Would you buy a digital camcorder for $499? If you are aware of what the latest digital cameras and smartphones are capable of doing, you would probably pass up the offer. This is the challenge that Canon and many other companies are facing – a dying category where ordinary people are contented with their smartphones while enthusiasts and professionals are relying on their new DSLR cameras. While these emerging categories of mobile devices can handle basic high-quality recording needs, things can get a bit uncomfortable after recording for longer periods of time or when there is a need to get really close to the action without shaking things up. This is why Canon isn’t giving up with the category as it continues to release a trio of entry-level “HF R” VIXIA camcorders. Following the pattern of previous VIXIA “HF R” camcorders, the Canon HF R42 emerges as the priciest of the budget VIXIA camcorders because it has the highest capacity internal flash memory of the three.
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The HF R42 has that traditional camcorder design because unlike other portable gadgets, the primary purpose of the Canon HF R42 is to record video. The camcorder is designed for single-hand usage which is why there is a hand strap on the side so you can get an easy grip. But Canon has executed well with the HF R42 by making the hand strap comfortable and adjustable. It is smaller than many other camcorders in its category and has a very simple control layout.
Turning on the camcorder is as simple as popping out the 3-inch LCD display that reveals the usual set of buttons and ports. Then you can immediately start recording by pressing the Start/Stop button on the back. You can zoom in any time during the session by operating the lever on the top of the camcorder. If you need to make any changes to the settings, you can rely on the LCD screen itself because the capacitive display responds well to touch inputs. You can also track subjects by simply touching it on the screen while recording. Once you stopped the recording, you can review what you have recorded by pressing the familiar playback button. After switching off the camera, you can flick the switch on the side where the hand strap is to close the lens. Using the Canon HF R42 is really that simple.
The HF R42 is equipped with a pretty basic 3.28 Full HD CMOS image sensor so you can expect poor image quality when taking still images. But when it comes to recording video, the quality is very good especially when using it outdoors during sunny days. If you plan to use this indoors, you should try to add some lighting because entry-level camcorders in general don’t do so well in low light. On the plus side, the overall quality is much better than smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras.
You have plenty of recording options to choose from depending on your preferred video quality. If you want the better compression resulting to slightly smaller video file sizes, you can go with the AVCHD format that offers a number of 1080p modes including a super smooth 60p mode, which is a mode that a lot of entry-level models lack. A 24p Cinema mode is available as well if you want to get into the filmmaking hobby. If you want something that is easier to edit, you can shoot videos with the MP4 format as well. If quality doesn’t matter as much, using the 720p lets you record a lot more footage without eating up the storage space.
On the subject of storage space, the Canon HF R42 is the most spacious with 32 GB of flash memory. This means that you can fill up the entire flash memory by recording 2 and a half hours of video at 1080p 60p or 17 hours of 720p 4 mbps video. An SD card slot lets you double or even quadruple the storage capacity depending on the size of the SD card you get. With an SD inserted, you can also use the Dual Recording function to record a single video in different file formats.
While the hardware specs are pretty basic, the HF R42 does harness the DIGIC DV 4 image processor to reduce noise and slightly enhance the look of scenes. It also features the SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization technology so the footage remains smooth if your hands shake even if you slightly zoom in. The Canon HF R42 offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to zooming as you can go as far as 32x or use the Advanced Zoom function to max out at 53x.
The HF R42 also features built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, which is something that the budget Canon HF R400 lacks. If you have an Android 4.0 or iOS device, you can connect to the camcorder wirelessly and fire up the device’s browser so you can watch any videos stored in the camcorder’s memory. Download the free CameraAccess app in Google Play or the iTunes App Store and your device can remotely control the Canon HF R42. You can start or stop recording remotely or adjust the zoom level. Additionally, you can see what the camcorder is currently recording right now from the portable device along with battery information. iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch owners can also get the Canon Movie Uploader app, which makes it easier to share recorded videos on social networking sites. The Wi-Fi function can be a huge battery drainer but Canon thoughtfully improved the battery life of the HF R42.
Another cool feature that a lot of families would like is the Baby Mode. This is a unique mode that has its own predefined settings so you don’t have to make any manual tweaks when recording the baby. Once you finished recording, the baby video is saved in a separate Baby Album so it is easier to find if you have other videos in the camcorder. You can also add animations, stamps and other fun decorations to the video without any special editing software.
With all these unique features, the Canon HF R42 turns out to be a great investment if hassle-free video recording is your kind of thing. But for a $499 price tag? It definitely can be one of the best choices if you really need that spacious internal flash memory. Otherwise, you can save $100 by going for the Canon HF R40, which is basically the 8 GB version with the same features.
Update: There is a newer model > Canon VIXIA HF-R82