Performance and Use
The Vixia HF M40 features Canon’s new HD CMOS Pro sensor and we set it to maximum resolution/best compression (24 Mbps), starting off in Auto, then Manual and Cinema. With the last you can change the “feel” of the video so it has a more movie-like look, make it more vivid, add a sepia tone and so on (9 options available). Cinema is a good option but we tried vivid and weren’t too thrilled as scenes where much too orange.
Canon’s menu system is attractive, uncluttered and quite simple to use. Although you get a stylus pen, a touch of the fingertip worked just fine. The stylus can also be used to add graffiti to your scenes, one of the more ridiculous features found on a camcorder but not quite as bad as Casio’s Art Shot mode. We were much more concerned with the quality of the videos.
The first hint of spring in the Northeast arrived so we took the Vixia HF M40 to Coney Island in Brooklyn, a decidedly faded seaside attraction. We shot for several hours there as well as our usual indoor test subjects. When done material was reviewed on a 50-inch plasma via HDMI, computer monitor and prints made.
Before getting into the results, let’s state the M40 moves very quickly through the zoom range and snaps into focus with little “grabbing” something that separates any camcorder from most HD-shooting DSLRs. And let’s not forget sounds from the zoom mechanism are not picked up. Not to say built-in camcorder mics are God’s gift as many—including this one—make you sound like you’re in a wind tunnel if it’s breezy (and we were by the ocean).
Video quality was quite good with very accurate colors and a minimal of noise. We shot a bedraggled store front on the boardwalk with loads of streamers and flags flapping in the breeze—Bruce Springsteen was even playing on the loudspeakers. Results were excellent and the audio picked up nicely. Shots of the sun sparkling off the ocean and people walking on the sand were as good as you’d like. Detail was really good as well. We took close-ups of the red parachute jump and even at extreme telephoto, focusing was spot on—and fast. We were impressed with the results from this new sensor. When we captured video indoors results were also good. The HM40 handled uneven exposures well but the CMOS chip is no panacea—there was definitely noise in a dimly lit room. Going into Manual and adjusting white balance and exposure compensation will definitely help.
What needs the most help in this camcorder is the still mode. You can only grab 1920×1080 16:9 stills—that’s 2MP folks. Clearly Canon engineers concentrated on video quality, with photos an afterthought. Images were very noisy and making a print larger than 4×6 is a fool’s errand. At least Canon didn’t use interpolation to bump up the megapixel count like Panasonic and Sony. Still this is a real letdown from a company that prides itself in it photographic results.
If you’re looking for a camcorder that takes excellent videos, give the Vixia HF M40 consideration. If still photos are important, look elsewhere such as Canon’s new HF S30 with its 8.39MP sensor. It costs more at $1,099 but last year’s S20 with a similar sensor is $849 at legit online dealers. Again if videos are tasks one, two and three, you can save $50 for the new HF M400 with just dual SDXC slots, no onboard flash. Overall this camcorder is no home run and the fact it doesn’t record 1080/60p video like its 2011 competition is another negative. It’s a good try but it didn’t ring the arcade bell—even in Coney Island.
- Quality Full HD video
- 16GB onboard flash
- Dual SDXC card slots
- Fast focusing 10x optical zoom
- Inferior 2MP still quality
- Mic amplifies wind noise
- Doesn’t record 1080/60p