Friday, June 7, 2013

Canon VIXIA HF M500 Full HD 10x Image Stabilized Camcorder with 3.0 Touch LCD

Canon VIXIA HF M500 Full HD 10x Image Stabilized Camcorder Reviewed by Dmiko on .

With high-def camcorders selling for peanuts nowadays, why spend hundreds? The answer is the same as it has ever been. For more money, you not only get a better-built camcorder, more importantly, you get a one that does not produce much noise in low light. It has been the case for a long time that when you skimp on quality you end up with noisy videos shot indoors.

For me, camcorders serve the purpose of recording my son and most funny and interesting stuff in the early years happens indoors. As such, I have been using camcorders with better/larger image sensors. Otherwise, the images just become too noisy and grainy. And unlike cheaper models and models from competitors, Canon somehow manages to produce better, more lifelike colors.

The latest camcorder I used is the Canon VIXIA HF M500. I have used a bunch of its predecessors (e.g. Canon Vixia HF-M30, M300, etc.) and wasn't worried about its performance and I was right. 

What Is Canon VIXIA HF M500?

The Canon VIXIA HF M500 is a high-definition (up to 1080p) digital camcorder that records videos and still photos on SDXC memory cards. It features a 10x optical zoom (F/1.8), optical image stabilization, a professional-level 1/3-inch Full HD CMOS sensor, stereo microphone, flash and a 3-inch touch-sensitive LCD screen.

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

The camcorder is powered by a rechargeable compact Li-Ion-polymer battery good for over an hour of shooting. It has a a HDMI out, USB out, AV out, microphone input and more.

The camcorder arrived with the battery semi-charged. Without reading the manual, I attached the battery to the camcorder, plugged the power adaptor into the camera and charged the battery for about 2 hours to full charge. I inserted the 8-Gygabyte SanDisk memory card intoit and powered the camcorder on. It prompted me for the time, date and time zone, after which I was ready to shoot.

The camcorder is easy to use without reading the manual. The M500 is convenient to hold and feels solid. The design is attractive and the zoom rocker takes getting used to if you are coming from a larger camcorder or a digital camera. The major controls are within easy reach and menus are very similar to the digital cameras bearing Canon name, 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.


The power-up is very fast - about 1 second. The zooming is smooth and features variable speeds. 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.

Cinema-look Modes

In addition to scene modes, P (programmed AE) mode, aperture and shutter priority modes, the camcorder has a bunch of cinema modes, which are claimed to create a movie-like effect, especially when combined with 24p frame rate. These modes let you practice your creativity. I found that most of these modes tends to reduce contrast while making shadows lighter and tend to make images look a little soft when filming in dim light indoors. In good light, the effect is pleasing and I found preferring it to the "regular" modes most times.

Low Light Performance

In dim light, the lowest noise seems to be achieved by using the "Portrait" mode. But even in auto modes the noise is not as bad as most other camcorders. It is better than most inexpensive camcorders and one of the properties you are paying for.

Image Quality
The video performance is outstanding, especially for the camcorder's compact size. Not only the video is sharp (I used the FXP mode at 17 Mbps in 1080 Full HD: 1920x1080 at 30p and 24p), the noise in low light conditions is minimal, especially if manual settings are used.

The colors are very pleasing and can be adjusted to appear soft or vivid, depending on what you are shooting. The face detection worked well and focused on faces and probably also contributed to true-to-life face colors.

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. 

Tip for more professional-looking videos: try to move the camcorder slowly when shooting and zoom in and out slowly as well.


The SanDisk 8GB SDHC card I used was chosen because I read online that some Canon camcorders, at least in the past, were 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. In addition to SanDisk cards, I also used a Lexar card and it worked fine as well.

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. The camcorder has USB and HDMI ports, but I am too lazy to mess with USB cables (plus it would consume battery power and take longer than removing the memory card and reading it with a memory card reader).

The camcorder has a built-in flash that doesn't need almost any time to recycle. It is powerful enough for close-ups.

The battery charges fully in couple of hours and provides 1-2 hours (more or less depending on conditions of usage) of shooting video. It shows approximate remaining time with up to 1 minute accuracy. With an 8 GB card and a fully charged battery, I can shoot for 30 min - 1 hr, which is more than enough for most cases since I find that watching footage of the same event (unless it is a sporting event or theatrical performance) for over 30 mins boring. Once my son gets to the age where I need longer recordings (e.g. for sports coaching), I will get something that lasts longer: either a bigger battery and memory card or a different camcorder altogether.

The 3-inch 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. Cool feature but auto focus works well as it is most of the time. The supplied stylus simplifies using the touch screen,

Bottom Line

The Canon VIXIA HF M500 is an excellent and compact camcorder that is easy to use, produces excellent photos and videos and doesn't cost a fortune. It is not cheap, but there are good reasons for it. I highly recommend it.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5.

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