Searching for a great camcorder can take you in any number of directions. For many people, a DSLR serves as an excellent budget camcorder that also takes stunning photos. Unfortunately, this solution also presents a number of difficulties in terms of bag space and image stabilization. It’s for that reason that traditional camcorders remain a good choice for many users who wish to film video exclusively and in a variety of situations.
I’m a true believer in Canon’s camcorder product line. Not only was Canon the first major camera manufacturer to bring high quality video to DSLR cameras with the 5D Mark II, but its HF line of consumer camcorders is remarkably good as well.
Enter the Canon HF M50, M52, and M500. These mid-range camcorders feature Canon’s latest HD CMOS PRO sensor, which boasts larger pixels and better low-light performance. One problem many small camcorders face comes from a tiny sensor that doesn’t pick up very much light. As a result, low-light situations come off either as totally dark or riddled with noise from increased ISO.
It’s because of this new sensor (and a lens that drops to f/1.8) that this particular series receives consistently good reviews from users seeking a great camcorder for low-light situations.
The Canon HF M50 has a pretty standard set of features and specifications for its price range. What it lacks in a manually adjustable focus ring and optical viewfinder it makes up for in low-light performance and additional recording formats.
You can record video in AVCHD or MPEG4. MPEG4 is an excellent choice for users wishing to take advantage of the camera’s built-in Wi-Fi features to upload videos directly to YouTube or their own media player. AVCHD is still a preferred format for video editors because of its high quality.
Here’s a look at some of the basic specifications.
- Image Sensor: 1/3 Inch HD CMOS PRO, RGB Primary Color Filter
- Pixels: Approx. 2.37 Megapixels
- Internal Memory: 8 GB Internal Flash (SDXC Slot Available)
- Lens: 10 Optical/200x Digital / 6.1-61mm
- Focusing System: TTL (Through The Lens) + Instant AF
- Max Shutter Speed: 1/2000 sec (Video) / 1/500 sec (Photo)
- Image Stabilization: Optical System (Lens-Shift System)
- Touchscreen: 3.0-inch Widescreen Color Touch Panel LCD
- Audio: AVCHD: Dolby Digital AC3 (2 Channel) / MP4: MPEG-2 AAC-LC (2 Channel) (48 KHz)
- Weight: Approx. 10.9 oz.
- External Microphone Port: 3.5 mm Stereo Mini-Jack
- Headphone / AV Mini Port: 3.5 mm 4 Pole Mini-Jack
- HDMI: Mini Connector, CEC, x.v. Color Supported
- Hotshoe: Mini Advanced Accessory Shoe (Not Universal)
The image stabilization system on the HF M50 is extremely robust. Powered IS in addition to a half-dozen other optics-based IS settings make it a great candidate for users that want to take their camera out for a walk.
The screen is big and bright, though it is slightly less responsive than a typical capacitive screen. It feels more resistive.
The user experience could go one of two ways. The HF M50 has excellent automatic features for the casual user, but the manual features (though robust) are difficult to navigate through and control. I was put off by the hoops you have to jump through to get to frame rate settings (which you don’t get access to under automatic modes). This hasn’t been the best user experience for me out of the HF camera line in recent years, but it does cover many of the bases one might expect from a mid-range camcorder.
The battery on the HF M50 follows the trend established by professional camcorders. You’ll need to get used to a giant battery hump sticking out of the back of your camcorder. This design decision makes for great battery life (120 minutes on the included battery and up to 200 minutes on upgrade options), but it also gives your thumb a tighter space to roam while filming. I also noticed that the battery wobbles in place.
The camera feels very light in my hand and it’s easy to walk around with minimal fatigue. The image stabilization is powerful enough to maintain a smooth image in a variety of situations. Rolling shutter is also a practical non-issue on this camera.
Over all, it’s a great camcorder for the amateur or budding professional. Its strong point rests in indoor and low-lit situations. As long as you’re willing to put up with jarring menu options, it’s a great value at under $400.