Saturday, June 29, 2013

Canon VIXIA HF M30 High Definition AVCHD Camcorder - Excellent Videos and Photos

After buying and using several HD camcorders (including the Canon VIXIA HF M30), I returned them and kept the last year's HF200. The reason was simple: I got it refurbished for under $300. But if I had to choose among similarly-conditioned camcorders (e.g. all new or all refurbished), the Canon VIXIA HF M30 and Canon VIXIA HF M300 (very similar but without any built-in memory) would be at the top of my list.

What Is Canon VIXIA HF M30?

The Canon VIXIA HF M30 is a virtual twin of the HF M300 (aside from having built-in memory); it is a high-definition (up to 1080p) digital camcorder that records videos and still photos on its 8 GB of built-in memory or SDHC memory cards. It features 15x optical zoom (F/1.8-3.2), optical image stabilization, 3.89-Megapixel Full HD CMOS sensor, stereo microphone, flash, video light and a 2.7-inch touch-sensitive LCD screen.

The M30 has face detection that lets it focus on faces automatically. It also has SD downconversion for easy web sharing of videos. The video recording modes include full 1080p HD video (1920x1080) with different bit rates and frame rates as well as lower resolutions. It features 24p and 30p frame rates with 24p providing film-like look, especially when used in conjunction with the CINEMA mode.

The camcorder is powered by a rechargeable compact Li-Ion-polymer battery good for over an hour of shooting. It has a mini-HDMI terminal, headphone out, mini advanced accessory shoe and headphone input. It can record 5.1 surround sound with an optional surround microphone. It touchscreen lets you instantly focus on an object of your choosing. The M30's face detection can help it focus on faces.

In Use

The M30 arrived in a nice-looking box, which contained software and a thick manual in several languages, neither of which I used. The supplied battery was fully discharged. I immediately noticed that some buttons and the battery release lever were of somewhat inferior appearance to the last year's HF200, albeit to no detriment of the functional aspect.

I attached the battery to the camcorder, plugged the power adaptor into the camera and charged the battery for a bit over 2 hours, after which It was fully charged. I inserted the 8-Gygabyte SanDisk class 4 SDHC memory card into the slot in the lower part of the area behind the LCD and powered the camcorder on. It prompted me for the time, date and time zone, after which I was ready to shoot. But I did some tweaking first since I was already familiar with the menus and optimal settings (from using the M300).

The M30, just as its M300 cousin, is easy to use without reading the manual. The camcorder is convenient to hold, albeit a little too small, and feels solid. The zoom rocker takes getting used to if you are coming from a larger camcorder or a digital camera .The design is attractive. M30 has major controls that are within easy reach and menus are very similar to Canon digital cameras, which is to say intuitive and easy to use.

Adjusting settings is a breeze plus there is an automatic mode that lets you take photos and shoot videos with no need to adjust anything or switch between still photo and video modes. But be advised that using automatic settings will give you decent results overall and very good results in good light, whereas low light shooting in auto modes will result in video noise and overexposure. For better low-light settings, read on.


The LCD screen is very fluid, even in low light, in video mode. The colors are good and focusing is easily confirmed. It is less fluid in low light when in picture taking mode. The menus are clear and sharp. The overall LCD resolution is excellent. It also lets you control where to focus by touching objects displayed on the screen while shooting. It is a cool feature but even auto focus works well as it is most of the time, especially when combined with the face detection. The bases for the above statement is experience filming my 1-month old son while he was making funny faces, putting his hands in his mouth and generally not moving very much.


In addition to scene modes, P (programmed AE) mode, aperture and shutter priority modes, the camcorder has a CINEMA mode (photo frame-like icon in the menu), which is claimed to create a movie-like effect, especially when combined with the 24p frame rate. I found that this mode tends to reduce contrast while making shadows lighter and tends to make images to look a little soft when filming in dim light indoors. As a result, I didn't use it in low light, but used it in good light conditions. In good light, the effect is pleasing and I found preferring it to "regular" modes, unless you are filming nature (plans, birds, etc), where you want vivid colors.


The M30 features very fast startup: about 1 second. The zooming is smooth and features variable speeds, depending on the force you apply to the zoom control. Focusing is fast in good light and in dim light when objects are close. It is a slower for objects further away when light is not bright or well-lit.

Manual Control

The camcorder has a variety of ways for you to express your creativity, including aperture priority, shutter priority and scene modes as well as custom effects and transitions. You can also cut videos into segments while viewing them and add sounds,

Low Light Performance

In dim light, if you try to use auto or P mode, you will end up with pictures that are too bright and noisy. In fact, you will always end up with overexposure, unless you dial the camera's automatic gain control down. Furthermore, in night mode, there might be jerkiness to motion and, again, too much brightness. After trying different modes, I discovered that the best low-light shooting quality can be achieved in one of two ways.

The first one (if you want sharp and contrasty videos) is to use Portrait mode (the icon of the face) and to reduce exposure using exposure compensation. The other option (with even more control) is to use shutter priority with 1/30 sec shutter speed and reduced automatic gain control. This minimizes noise comparing to auto and most semi-automatic modes. The latter produces slightly softer pictures comparing to Portrait mode, even if you adjust contrast, brightness and saturation (using custom effects menu).

Note that even in auto modes the noise is not as bad as some other camcorders. It is better than most inexpensive camcorders and worse than some models that use physically larger sensors.

Video Light, etc.

The camcorder has a built-in video light, which is bright and easy to turn on/off. It does give faces a bluish/greenish hue when filming in incandescent light though. There is also a separate flash that doesn't need almost any time to recycle.

Still Photo Image Quality

Despite taking only 3-Megapixel still photos, the still photo quality is good. The resolution of 3 MP is adequate for 6x4 prints and excellent optics and color processing result in sharp, pleasing photos.

Video Quality

Video performance is excellent, especially for the camcorder's compact size. Not only the video is sharp (I used 17 Mbps 1080 Full HD mode: 1920x1080 at 30p and 24p since I couldn't see any difference with the 24 Mbps), the noise in low light conditions is minimal, especially if manual settings are used (see above).

The colors are very pleasing and can be adjusted to appear soft or vivid, depending on what you are shooting. E.g. shooting plants would benefit from vivid effect, accessible from the menu. The face detection worked well and focused on faces and probably also contributed to true-to-life face colors.

One of the reasons I chose Canon cameras over Panasonic, despite having an overall better impression about Panasonic's prices, quality and ease of use, was the image quality and especially colors. The colors Canon M30, M300 or HF200 provide are just unparalleled. They are more life-like. Plus the contrast is more true to life in these models than in comparably-priced Panasonics.

The optical zoom worked well from fast to slow speeds and has enough "reach" for virtually all situations. The optical image stabilization was useful for reducing shake when shooting handheld and at high zoom levels. It was essential for shooting at 1/30s shutter speeds in low light as well. The lens accepts 37mm filters and I was going to try to use polarizing filters, but had to return the camera and didn't get the filters before then.


Unlike the M300 that has no built-in memory and relies on SDHC memory cards, the M30 has 8 GB of built-in memory. It is convenient since there is no guesswork involved in getting a decent SDHC card for use (Canon camcorders are notoriously picky about media they will and will not work with).

Still, it is inconvenient to connect the camera with a USB cable to a computer any time you want to burn an AVCHD disc. So I used my SanDisk 8GB SDHC card, which I chose because I read online that Canon camcorders are picky about memory they "agree" to work with. Canon tested SanDisk cards among a few other brands so SanDisk seemed the safe choice and it was. I could fit about 1 hr of full HD footage on the card.

The card is easily removable and I would copy it to the hard drive of my computer and then use tsMuxer to convert it to AVCHD file structure, then would burn it to a DVD disc using ImgBurn. It played fine on my Insignia NS-WBRDVD Blu-Ray player in 1080i resolution with excellent clarity and detail on my Hitachi P50H401 HDTV plasma TV.

Some TVs and BR players can play AVCHD directly from SD cards. If I ever get such a device, I will be able to view footage without the intermediary steps of copying, converting and burning DVDs.

In addition to the ability to used SDHC cards, then take them out and view/edit/you're your footage, the camcorder provides other ways to transfer photos and videos. It has USB and HDMI ports, but the HDMI is a mini-HDMI variety and I was too lazy to get a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable (for TV watching) or mess with USB cables (both would consume battery power). An SDHC card and a card reader were a time-saver.


The M30's battery charges fully in 2-2.5 hours and provides about 1 hour (more or less depending on conditions of usage) of shooting video. It shows approximate remaining time with up to 1 minute accuracy, although YMMV. With its built-in 8 GB of memory and a fully charged battery, you can shoot for 40 min - 1 hour and change, which I find is more than enough for most cases, unless you want to make yourself and whoever is watching with you bored.

I find that watching footage of the same event (unless it is a sporting event or theatrical performance) for over 30 minutes boring. Once my son gets to the age where I need longer recordings (sports coaching or maybe if he plays music), I would get something that lasts longer: either a bigger battery and memory card or a different camcorder altogether. Mind you, I didn't keep this camcorder, but a one that is very similar.

Pros:Stunningly excellent video quality, compact size, low price, easy to use, flexible, built-in memory

Cons:Low-light videos require some tweaking to avoid overexposure and noise


The Canon VIXIA HF M30 is a great compact camcorder that is easy to use, produces excellent photos and amazing videos, especially for its size and price. It has a great set of features and can be used by amateurs and enthusiasts alike. I highly recommend it.

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