Update: We have included details about our experience using the Vixia Mini’s Wi-Fi features.
Is the micro camcorder segment poised for a comeback? With the introduction of the Canon Vixia Mini ($300), Canon certainly hopes so. Since the Flip camera brand disappeared from shelves in 2011, the micro camcorder segment has been pretty much devoid of products. Sure, the GoPro series of point-of-view (POV) camcorders has been around since 2010 (not to mention similar action cameras from the likes of Sony and JVC), but it really wasn’t until 2012 and GoPro’s Hero3 model that we saw the personal camcorder segment take off again. Canon looks to capture some of this market with the Vixia Mini, but can it steal any of GoPro’s thunder?
Features and design
The design of the Vixia Mini is small and compact. Measuring a svelte 0.8 x 2.1 x 3.4 inches and weighing a light 5.6 ounces, the Vixia Mini fits in just about any pocket and is easy to carry around. Looking more like a Star Trek prop rather than a camcorder, the device definitely has some sci-fi looking appeal. Unlike many action camcorders that are in the market, the Vixia Mini is not waterproof or rugged in any way, nor is there an accessory from Canon that makes it so, like an underwater housing.
The Mini has a f/2.8 fisheye lens that offers a 16.8mm, 160-degree field of view when shooting movies (and 170 degrees for photos). The camera also offers a built-in crop mode that gives you a more traditional look to your movies. When shooting in this mode, you get a distortion-free, center cropped 1920 x 1440 video.
There are various shooting modes from “smart auto,” which automatically detects the best settings for your current scene, to other scene modes designed for conditions like “snow” and “beach”; a Program mode is also available, but for the most part the Vixia Mini’s modes are designed to be automatic. The Vixia Mini also lets users shoot with two special effects: slow motion and fast motion. Slow motion has two settings: 1/2x and 1/4x speed. Fast motion allows for 2x to 4x capture.
Looking more like a Star Trek prop rather than a camcorder, the device definitely has some sci-fi looking appeal.
If that wasn’t enough, a built-in interval-shooting mode lets users capture the progression of time. Set the camcorder to record stills or 1/2-second video clips at 5, 10, or 30 seconds, or 1 or 10 minutes and you, too, can capture that flower budding or cocoon transforming into a butterfly. When you’re done, you can have the camera automatically merge the clips and delete the segments for you.
The Vixia Mini has a stereo microphone for capturing audio along with five different audio modes for tweaking your audio capture.
Canon’s Digic DV 4 image processor works in tandem with a 12.8-megapixel CMOS image sensor to provide good tracking and quality even in low light. Various recording modes are available, ranging from a 1.5 Mbps “live streaming” mode, to 24 Mbps 1920 x 1080 videos at either 30p or 24p frame rates.
The Vixia Mini offers Wi-Fi to share HD video from anywhere, provided you have access to a wireless Internet connection. Taking Wi-Fi a step further is remote control and live streaming. With the Canon CameraAccess 2 app, you can receive a live stream of video from the Vixia Mini directly to your iOS or Android device. At the original time of our testing, we were unable to locate this app in the Google Play store. Why? Because the app is actually made by a company called Pixela, and is listed under the Pixela name rather than the Canon name. We don’t know whether to fault Canon or our own dumb oversight.
One of the Vixia Mini’s highlight feature is the tilting 2.7-inch capacitive touchscreen LCD can be positioned in a variety of angles, allowing you to set up the Vixia Mini for low-angle or high-angle shooting, and everything in between. It can also tilt completely 90 degrees, which allows you to take selfies or record videos of yourself. To further facilitate self-shooting, the Mini has a fold out stand on the bottom of the camera, which allows for almost unlimited angling of the camera. The Mini also has a standard tripod mount. Built in orientation detection automatically rotates the image for playback.
Another notable feature lets users “draw” on their videos via the touchscreen, similar to a telestrator type of interface. We actually found this difficult to use, and you’d be better off adding annotations in your post-processing.
Finally, there’s no lens cap to lose. The Vixia’s built-in lens cover automatically slides up and down as you turn the camera on and off.
What’s in the box
The Vixia Mini comes with a lanyard, battery charger, and mini USB cable, plus a disc containing software and a full manual. Content is saved onto a Micro SD card, which isn’t included.
Performance and use
The Vixia Mini is very easy to use. Most functions are controlled through the touchscreen, but there are external buttons for recording start/stop and playback if you desire to use them.
The capacitive touchscreen was responsive enough and controlling the camera was simple. There are icons to switch the shooting mode, start/stop recording, enter the menus, switch between fisheye and crop mode, and enter the “drawing/telestrator” interface. The menus are clearly defined and well organized.
Is the micro camcorder segment poised for a comeback? With the introduction of the Vixia Mini, Canon certainly hopes so.
We found that the POV videos we shot were a little choppy, which seems to exclude this camera from shooting those types of videos. Granted, we were walking around and handholding the camera, but video just wasn’t as smooth as we’ve seen from other camcorders and even DSLRs. For a dedicated video capture device, this was disappointing.
Audio quality was good, and there was no wind noise in the outdoor video that we captured. Audio quality was very good in some of the indoor subway videos that we captured. Subway stations can be pretty chaotic places, with the rumble of multiple trains and the din of voices. The Vixia did a nice job with capturing distortion-free audio.
We revisited the Vixia Mini’s Wi-Fi capability a week later, and although we found it to be an improvement over Canon’s previous Wi-Fi implementations, it’s still frustrating to use – it’s oftentimes incredibly slow and you still have to go through a convoluted process to get it set up. After you enter the Wi-Fi menu from the Home screen in Playback mode, you have four options: Movie Uploader, Playback via Browser, To Web Service, and Media Server. We skipped To Web Service because it involves signing up with Canon’s Image Gateway service, which acts as a portal to online services like Facebook; we’ve never enjoyed using it in the past.
Playback via Browser, as the name suggests, lets you view your videos and photos through a browser on your computer or smart device via a direct Wi-Fi connection; the Vixia Mini turns into an access point, which you can then log into through your Wi-Fi settings and then browse the content through a Web browser. With Media Server, the Vixia Mini needs to connect to a network. Then, you can use any video software that supports UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) to stream content from the camcorder; we used the popular VLC media player, which found the Vixia Mini instantly. We found both options to be effective, even though they required a few steps to get to the end result. But the streaming was slow and sluggish, and sometimes it’d just stall. It shows that the Vixia Mini’s Wi-Fi isn’t as robust as it should be.
For iOS users, you can use the Movie Uploader function to upload content to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch through a direct Wi-Fi connection. Once you transfer a video or photo, you can use your iOS device to upload the content to the Web. This function requires an app called Movie Uploader (also from Pixela), and it works well, but again we encountered a very slow setup/connection process and performance.
A neat use of Wi-Fi is the ability to control the camcorder remotely with an iOS or Android smart device through an app called Camera Access. When paired directly via Wi-Fi, your phone or tablet’s display takes over as a remote live view monitor during recording mode (the Vixia Mini’s display just goes blank). This is useful if you’re placing the Vixia Mini in a place that’s hard to get to, say on top of a tall bookshelf, but because the Vixia Mini is designed to be a handheld device, we don’t know how useful remote recording is. From the app, you can have the video record to the memory card in the camcorder or to your smart device’s storage. But, while setup wasn’t complicated, the live streaming was often sluggish and choppy.
We think having Wi-Fi is great, but because the Vixia Mini’s is slow and not the easiest to set up, we almost wish it wasn’t there.
When it comes to the real target of this camera – at-home, self-shot blogger/performer videos – the Mini did do a fine job. The question for that audience though is whether or not $300 provides a large enough upgrade over using an HD webcam. If you’re attracted by POV action videos, however, you’re better off with something else.
When we first got the Vixia Mini, we were hoping for more of an action-oriented camera in the GoPro Hero mold. The lack of built-in durability and accessories, however, really limits the Mini in this regard. One area in which the Vixia Mini could really fit in nicely would be as a dashboard-mounted vehicle camera. There’s no specific accessory mount for this purpose, but enterprising users could probably jury-rig something together using the tripod mount and some ingenuity. You could flip out the built-in stand, but it lacks any sort of traction that makes the camcorder stay put. The ability to use your smartphone or tablet as an external monitor and controller, however, is a nice touch, but unfortunately the wireless setup and performance is not robust and very frustrating to use.
As designed, the Vixia Mini could provide home self-shooters the creative capture device they are looking for. But like we said, they just need to decide whether the $300 price tag is worth it.
- Easy to use
- Small, compact design
- Lots of creative applications
- Somewhat limited practicality
- Unstable video when handholding
- Frustrating Wi-Fi experience