimated retail of US$1999, it's well within reach of the hobbyist that just wants to shoot high-quality home movies.

Canon's XA10 comes fairly hot on the heels of the XF100 released late last year as Canon's smallest ever professional handicam. But while the US$3300 XF100 might have have a few extra frame rate options a higher bitrate codec and niche features like stereoscopic 3D, the tiny XA10 packs the same lens, CMOS sensor and focusing system into a much smaller unit, adding a 64GB internal flash drive and superior low light performance while knocking $1300 off the price tag.

Let's take a look through some of the XA10's significant features:

1080p HD video recorded in either AVCHD or H.264

While H.264 has become the standard for online video, AVCHD is a much less processor-intensive format to edit in, so you can cut out the step of transcoding to an intermediate editing format if that's part of your H.264 workflow.

DIGIC DV III image processor

Features increased processing speed, noise reduction and an inbuilt camera control microprocessor. The Digic DV III is the high-speed processor that enables things like face detect autofocus, touch&track; and the smart auto mode.

1/3-inch CMOS

A 2.37-megapixel sensor, effectively using 2.07 megapixels to record 1920x1080 HD.

64GB internal flash drive

Enables 5 hours 55 minutes recording time at 24Mbps 1080p recording, or vastly greater recording times at lower resolutions

2 card slots for SD, SDHC or SDXC cards

Enables relay recording and instant backup by recording to 2 cards at once.

10X zoom lens

Equivalent to a 30.4-305mm lens on a 35mm camera), variable zoom speed. Maximum aperture f/1.8-2.8 for nice depth of field. Max shutter speed 1/2000.

Adjustable full-time autofocus

Modes include instant, medium, normal, face priority, and manual, using a built-in focus ring.

Frame rates

Including 60i, native 24p, and progressive 24p and 30p, which shoot at 60i

Optical image stablization

SuperRange Optical (lens shift) stabilization. Standard, powered, dynamic and off modes.

Low light performance

In auto mode, the XA10 can shoot in as little as 1.5lux. It also features an infrared mode for ultra low light situations, with a built in, diffused IR emitter in the handle so you can shoot Paris Hilton-style when there's no light at all.

3.5-inch touch screen LCD

Swivels out and around for odd-angle shooting. In touch & track mode, you can select a subject in your scene, touch it on the LCD panel, and the camera will keep the focus and exposure set for that subject regardless of what else is happening in the scene. There's also a focus assist system to help you choose your aperture setting and focus points.

Audio and microphones

2 XLR microphone input jacks, plus a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack are built into the detachable handle on the XA10. The XLR jacks have phantom power to extend the range of high-quality microphones you can use with the camera. Meanwhile the built-in stereo microphone can be adjusted for directionality, including a mode that syncs the directionality of the microphone with the length of the zoom. There's also noise reduction options, an auto-attenuator for large sound level spikes and a range of EQ modes to suit different shooting situations.

HDMI mini connector

Enables you to connect an external 1080p viewing screen while you shoot.

Detachable handle

Handy for low-angle shooting, the detachable handle also contains the XLR microphone inputs, the audio level controls, a cold shoe for accessories, a shotgun microphone holder and the infra-red light. There's also extra rec/stop and zoom control buttons to make low-angle action shots like skateboard-cam a bit easier.

The XA10 will be available from March for a recommended retail of US$1999. Full specs at the Canon website.

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