Canon Vixia HF M52 Camcorder Review
Ease of Use
Canon did a redesign of the menu and auto mode interface for the HF M52, and it is a change we are not impressed with. Slight alterations—like the removal of the physical auto mode button—make the M52 harder to use and more of a challenged to work with than its predecessor. To find the dedicated auto mode, you must now press the "Home" button inside the LCD cavity, then select the Camera Mode submenu, then change the recording mode to auto. That's too much work for something that should be one of the simplest features to activate on a camcorder.
In the dedicated auto mode, Canon turns all controls to automatic and the Function menu is limited to four options: Powered IS on/off, turning onscreen zoom control on/off, audio scene modes, and onscreen decoration control. Pressing the Home button always brings up the four main submenus where you can turn the dedicated auto mode off, go into the settings menu to adjust things like date/time and more "custodial" controls, or access the Recording Standard menu to change compression formats and turn on Story Creator Mode. This is all a bit too complicated than we think a mid-range camcorder should be, but more advanced users may appreciate the complexity of the HF M52's organized menu system.
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 added what it calls the "Home" button inside the LCD cavity, which is the main change that was made to the HF M52's menu system. The change doesn't sound like much, but it makes a big difference. We like how the menu options are now tightly organized, but the system seems overly daunting upon first look. Four submenus can be really difficult to wrap your head around, and it certainly takes a long time before you understand what features are located in what submenu. We also don't like that the Home button is hidden away inside the LCD cavity. It's easy to miss and it is hard to press on the fly while you're recording.