The Canon Hacker’s Development Kit

I own two Canon video cameras, an XL H1, and an HV20. The first retails for about $7,000 these days, and the second can be picked up from just about anywhere for around $700 (or you can get a slightly newer version, the HV30 for just a little bit more). If you’ve read my reviews, you know that the divergent prices reflect some serious differences in professional capability.

The interesting thing is that under the hood, the cameras are pretty similar. Yes, the XL has 3 CCD chips behind a big interchangable lens, and the HV only has one miniscule CMOS chip behind a little fixed lens — not to mention some serious differences in manual controls and connection ports for things like timecode, genlock, and HD-SDI — but the actual brain of both cameras, the chip which processes the images, runs the viewfinder, mixes the audio, and encodes the HDV, is the exact same Digic DV II chip.

The same is true of Canon’s still cameras. There are a lot of differences between their big black SLRs and their little silver point-and-shoot cameras, but most are run by identical Digic II or Digic III digital signal processors. It’s cheaper for Canon to develop a single powerful chip that can handle consumer and professional processing than to design and manufacture multiple chips, so we get the same processor whether we buy a $1200 SLR or a $120 pocket cam.

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