I'm finally upgrading into the world of HD video and going tapeless. It's time to retire my Sony TRV-80 miniDV camcorder. I'm getting a Canon Vixia HF11 AVCHD camcorder. The image quality is incredible from the reviews and sample shots I have seen that people have taken already. It's got everything I need, with the exception of one key feature I had hoped it would have. My Sony camcorder has a LANC tripod remote control jack which accepts zoom and start/stop control inputs from a Manfrotto tripod-mounted variable-speed zoom controller via a submini phone plug cable. I have $400 invested in the controller alone, along with matching tripod and full fluid head.
Canon does not provide this feature to connect an external controller, except on its flagship line of high-end pro camcorders such as the XH-A1, which are way beyond my budget. Also, the XH-A1 still uses miniDV tapes shooting the older HDV format, which is not as good as HD on the Vixia HF11. Sony isn't any better, their last camcorder to offer a LANC port is several years old, and also uses miniDV tapes in HDV format. It's time to move on and shoot direct to SDHC memory cards. No more tape dropouts or waiting to download tapes to your PC!
I first contacted Canon's customer support dept, and presented my question. The response was that there is no LANC feature or method of connecting such a controller to the HF11, only the XH-A1and other high-end bug bucks models have this capability.
The Canon HF11 does have an accessory hot shoe capable of connecting devices such as an external mic, video light or flash unit. I'm interested in finding out more about the exact pinouts of these hot shoe contacts. There may be pins connected with the zoom system that can be used hopefully. Canon just probably doesn't want to bother telling anyone, or the feature was not implemented in this model series.
My controller connects via a standard subminiature male 3 contact phone plug cable, acquiring a hot shoe accessory such as a video light, taking it apart and using the body to connect a pigtail onto the contact pins, then extending it out with a female submini phone jack to plug the controller into would facilitate the connections.
The camera comes with an IR remote, but I suspect the zoom buttons are single speed on or off, no variable speed as with the camera's zoom rocker, which is what I really need. The only other idea I came up with would be to fix a servo motor to proportionally move the zoom rocker in response to a signal output from my zoom control unit, but this would require designing a powered circuit to run the servo, calibrate the whole thing, and it would just be plain ugly and cumbersome to attach to the camera. It would be clumsy and jury-rigged, and probably not give me the smooth remote control results I am looking for.
If anyone already owns an HF11, and has gotten the tinkering bug, or knows what all the contact pins are, I'd be real interested to know!