Canon Vixia HF M52 Camcorder Review
It's hard to set manual focus well using a touchscreen interface, so we doubt many users will enjoy fiddling with the focus on the HF M52. The touchscreen buttons aren't large enough, and the tapping system used to change the focus is not good for making precise adjustments. There is a focus assist zoom, which is somewhat helpful, and Canon does display the focus changes numerically (to the hundredth of a foot), but neither of those features overcome the limitations of the touchscreen interface.
The spot focus function, as well as the spot meter function, which allows the user to tap a portion of the screen they wish to bring into focus, is designed much better. This feature actually works with the touchscreen interface, and, while it won't give you precise focus control, it will help you out in situations where the autofocus isn't performing like you want it to.
Exposure control on the HF M52 is rather extensive for a mid-range model. You can set the aperture or shutter speed, although neither can be controlled independently from the other (no full manual mode, just aperture-priority and shutter-priority). But that's not all, there's also gain control in the form of an AGC limiter and basic exposure adjustment (with a step-based control system).
All of these controls are easier to set than focus, thanks to Canon implementing little touchscreen wheels on the LCD. You can slide your finger across the wheel to make sweeping changes to aperture, shutter speed, gain, and exposure, or you can tap buttons on either side of the wheel to make slight adjustments. The AGC limiter is the single most impressive of these controls, as it is rare to see a mid-range camcorder offer this amount of gain control. Panasonic includes it on most models, but with the Canon HF M52 gain can be set independently from aperture and shutter speed—on Panasonic camcorders gain is always tied to aperture.
There are quite a few extra features hidden on the HF M52 that should intrigue control enthusiasts. Many of them are audio controls, which we talk about below, but others effect image quality and performance. There are a few image effects for controlling sharpness, contrast, saturation, and brightness, and there are the plethora of Cinema Modes that you can use when the camcorder is in... er... Cinema Mode. The suite of Cinema Modes are similar to the effects you'd find on basic editing software like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, but doing them in-camera can be fun—especially if you're not planning on doing any editing later.
You can also set the zoom speed to one of three static speeds (or you can leave the zoom control to variable), there's face detection on the HF M52, and an auto slow shutter function can be turned on and off. There are onscreen markers to assist with framing, an XV Color mode (for recording with the xvYCC color gamut), and, of course, a full-fledged set of white balance controls (including presets, auto, and a manual mode).
Once you're in auto mode the controls work adequately. Focus and exposure are quick to adjust and Canon handles these adjustments with accuracy. Auto white balance does take some time to calibrate, as it does with most consumer camcorders, but if you're patient with the HF M52 the camcorder should produce accurate colors within a few seconds of shooting under new lighting conditions.
Canon also has a good set of scene modes, which can be selected manually or automatically with the camcorder's Smart Auto function, as well as some easy-to-use manual controls that aren't much different than auto modes. We're talking about spot focus and spot exposure, both of which allow you to tap the portion of the screen you want to focus or expose properly.
Canon really beefed up the audio features on the HF M52 as compared to last year's Vixias. The new camcorder has audio scene modes, which is an interesting concept, but only the truly dedicated are likely to tool around with them. The audio scene modes work just like video scene modes, you simply select the "mode" that matches your auditory recording situation.
Switching the scene mode to custom gives you access to even more audio control options in the main menu. You can set the wind screen to high/low/off, turn the mic attenuator on/off, or change the mic directionality to mono, normal, wide, or zoom. Canon also added frequency response control (select from normal, boost LF range, low cut filter, boost MF range, or boost HF and LF range), as well as having regular mic level audio adjustment control.
We can say with confidence that this is the most audio controls and features we've seen on a consumer camcorder. To top it all off, the HF M52 has a 3.5mm mic jack and an AV port that doubles as a headphone output. The camcorder also has a built-in stereo mic located beneath the lens.
One of the shooting modes on the HF M52 is called Story Creator, and this is a mode that Canon has included on a number of its Vixia camcorders for a couple of years now. The mode essentially provides you with a list of shots that you can collect to create a "story" based on a specific template. The templated "stories" include Travel, Party, Kids & Pets, Ceremony, Blog, and Unrestricted. When you create a story, you immediately see a list of shot ideas, along with time limitations that are meant to help you keep your videos moving swiftly. In a way, these templates are a source of in-camera editing. You aren't cutting or splitting clips, but Story Creator enables you to organize and collect videos in a manner that makes it appear like an edited video. It can work, but it requires dedication on the part of the videographer.
In playback mode you can also do some minor editing in the form of dividing, deleting, and rating clips.