It is pretty amazing that digital camcorders are still being sold today considering how capable today’s smartphones are in recording HD video. But once you take a look at some of the finer digital camcorders available, you will quickly realize that things like design and manual controls are things that even some average consumers want when it comes to video recording. Creating high-quality videos isn’t just something that professionals and enthusiasts enjoy. Canon is one of the companies that believe that the entry-level camcorder crowd still exists and that is why the company keeps releasing new models like Canon HF R40.
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The HF R40 is designed to make novice camcorder users happy. Today’s high-end point-and-shoot cameras and smartphones can take impressive photos and videos but are more designed for taking pictures. Holding the Canon HF R40 is more comfortable for longer periods of time, which is necessary if you hope to capture full footage of events and parties. Most compact camcorders are designed for comfort too but the HF R40 has a surprisingly premium feel despite its entry-level status. It has a nice glossy exterior with a comfortable strap that you can adjust. Since this camcorder has a minimal set of functions, the Canon HF R40 also feels very light weighing about 10 ounces.
Any first time camcorder user should be able to easily figure out how the camcorder works. The back of the camcorder features the start/stop button. Opening the LCD screen doubles as the power on function for convenience and it reveals other basic buttons including a power button and a playback button along with the usual HDMI out, headset and USB ports. A switch for closing and opening the lens can be found on the opposite side of the camcorder where the hand strap is and a zoom lever can be found on top. That is all there is to it and there are no other buttons since the 3.0-inch LCD panel is touch-enabled. The touch panel is capacitive which is great for an entry-level model and it should make touch inputs a lot more responsive. Visuals on the screen looks great and menu navigation is pretty simple. You can even do things like touch an area of the screen while the viewfinder is active to designate a focal point or track a moving subject.
The HF R40 is packed with enough features to make this a worthy replacement of any smartphone or point-and-shoot camera for video recording purposes. The 3.28 megapixel Full HD CMOS image sensor puts the Canon HF R40 on the low-end spectrum of Canon VIXIA camcorders but it can still record some impressive 1080p video. Low light performance might leave you wanting more but the camcorder does very well under ample lighting and even has a smooth 60p mode, which is a feature that used to be reserved for mid-range and high-end models. Plus, the DIGIC DV 4 image processor does a fairly good job in reducing noise and emphasizing darker scenes. You also have the choice to record in AVCHD or MP4 formats depending on what you intend to do with the content.
MP4 is actually the most ideal format to use since it is easy to share and has the lowest file size if you go for the lowest resolution. The smaller file size means that you can cram more video footage inside the small 8 GB internal flash memory. MP4 allows you to use a 720p recording mode which lets you record more than 4 hours of video. There are also two SD card slots so you can add a high-capacity 64 GB or even a 128 GB SDXC card. 64 GB is enough to record more than 16 hours of video at 1080p FXP (17 mbps).
The HF R40 is also a good choice if you frequently use the optical zoom. It has the same 32x optical zoom as its predecessor although you can zoom in up to 53x if you go to manual mode and utilize the Advanced Zoom feature. It uses the SuperRange Optical Image Stabilizer to correct camera shakes, which can be most noticeable when shooting at higher zoom levels. It isn’t perfect but using this stabilization technology is most certainly better than nothing.
If there is one surprise that this camcorder brings to the table, it has to be the built-in Wi-Fi technology that makes it a lot easier to share videos online. This feature isn’t a barebones wireless functionality either because Canon developed a nice little app for iOS called Canon Movie Uploader. This app lets you use the mobile device’s Internet connection to upload videos to social networking sites using a service called Canon iMAGE GATEWAY. Although there is no Android version of this app, users with Android 4.0+ devices can still use the Remote Browse function that relies on a standard Web browser so you can remotely view any videos currently stored on the camcorder. The CameraAccess app is another free app for iOS and Android devices that focuses on live streaming. You can switch the camcorder to recording mode and then check out the live footage from an Apple or Android phone or tablet. There are also some available controls within the app so you can remotely adjust the zoom or stop the recording if necessary. Finally, the app gives you some nice statistics like the battery level and current zoom position.
The Baby Mode is a nice new addition that helps document a baby’s development. This special mode has its own scene optimizations so you won’t have to worry about manual controls. Any videos recorded in this mode will be placed in a special Baby Album location so they are easy to find. The videos are also sorted chronologically so you can really see the baby’s growth. Then you can use the Touch Decoration feature to add stamps such as the baby’s height and weight or add fun captions and animations.
The Canon HF R40 is a great little camcorder and even better than the previous Canon VIXIA model with a higher battery life and great Wi-Fi capabilities. It is definitely one of the best cameras to get for $399.
Update: There is a newer model > Canon VIXIA HF-R80