Sporting a modest selection of features and abilities, a mid-range price tag (£280) and a moderate amount of internal storage, is there anything to distinguish the Canon Legria HF R16 from its peers, or is it just another middle-of-the-road home movie cam?
We wouldn't say Canon has pushed any boats out to bring us the Legria HF R16. It's built around a solid, if uninspiring, set of tech specifications with a single, relatively small (1/5.5 type) CMOS image sensor at its heart. The camcorder can record video at up to 1080i with a 50 frame-per-second (fps) interlaced frame rate. A 25fps progressive mode is available for a kind of 'film look', though this is no substitute for genuine 1080/50p recording. AVCHD bit rates range from 5Mbps at the lowest-quality (LP) setting up to 17Mbps when filming in top-end FXP mode. We're seeing much higher bit rates on mid-range camcorders these days -- up to 24Mbps -- so this isn't that impressive.
In good filming conditions (ie exterior, daylight), detail is clearly defined and colours are full and realistic. Study your footage up close, however, and you may start to see some small imperfections -- gremlins in the image on fast pans, for instance, or a slight overload around the edges of high-contrast colours, like reds. Indoors, the image worsens, and artificial light basically equals picture noise.
Canon's DIGIC DV III image processing is usually pretty decent, so these dips in performance may have something to do with the HF R16's sensor. Canon lists the effective pixels at 1.56 megapixels in movie mode, which doesn't actually add up to 'Full HD'. It's more like 1,664x936 pixels (as listed on Canon Asia's online specification for the same product), which is then presumably upscaled to 1,920x1,080 pixels.
In the greater scheme of things, these issues are fairly minor. They don't necessarily make the HF R16 a complete write-off, but we've definitely witnessed better picture quality elsewhere for a similar price.
Many of the usual features are included with the HF R16, including face-detection, which supports tracking of up to 35 different faces within any given frame; pre-rec, which records three seconds of footage at the beginning of each clip; and a 'smart auto' mode, which intelligently selects from one of 31 different setting combos depending on your shooting conditions and subject.
One surprisingly handy feature is the 'video snapshot' mode, which records short clips instead of continuously filming. Long, boring takes where very little happens for ages are often the bane of home movies, and 'video snapshots' could well be the antidote. Edited together -- either in camera or on your computer -- these short clips can produce some fun, dynamic little films. As for battery life, you can expect to get about an hour's worth of normal use out of it on a single charge.
Perhaps the two most noteworthy aspects of the HF R16 are its zoom and storage capabilities. The former provides 20x optical magnification at full stretch, which isn't bad for an HD camcorder of this price. A 'dynamic' image stabiliser is supposed to keep things judder-free even at the long end of the zoom, but unless you have the steady hands of a brain surgeon it's likely you'll still experience some wobbling.
As for storage, the HF R16 provides 8GB of its own internal memory, which translates to about an hour's worth of video at top quality. An empty SDHC-compatible memory card slot is on hand for further expansion, however. The camera supports relay recording, too, switching straight from internal to external memory on the fly. If you're not worried about built-in storage, it's worth noting that the Legria HF R106 is practically identical, aside from the fact it relies solely on external SD media to store its recordings. Opting for the R106 over the R16 will save you around £30.
Lock, stock and barrel grip
We've seen smaller, lighter HD cams in our time, but the HF R16's rounded barrel design makes it undeniably easy to hold and use. The battery is hidden away in a compartment underneath the unit, so there's nothing protruding at the rear. Likewise, its connections (including HDMI, component video, composite video and DC power) are all neatly tucked away underneath rubber flaps at the back end of the body.
A selection of basic buttons can be found under the 2.7-inch fold-out LCD, and the majority of the settings and features are accessed via the screen itself. Interestingly, Canon opts for a traditional mini-joystick-controlled interface rather than a touch-sensitive one. This may have been for budgetary reasons, but the upshot is that the HF R16's menus have a refreshingly straightforward and familiar feel.
On the photo side of things, the limitations of the sensor are very apparent. Top resolution is only 1,920x1,080 pixels and detail isn't particularly great.
The Canon Legria HF R16 is by no means a bad camcorder, but it's obvious where Canon has compromised in order to strike a balance between features, quality and value. The trouble is, the HF R16 just isn't that cheap, particularly if you buy it on the high street rather than online.
Edited by Emma Bayly