Canon Legria HF M32 review

Canon’s latest addition to its Legria HF M series of camcorders is the compact, lightweight M32. A combination of extended storage, ease of use and Full HD shooting with improved creative options make the M32 look a tempting treat. But is it?

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 over the M31. 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.

And to achieve this, Canon boosted the internal storage over the M31 to very respectable 64GB, capable of holding 12-hours of continuous Full HD footage (24 hours in Long Play (LP) mode) and the external storage slot for SD/SDHC and the new SDXC cards. Thanks to a significant firmware upgrade over the M31, the SDXC compatibility allows use of higher capacity SD cards (32GB and above) for much extended shooting times for the more enthusiast videographer.

The camcorder’s 3.3-megapixel Full HD CMOS sensor can capture some stunningly detailed HD video (and excellent 3-megapixels stills to boot) and in 25p progressive shooting, footage looks very smooth and cinema like indeed 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 - while advanced face detection focusing means it can identify up to 35 faces in a shot with 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, a cinch.

In fact, the focusing on the M32 is very impressive (there’s no auto focus motor noise on your footage audio and, while we're here, there’s no motor noise when zooming either, which is very nice to report indeed) zipping quickly into sharp relief and seemingly able to unerringly identify the things we 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 activated via a button on the bottom corner of the touchscreen helps to improve stability markedly. But you’ll still need a tripod if you use the 300x digital zoom.

The metering and exposure control are both 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 compact lines of the M32 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 to aid use in bright conditions, and while these coatings meet with some success, in direct bright sunlight it was a struggle to compose accurately particularly on lower contrast subjects.

However, the easy, turn-on-and-use ethos of the Legria range is ably demonstrated since 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 speed it zooms through its 39.5mm to 711mm 15x optical zoom range could do with a touch 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 any camcorder and a little more problematic to get at easily with our fat(ish) fingers.

Canon’s excellent, one-touch Video Snapshot mode allows the capture of short video clips of 2, 4 and 8 second durations and this is clever enough to allow you to copy previously recorded footage to create shorter scenes from your longer video clips in-camera.

These Video 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.

A switch on the M32’s right side, ahead of the Start/Stop button toggles the M32 between all-auto shooting and manual shooting. 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) and this worked well enough. In 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 options.

However, menus here adjust and assign most aspects of the camera features including adding digital effects to a shot that include black and white, sepia, and the fade trigger (fade out once or when closing each and every clip you shoot) as well as adjust the white balance, microphone level and focus settings.

Another 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 nice to have an option to go back up one level of menus just in case there are other settings you want to adjust. We understand this set-up does make 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 cool.

Disappointingly, the touchscreen is either too sensitive or not sensitive enough (and without rhyme or reason) and while you do get used to its foibles this can be trying particularly when you’re in a hurry when, as Murphy’s Law dictates, the sensitivity issues are more likely to occur!

The M32’s connectivity is comprehensive enough and 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.

Verdict

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 - we was able to pick up the M32 and start shooting without referring to a manual. However, the touchscreen needs (ahem!) a touch more finessing, 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. 

However, key to this camera’s success will be the compact size and ease of use, we carried it around in a trouser pocket (yes okay, insert smutty innuendo here) but portable it certainly is. The quality of footage is excellent with the only caveats around the wind noise when shooting outdoors.