I needed a new camcorder and after trying different models, settled on the Canon VIXIA HF M300. I have bought it, used it for a while and returned it since I could get the last year's Canon HF200 for a lower price (refurbished). But, I did not return it for its lack of features or performance. The M300 is an excellent camcorder and here is why.
What Is Canon VIXIA HF M300?
The Canon VIXIA HF M300 is a high-definition (up to 1080p) digital camcorder that records videos and still photos on 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 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 CINE 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, headphone input and more.
The camcorder arrived with the battery fully discharged. Without reading the manual, I attached the battery to the camcorder, plugged the power adaptor into the camera and charged the battery for about 2.5 hours to full charge. 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.
The camcorder is easy to use without reading the manual. The M300 is convenient to hold, albeit a little too small, 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.
In addition to scene modes, P (programmed AE) mode, aperture and shutter priority modes, the camcorder has a CINE mode, which is claimed to create a movie-like effect, especially when combined with 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. In good light, the effect is pleasing and I found preferring it to the "regular" modes.
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 night mode, there might be jerkiness to motion and, again, too much brightness. After trying different modes, I settled on shutter priority with 1/30 sec shutter speed and reduced automatic gain control. This minimizes noise comparing to auto and most semi-automatic modes. Another viable option is "Portrait" mode.
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.
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 performance is remarkable, 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), 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.
The SanDisk 8GB SDHC card I used was chosen 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.
The camcorder 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).
Note: The same camcorder but with 8 GB of built-in memory is available as Canon VIXIA HF M30.
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.
The battery charges fully in 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 (appox.). 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 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.
Pros: Compact and inexpensive, excellent performance, great colors and sharpness, features, easy to use
Cons: Supplied software is cumbersome, need manual fine tuning to produce best quality in low light
The Canon VIXIA HF M300 is an excellent and compact camcorder that is easy to use, produces excellent photos and videos and doesn't cost a fortune. I highly recommend it. And if you want a very similar camcroder, but with 8 GB of built-in memory, check out the Canon VIXIA HF M30.