Canon Vixia HF M52 Camcorder Review
As far as handling goes, the HF M52 is a solid performer, but it is certainly not a stand out. Canon equipped the HF M52 with a decent set of manual controls and a lot of features, but there's no good method for adjusting these controls. No lens ring, no control dial, nothing. All the controls must be set using the touchscreen interface, which, as you should already know, isn't the most accurate control system. The lack of a dial or lens ring isn't unusual, however, as those kinds of tools are rarely found on mid-range consumer camcorders.
Compared to other mid-range models, the HF M52 feels decent in the hand, has a better-than-average hand strap, and packs a robust set of controls and features into a compact body. There are more comfortable camcorders out there, and there are plenty of more compact models, but few have the performance and feature set found on the HF M52. We also like the style of the HF M52, which is neither flashy nor boring. This is a model that looks like a clean, sophisticated, modern camcorder, which is the design that Canon has been tailoring with for years.
This brings us to perhaps our biggest gripe with the Canon HF M52: its newly incorporated menu system. For a few years now Canon has struggled to create simple, easy-to-understand menus on its Vixia camcorders. Part of the reason is that menus are difficult to design well, and the fact that Canon has so many controls on its Vixia camcorders makes this task even harder. The menus on the HF M52 look stylish, but they are too complicated. The new Home screen separates everything into four distinct submenus, but the names of those submenus are terribly confusing and that makes specific options difficult to locate. It might be a fun system for someone who loves tinkering around with lists of features, but it's not going to win anyone over who wants to quickly find what they're looking for.
We weighed the Canon HF M52 on our own scale and the camcorder came in at 359g (12.6 ounces) with its battery pack. With the battery removed, the M52 weighed 318g (11.3 ounces). These numbers are ever so slightly different than the weight stats provided by Canon on its website, but they are in the same ballpark. Canon also lists the dimensions of the HF M52 as 68 x 64 x 121mm (2.7 x 2.5 x 4.8 inches).
Just looking at the HF M52 and you'll see this isn't an ultra portable camcorder, but it's still small enough to fit in a medium-sized purse or bag. It's also not that heavy (less than a pound), so you won't strain yourself carrying it around all day. Basically, if you're looking for a pocket-cam this isn't it, but if you don't mind a traditionally-sized handheld camcorder then you should be fine with the M52. In fact, you may find its extra size is better for stability and grip than a cellphone-sized camcorder.
The Canon HF M52 lasted for 128 minutes of continuous recording in our battery life test. This number is consistent with last year's HF M40, which went for 125 minutes in this same test. We consider any battery life that lasts over two hours to be quite good, and we've tested many camcorders that don't come close to lasting this long with their provided battery packs. The Panasonic HC-X900M, for example, lasted for just 88 minutes in this test. More on how we test battery life.
The HF M52's battery is both removable and rechargeable, and the camcorder comes with a small AC adapter to charge the battery pack or run the M52 directly from a power outlet. The battery does jut out from the rear of the camcorder by a third of an inch or so, but it's not a terrible nuisance—it just doesn't look like a streamlined design, that's all.
Like most mid-range consumer camcorders, the HF M52 has no electronic viewfinder. This means all your video framing must be performed using the 3-inch LCD panel that flips out on the left side of the camcorder. The screen uses touchscreen technology, which isn't something we're always crazy about, and it features a meager 230k pixel resolution.
We certainly don't mind the 3-inch screen size, as it is a larger screen than we saw from the average consumer camcorder a few years ago, but Canon's decision to switch completely over to touchscreen systems isn't something we love. The glossy screen design looks great, but it collects fingerprints and smudges with ease. We also found the large menu system quickly made the 3-inch screen feel cramped whenever we were looking for features or manual controls to adjust.
The optical image stabilization on the HF M52 can function well, but the feature did not do a fantastic job in our test. In real world use, we found the stabilization worked adequately, but in our scientific test comparing it to the stabilization on similar camcorders, the HF M52 did not do well. Granted, the HF M52 does have a variety of stabilization settings, some of which worked better in our test than others. There's a regular optical image stabilization setting (OIS), a Dynamic IS mode, and a Powered IS mode. The three modes showed no significant difference in our low shake test, as they all improved the steadiness of our test video by 10 – 13%. More on how we test stabilization.
In our high shake test, the Powered IS setting was the best of the three stabilization modes. It reduced the shake by 10%, while the other two modes (dynamic and regular) reduced by 5% and 4% respectively. None of these scores are all that impressive, but the HF M52's stabilization modes definitely have an impact on the shakiness of your video.
With the HF M52's dedicated auto mode, the camcorder will automatically select an image stabilization setting for you based on the shooting situation. Dynamic IS will turn on to correct for minor shaking, Macro IS is engaged during close-up shots, Powered IS kicks in when you're using lots of zoom, and Tripod Mode turns off the IS when the camcorder detects that it is mounted on a tripod (or flat surface). These "intelligent IS" feature is just like the camcorder's Smart Auto function that tries to automatically pick the correct scene mode for the specific shooting situation.