When a new digital budget camcorder is announced by a company, you would expect this model to have some slight spec bumps and other minor improvements over the older model. With the new Canon VIXIA HF R50 and R52, that is indeed true thanks to some enhancements to niche features and improved zooming. While the other aspects of these models remain unchanged from its predecessors, these predecessors were widely praised when they were first introduced back in 2013. But like the older R400, the new Canon HF R500 gets the short end of the stick when it comes to features and new improvements. It is once again the price tag that does the talking and it is worth a closer look to see how it fares against other compact gadgets with video recording capabilities that are priced under $300.
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For a $300 camcorder, the design of the VIXIA HF R500 is pretty justifiable. Those that are not so experienced with digital camcorders should be able to easily figure out how the Canon HF R500 works. There are only 3 buttons on the camcorder along with a zoom slider and a switch for manually opening or closing the lens. While it would have been fantastic to have an automatic lens cover, Canon has at least made the opening and closing of the display as an alternate way to power on or off the camcorder. Two of the buttons (playback and power buttons) can be found on the exposed side of the camcorder when the screen is open while the record button is featured on the back. The VIXIA HF R500 is light and pretty comfortable to hold.
Canon may not yet be ready to get rid of physical controls on their budget point-and-shoot cameras but the VIXIA series is going full throttle with touch. The Canon HF R500 is the most basic VIXIA camcorder of the current series but it has the same capacitive touch display as the other new entry-level models. A capacitive touchscreen is more responsive to a resistive one so navigating the interface is pretty pleasant and the lack of physical buttons means that the 3.0-inch screen can actually fit while still keeping the camcorder small. Video recording with a 5-inch smartphone or 7-inch tablet may feel cool but the screen of camcorders like the VIXIA HF R500 is a lot more versatile since you can swivel it around at close to 360 degrees. You can even flip the screen and close it so you can flaunt the live view on the side of the camcorder.
One minor niggle that is common amongst mainstream camcorders is the inconvenient location of the SD card slot. Inserting an SD card on the bottom of the camcorder may not seem like an issue for some people but it can be irritating for those that like to work on a tripod. The Canon HF R500 addresses the issue by putting the slot on the side of the camcorder. You can find the HDMI, mini-AB USB terminal and AV out terminal there as well.
To sum things up, there is only one notable improvement on the spec sheet that the VIXIA HF R500 has over the now older and now cheaper Canon HF R400 and that is slightly increased Advanced Zoom. Advanced Zoom is basically a technique in getting even closer to the action without compromising the video quality so much. The Canon HF R500 extends this value from 53x to 57x. The optical zoom still maxes out at 32x so you still get the best possible quality and stabilization at 32x or less. It may be a very small difference but it could be crucial for vacationers that simply love playing around with high zoom levels.
Compared to other camcorders of its class, the VIXIA HF R500 is still a force to be reckoned with. The DIGIC DV 4 image processor made its debut in 2013 so it is still pretty fresh and it performs some fine noise reduction algorithms. Unfortunately, the ability to record in both AVCHD and MP4 formats is disabled even though the processor is capable simply because the Canon HF R500 lacks internal memory. You can still choose between the MP4 and AVCHD option. AVCHD videos boast higher quality while MP4 videos are easier to upload and edit.
The 3.28-megapixel CMOS image sensor may sound pretty mediocre but it allows the camcorder to take far better 1080p and 720p video than smartphones and tablets. You can even leave the setting at Smart AUTO and you will get good results in most situations. There are some basic manual controls but you need to use the touchscreen interface to adjust them.
The SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization is another great technology that makes this camcorder feel like it is worth more than $300. This technology works without any interaction as you just have to shoot video comfortably with the handstrap and notice how steady the results look.
Outside the spec sheet, there is another improvement to the VIXIA HF R500 that makes it feel a bit more advanced than the R400. Parents with 3 or less kids can now use the Baby Mode to full effect. You can track the growth of 3 kids and enjoy all the visual optimizations that this special mode brings. The Baby Mode serves as the camcorder’s “pre-record” function too as a recorded video will include the last 3 seconds of footage before the record button was pressed. Videos recorded in this mode get saved to a special Baby Album for easy reviewing. You can also add some fun decorations and animations to the spice up the video.
Deciding whether or not the Canon HF R500 is pretty simple. First you have to ask yourself if you need the Wi-Fi features as the Wi-Fi functionality makes it easier to upload videos to social networking sites and enables remote operation from a mobile device and compatibility with the new Pan Table accessory. Then you have to bear with the fact that the VIXIA HF R500 comes with no internal memory so you need to spend a bit extra on a SD card. Don’t forget too that you can save about $30 by getting the R400 if you are fine with the 53x and Baby Mode being restricted to a single individual. But even at $299, you can get a fairly high-capacity SDXC card that allows you to record more video than say the $449 VIXIA HF R52 model out of the box and still have some extra money so you can buy another accessory of your choosing.
Update: There is a newer model > Panasonic HF-R700