Compact camcorders are not exactly the kind of gadgets the average consumer would want to upgrade every year. But that doesn’t stop big manufacturers like Canon from refreshing their prestigious lineups annually. This category may face an uphill battle against decent point-and-shoot cameras and smartphones but companies still manage to find ways to continue stacking the unique advantages of digital camcorders. For Canon’s VIXIA lineup, the VIXIA HF R5X is carpeting 2014 with a special theme in the midrange category – babies. That and some minor improvements help make the VIXIA series a more compelling option for those that have already hit some of the key limitations to using a digital camera or smartphone for video recording. It also appears that Canon isn’t abandoning its trio approach with the Canon HF R52 catering to those that want a sizable amount of internal memory right out of the box.
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The VIXIA HF R52 hardly deviates from the previous Canon HF R42 model. It is fully black for the most part and comes out impressively small weighing under 9 ounces. It is so small that the button and port layout on the side of the camcorder when the screen is open looks a bit crammed. There, you have access to the common power and playback buttons along with a mini-USB terminal, HDMI output and AV port. It is nice to see the memory card slot found on the side as well because you can conveniently take it out and swap it with another even if the camcorder is mounted on a tripod. It has the same basic 3-inch LCD screen as the older model and it fully relies on touch inputs so there is no sense of putting buttons on the side of the display. The handstrap on the opposite side of the Canon HF R52 feels quite comfortable. There is also a switch on that side of the camera which manually controls the lens cover.
On the specs sheet side of things, the VIXIA HF R52 introduces a small but welcome improvement over the HF R42 model. The advanced zooming capabilities has been slightly extended from 53x to 57x while the standard optical zoom remains at 32x. It still relies on Canon’s proven SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization technology to keep the footage as steady as possible across the entire zoom range. It is also powered by the same 3.28-megapixel Full HD CMOS image sensor and DIGIC DV 4 image processor so you can expect the same exceptional video quality as its predecessor.
The bulk of the new additions make the Canon HF R52 an even more family-friendly camcorder. The Baby Mode (now called Advanced Baby Mode) can now track up to three babies at once effectively tracking age, height and weight data as you consistently shoot video. This special mode also serves as a special facial recognition feature exclusively for babies as it enhances the look of the baby’s skin. The VIXIA HF R52 can also be used as a more reliable baby monitor or security appliance for the home thanks to the added support of a new $100 accessory called Pan Table. When you place the Canon HF R52 on this accessory, you can remotely pan the camcorder horizontally up to 200 degrees and even vertically by 20 degrees. It also runs on a pair of AA batteries for up to 9 hours so there is a huge window of creativity if you want to create some decent professional effects on the cheap although you might want to use the included AC adapter when using it as a baby monitor.
The free CameraAccess Plus app for Android and iOS makes the remote controlling possible. The app allows your smartphone or tablet to connect to the VIXIA HF R52 via Wi-Fi so you can see the live image right from the mobile device. It has a few other functions including a self-timer and exposure adjustment. Unfortunately, many users of the Android app currently have problems running the app on Android 4.3.
The other features of the Canon HF R52 (which are similar to the older model) match up nicely to these new improvements. Even if you don’t have an SD card, you can still record about 12 hours of 720p video. You can even take advantage of the Dual Recording feature if you need the recorded video in the AVCHD format and more Web-friendly MP4 format. Adding an additional memory card helps expand the memory capacity making it even better for home surveillance. In addition to the usual 1080p and 720p options, you get record at 60p if you prefer smoothness or 24p if you want to produce something more cinematic. The Smart AUTO mode serves as the beginner-friendly option where the camcorder will decide the most appropriate settings and optimizations for the scene it detects.
Before you consider the Canon VIXIA HF R500, which can easily be recognized as the cheapest model as it lacks internal memory, it is also important to note that this model also lacks the built-in Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi functionality that is built into the VIXIA HF R52 allows you to do more than just livestreaming and remote operation. You may also upload recorded videos directly to Facebook and YouTube once you connect to the camcorder to a wireless Internet hotspot such as your own home router. The Canon HF R52 also has twice as much internal memory as the HF R50 model.
The Canon HF R52 along with the R50 model surprisingly makes consumer digital camcorders interesting again. It is the kind of gadget that you would definitely want to bring on your next vacation so you can enjoy the expanded zooming capabilities, higher memory capacity and superior image stabilization that smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras have yet to achieve. Then when you are at home (providing you shell at $100 extra for the Pan Table), the VIXIA HF R52 can serve as a great home surveillance camera. If you have kids, the Canon HF R52 becomes an even more interesting camcorder since competing camcorder models don’t really focus on that area. Priced at $449, the VIXIA HF R52 doesn’t really create a huge hole in the wallet either.
Update: There is a newer model > Panasonic HF-R72