Getting a decent and modern digital camcorder for the right price can be a bit difficult if your options are limited. You play a game of patience and simply wait for the price to mark down or settle for something cheaper and more multipurpose like a point-and-shoot camera or smartphone. But if you are after the form factor and comfort, you really have to stick with pure digital camcorders because they are designed for frequent video recording. One trick to address as many of your needs as possible without spending so much is to look at the entire company’s catalog of camcorders rather than choosing from a couple of models in a gadget store. The Canon VIXIA models highlights the importance of having different configurations of a particular model to suit a wide audience. The Canon HF R40, for instance, may seem like the most attractive budget model since it is priced well under $500 and it looks identical to the HF R42 which has a higher flash memory capacity. But you should also be aware of the Canon HF R400 which may make a few compromises but it still stands as an even cheaper camcorder priced at $299.
For $299, you would probably expect a cheap plastic exterior but instead, you get the same sophisticated design as the pricier HF R40 and HF R42 models. This is a nice thing because the glossy charcoal look makes the camcorder look pretty valuable and the adjustable handstrap is very comfortable for long periods of use. It is lighter and smaller than many other digital cameras but usability isn’t sacrificed a single bit.
In fact, usability is one of the main focuses with the Canon VIXIA HF R400 because people that would be most willing to get an inexpensive camcorder in the first place are those that are curious with video recording or simply want to perform basic video recording tasks without all the complexities. Just by looking at the compact camcorder, it is safe to say that the HF R400 has succeeded in making each control significant and easy to find. You can quickly turn on the camcorder by simply opening the display panel. Doing so will also reveal some concealed connection ports like HDMI and common buttons like the power and playback buttons. That is all the basic controls in a nutshell and it gives the Canon HF R400 the advantage of being an inexpensive camera that is easy to use as it looks. You won’t have to settle down with a lengthy user’s guide just to operate this compact camcorder.
A 3.0-inch touchscreen is a common feature amongst various compact camcorders. But the overall quality of the display compared to other VIXIA models wasn’t sacrificed in the Canon HF R400 either. It has the same capacitive panel so operating things like the menu isn’t as tricky as it needs to be. You can even use the touchscreen to your advantage by doing basic acts like touching a subject to focus there.
Surprisingly, the Canon HF R400 is pretty good in what it does thanks to a combination of Canon’s proprietary software and hardware technologies. The Canon 3.28-megapixel CMOS image sensor is very much a basic specification but when combined with the DIGIC DV 4 image processor featured in many pricier camcorders, the end result is pretty interesting because noise levels look managed and low light comes out a bit better than other basic devices like smartphones. Use the camcorder outdoors during daylight and it is pretty hard to find fault with the overall video quality if you are just an ordinary user.
The overall output may not even matter for those that are not into full HD video recording modes. If you don’t need 1080p, you can opt for a 1440×1080 for your videos and still have a nice balance of quality and file size. Using the 720p MP4 mode even further downsizes the video while allowing more storage for future recording sessions.
The Canon HF R400 separates itself from the rest of the 2013 HF R VIXIA camcorders by not having its own internal flash memory. With no place to store any videos you record, you have to insert an SD card before you operate the camcorder. This is where thrifty buyers can immediately notice the huge advantage that the HF R400 has over other cheap VIXIA camcorders. Having a model that solely depends on a memory card means that you get to decide how much storage space you really want. Need something spacious? You might be able to find a fast 64 GB SDXC card for just above $60 and exceed the storage capabilities of the pricier HF R42. But remember, you can an add a 64 GB SDXC card to models with embedded flash memory as well so other entry-level VIXIA models should still be considered if you need to record many hours of high-quality 1080p video.
Make no mistake, you can still do a lot more with the HF R400 than with any smartphone that may also be capable of shooting 1080p video. For instance, you can go with a very smooth video footage by going with the 60p mode or go towards a more film-like experience at 24p. It is nice that Canon is bringing more useful features like 60p mode from the company’s pricier predecessors. Aside from the lack of flash storage space, the Canon HF R400 also doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi.
If that isn’t enough, the Canon HF R400 packs quite a punch when it comes to zoom. The 32x (53x Advanced Zoom) optical zoom is considerably greater than a lot of compact point-and-shoot models and smartphones are nowhere even close. Taking pictures with the HF R400 counts as one of the main weaknesses but even other things like the SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization technology add some great value to this budget camcorder.
The HF R400 even has a few fun features like the Baby Mode which is the recommended mode if a baby is the main star of your video. This mode has special optimizations so the scene looks great and the baby videos are stored in a special location called “Baby Album”.
Figuring out whether or not the Canon VIXIA HF R400 is really the Canon VIXIA camcorder to get is pretty simple if you are happy with the features the entry-level VIXIA series has to offer. All you really need to do is ask yourself a few questions. Do you need lots of storage space? Do you have a spare 32 GB SD card? Is Wi-Fi an important feature? If the answer to all these three questions is no, you can safely purchase the Canon HF R400 and possibly a very cheap 8 GB or 16 GB SD card if necessary and save a ton of money while still being able to enjoy the nice recording features the HF R400 has to offer.
Update: There is a newer model > Panasonic HF-R800