Canon is one of the several camcorder manufacturers that still opt to equip some of their variants with internal flash storage. For years, the budget Canon VIXIA lineup consists of a model with 32 GB storage, 16 GB storage and no internal storage at all with all models sporting an SD card and only the ones with internal memory sporting built-in Wi-Fi. The Canon HF R50 continues this trend as it serves as the option for folks that don’t want to spend more than $400 on a camcorder up front while enjoying all of the features that the priciest camcorder of the new trio possesses.
On a hardware perspective, the Canon VIXIA HF R50 is a pretty minor upgrade over last year’s VIXIA HF R40 both inside and out. On the outside, the Canon HF R50 is pretty much the same basic and compact camcorder that the budget VIXIA series is known for. Open the screen up and you are greeted with a fairly impressive 3-inch capacitive touch panel display. Touch operation can be a bit flaky for many of the budget camcorders out there but the VIXIA HF R50 is pretty responsive and easy to use. Combined with the comfortable handstrap, the R50 is very much a joy for beginner users to use. However, that can be said for the previous model too.
With the screen opened up, you get immediate access to some of the physical buttons and ports on the side of the camcorder. This includes the usual stuff like the power button and playback button as well as an HDMI out, AV port and mini-USB port. It is worth noting that opening the display powers on the camcorder too. Unlike several camcorders that feature the SD card slot on the bottom of the camcorder, the Canon HF R50 has its slot on the side of the camcorder too so can swap out an SD card and put another in without taking the camcorder out of the tripod.
Based on the specs of the VIXIA HF R50, it looks like Canon is pretty satisfied with the capabilities of the R40. It might sound disappointing for those that want to see more advanced capabilities to trickle down to the entry-level price range but the VIXIA HF R40 was widely praised as one of the best budget camcorders money can buy. The DIGIC DV 4 image processor is still pretty fresh and optimizes the video quality pretty well. This processor is powerful enough to record AVCHD and MP4 video streams simultaneously. This sets the stage for the Dual Recording feature which is can be useful if you need a copy of the higher quality AVCHD format. AVCHD videos can be tricky to edit and take a long time to upload to Facebook or YouTube. This is where the MP4 format is better and you don’t have to figure out how to convert the AVCHD video to MP4 since the Dual Recording feature takes care of that.
The Canon HF R50 is equipped with the same 32x optical zoom lens as the R40. This might sound a bit surprising because the even older Canon VIXIA HF R30 has that lens as well. Fortunately, the Advanced Zoom mode which made its debut on the R40 has been improved so you can zoom up to 57x and still enjoy detailed footage.
A high zoom range is pretty common amongst budget digital camcorders but one of the biggest strengths of the VIXIA HF R50 and previous generation models lies in the image stabilization. Canon’s special optical image stabilization technology simply does a splendid job in keeping the footage steady even if you venture in the “Advanced” zoom ranges. What you don’t get, however, is manual controls that are featured in Canon’s higher-end models. That should be fine for the majority since the Canon HF R50 primarily targets beginner folks and the Smart AUTO mode performs pretty well. You can at least specify if you want to record in 1080p or 720p at 60p or 24p.
One of the more interesting features of the older VIXIA HF R40 model is the Baby Mode which aids you in tracking a baby’s growth. The VIXIA HF R50 builds upon this feature effectively allowing you to track up to three children. Since this is one of the primary new features that Canon’s R5 series brings to the table, this is the kind of camera that should appeal to parents.
The built-in Wi-Fi is a great feature to have in the Canon HF R50 and it makes the $299 VIXIA HF R500 less attractive since the Wi-Fi functionality allows your Android or iOS-powered smartphone or tablet to join in on the fun. Live streaming to the mobile device is supported via a special app so you can effectively use the camcorder as a remote surveillance device. You may also connect the HF R50 to the Internet so you can conveniently upload videos to Facebook or YouTube without the need for copying the content to a computer. If you purchase the newly released Pan Table (CT-V1) accessory which costs $99, you can go as far as panning the camcorder in any direction. You basically let the camcorder rest on this cradle and let the CameraAccess Plus app do the rest. It even run on AA batteries for a good 9 hours.
The improved Baby Mode and extra Pan Table accessory add to the advantages of using a dedicated digital camcorder like the Canon HF R50 over any other gadget that features video recording as a secondary function. It has all the fine features that made the R40 great and it still matches up with the current competition quite well. Some competing camcorders focus on key areas like image stabilization but Canon handles that quite nicely and so much more. Plus, the $449 price tag is pretty tricky to beat especially when you consider that there is 16 GB memory on board and you can easily add more through an SD card.
Update: There is a newer model > Canon VIXIA HF-R80