A high-end camcorder with 32GB of built-in storage and some advanced features, the Canon Legria HF M41 has plenty of appeal. But is it appealing enough to justify shelling out £620?
Built around the same HD CMOS Pro sensor as Canon's top-of-the-range models, the M41 is designed for those who want high-performance results without as many full-on manual controls as, say, the Legria HF G10, Canon's current top dog.
The sensor has a resolution of 2.07 megapixels, which sounds low. But, rather than maxing out on dots, Canon's boffins have opted for a larger overall CMOS chip with bigger individual pixels, arranged at a Full HD native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels.
On the plus side, this means potentially better video performance than the average consumer camcorder, particularly in low light. The main disadvantage lies in the photo department, as the HF M41 is limited to taking 2-megapixel photos, whereas many of its rivals take higher-res snaps. As such, it's probably not the best option for anyone seeking a dual video and photo device.
Canon's 10x optical zoom video lens is an equally high-quality piece of engineering, with a focal length equivalent of 43.6-436mm. A very effective optical image stabiliser is on hand to help smooth out the shakes and add stability when you're zoomed right in on a distant subject.
Recordings are made in the AVCHD format. The top-quality setting uses a very high bit rate of 24Mbps at a frame rate of 60 interlaced fields per second, effectively maxing out the AVCHD standard's 1080i specification. There's also an option to film using a progressive 1080p mode, although the frame rate for this is a relatively low 25 frames per second.
For most situations, the smooth motion of the standard 1080/60i setting is preferable, although the 25p mode does offer a cinematic look, which can be bolstered further by switching to the M41's dedicated 'cinema' mode, and choosing from a selection of film-like filters.
Storage-wise, the M41 uses a clever trick that Canon has now incorporated into many of its camcorders: dual SD card slots for double the potential space. Not only that but the presence of 32GB of internal memory means you'll never get caught short, while relay recording lets the camera switch seamlessly from one storage medium to the next as you fill each up.
In addition, there are plenty of the trappings you'd hope to find on an advanced camcorder. HDMI and component outputs, for example, are joined by an extremely useful external microphone socket and headphone jack for monitoring audio levels.
There's also a mini accessory shoe and even a viewfinder, which is activated via a dedicated button on the camcorder's rear. We would say, though, that we didn't find ourselves using the viewfinder as much as we thought we might. It's fairly small and its mounting is non-adjustable, which makes it a somewhat unappealing alternative to the fold-out LCD screen.
The 3-inch screen itself, although large, isn't the best quality. Its resolution is only 230,000 pixels and colours seem rather dull. It's touch-sensitive and uses Canon's current touch-operated user interface. The interface itself isn't bad, relying on largely intuitive taps and the occasional swipe to get around, but the screen isn't as responsive as we'd like and this can cause some minor frustration, particularly when you're using the camera in bright outdoor situations, when it's also difficult to read the on-screen options.
Apart from that, the device is fairly easy to use, particularly if you're happy to leave it in auto mode.
The M41's performance is extremely good. We tested the camera at all of its quality modes and, while the top bit-rate setting is the clear winner in terms of clarity and sharpness, many of the lower settings are also able to provide highly commendable results.
On the whole, the M41's picture is rich and detailed, with no over-saturation of bolder colours, and natural-looking skin tones. Motion artefacts and blurring are kept to a minimum. Noise levels are very low too, even when the device is used indoors.
The only minor issue we noticed is that it occasionally takes the autofocus a moment or two to respond and correct itself if you move from a near subject to one further away, or vice versa.
By and large, we enjoyed our time with the Canon Legria HF M41 and we liked the results of our tests. It's not the ultimate camcorder available for its price -- just a few quid more will bag you the Panasonic HDC-SD900, for example, which boasts superior manual controls and 1080/50p recording. But, if you're looking for quality without fuss, then the HF M41 is a worthy contender.
Edited by Charles Kloet