Canon LEGRIA HF M32 Full HD Camcorder review.

Canon’s latest addition to its LEGRIA HF M camcorders series is the compact, lightweight M32. It combines extended storage, ease of use and Full HD shooting with improved creative options, so it looks a tempting treat indeed. But is it? Doug Harman investigates.

Canon’s new LEGRIA offers a set of temptingly updated features over its M31 predecessor, but in essence, the M32 is simple update rather than entirely new model. Like the rest of the LEGRIA range, it is designed for those wanting a Full HD compact camcorder offering enough video grunt to produce stunning moving imagery with ease of use at its heart.

Canon boosted the internal storage over the M31 to very respectable 64GBs, enough for around 12-hours of continuous Full HD footage or 24 hours in Long Play (LP) mode and the external storage slot for SD/SDHC and the new very high capacity (over 32GB) SDXC cards for much extended shooting times for the more enthusiast videographer.

A 3.3-megapixel Full HD CMOS sensor captures some stunningly detailed HD video (and excellent 3-megapixels stills) and in 25p progressive shooting, footage looks very cinema like when combined with a crisp 15x Canon Video lens and the DIGIC DV III processor technology. 

Other features include an extended 18x zoom – in the advanced zoom mode – and advanced face detection focusing can identify up to 35 faces in a shot , focus and exposure automatically adjusting to keep them all properly focused and exposed. This works really well and makes shooting groups at, say, a wedding or party much easier.

The focusing on the M32 is very impressive: there’s no auto focus motor noise on your footage's audio and, while I’m here, there’s no motor noise when zooming either, which is very nice to report indeed. The lens can zip the image quickly into sharp relief and seemingly able to unerringly identify the things I wanted to focus upon. Manual focus control and Touch AF – via the widescreen – all help to keep things properly focused if the subject proves more challenging or for tripod work or when working on macro subjects.

At full zoom (optical or digital) where camera shake can be a real issue, the camera’s image stabilisation (IS) is backed up by additional Powered IS via the touch screen to improve hand held stability further.

The metering and exposure control are superb, though low light shooting (down to 0.4 lux in the Low Light Mode) provides a more muted, noisier quality to the footage, though not intrusively so. Colour is otherwise natural and well rendered throughout.

The M32's design mean it is nicely poised into the hand, with the aid of the hand strap that ensures it sits snuggly into your right palm. The 2.7-inch widescreen flips out and has anti glare coatings and while these coatings meet with some success, in direct bright sunlight it was a struggle to compose accurately.

The Legria's easy, turn-on-and-use ethos is ably demonstrated when powering the camcorder up and flipping the screen open; you can quickly start shooting using the Start/Stop recording button that sits directly under your thumb. 

The top plate zoom control falls just below your index finger, where you want it and it’s easy to use, though fine control of the zoom speed through its 39.5mm to 711mm 15x optical zoom range, could use more finesse. A Photo button, active in the stills capture mode, sits just behind the zoom control, but such tightly packed controls become an issue on a any camcorder and a little more problematic to get at easily with my fat(ish) fingers.

Canon’s excellent, one-touch Video Snapshot mode allows the capture of short video clips of two, four and eight seconds durations and this is clever enough to allow you to copy previously recorded footage to create shorter scenes from your longer video clips, all in camera. 

These Clips can be assembled into video play lists and replayed as a movie montage including music; you can add your own MP3 tracks too, to help customise this further by uploading them to the M32’s memory or playing though an MP3 player attached to the camcorder.

An auto or manual shooting switch on the M32’s right side, ahead of tis simple to use and in the former, the M32 uses Smart Auto Scene recognition technology to select a suitable set-up for the scene before the lens, be it a landscape, macro or people filming. This worked well enough. 

In the latter manual mode, you decide the main settings according to the control you want – or your creative bent. You can also control the filming and the zoom direct from the touch screen and it is the screen, which is the hub of all the other settings. 

In manual mode, the screen displays the “FUNC” button, pressing this activates the menus. Scrolling these easy to read, but not always easy to understand menus can become wearing, too frequently it enters a menu option when you just want to scroll through items within the list of menu options.

Menus here adjust and assign most aspects of the camera features including digital effects such as black and white, sepia, and the fade trigger to fade out once or when closing each and every clip you shoot. There's an adjust for the white balance, microphone level and focus settings too.

One frustration is, once you’ve set something in a menu, you must close the menu window, which takes you back to the shooting screen; it would be better to have an option to go back up one level of menus to adjust other settings. I understand going striahgt back to the main shooting screen makes getting back to the business of capturing video much faster, but a way to stay within the menus, once you have set an option, would be nice too.

Disappointingly, the touch screen is either too sensitive or not sensitive enough (seemingly without rhyme or reason) and while you do get used to its foibles, this can be annoying, particularly when you’re in a hurry. Murphy’s Law dictates, the faster you need to make an adjustment the more the sensitivity issues are likely to occur!

Comprehensive connectivity includes both headphone and microphone ports as well as USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection, AV out and Component and Mini HDMI sockets, all neatly hidden below a rubber cover that nestles under your right hand. The M32 also has Canon’s Mini Advanced Accessory shoe for connection of additional kit including the Canon SM-V1 5.1 channel surround sound microphone system.

The accessory shoe is important because the built-in stereo mic suffers from audio distortion when shooting outdoors in windy conditions, for example, and because the mic, being built into the face of the camcorder just below the lens, means any slightly rough handling of the camera when shooting is picked up very easily on the audio.

The Canon LEGRIA HF M32 is actually an upgrade of the preceding LEGRIA M31 model, but it stills packs a good video punch. The ease of use is certainly exactly that – I was able to pick up the M32 and start shooting without referring to a manual. However, the touch screen sensitivity needs a better more balanced sensitivity, while menu nomenclature is a little obscure for the novice. The lack of an EVF means when shooting in direct sunlight, composing properly, particularly for smaller subjects or when not working on a tripod becomes hard.

Verdict: 
Key to this camera’s success however, will be its compact size and ease of use. I carried it around in my trouser pocket (insert smutty innuendo here, if you must) so it certainly is portable. The quality of my footage is excellent with the only caveats around the wind noise when shooting outdoors and so overall, it's very good indeed.