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Canon Vixia HF R300 Review
With its 32x zoom lens, the Canon Vixia HF R300 digital camcorder strikes a nice balance between performance and price—just don’t expect any extras like Wi-Fi or built-in storage.
(4 out of 5)
- Long 32x zoom
- Solid image stabilization
- Sharp high-definition video.
- Cumbersome touch controls
- Mediocre low-light performance.
With video-capable phones and cameras, consumer camcorders are in a tough spot when it comes to balancing price and usefulness. The Canon Vixia HF M50 ($649.99, 3 stars) captures great video, but at that price, you might as well get a high-end digital camera that also takes great still images. The Canon Vixia HF R300 ($349.99 direct) falls in the lower range of the company’s consumer camcorder line, but offers a far more compelling combination of performance and value. It lacks some of the low-light prowess found in the M50, but takes the advantage with a wider angle lens and 32x optical zoom. The smaller sensor still produces some great looking high-definition video, making the R300 a solid choice for the weekend videographer looking for a no-frills, easy-to-use standalone camcorder.
Design and Features
The R300 looks a lot like the higher-end M50, measuring 2.2 by 2.1 by 4.5 inches (HWD) and weighing in at 8.8 ounces. It feels a bit flimsier than the M50 (2.5 by 2.7 by 4.8 inches / 10.9 ounces), but is still comfortable to hold and shoot for long periods. The control layout is nearly identical on the R300 and M50, with a Record button on the right side, where your thumb naturally sits, and a zoom rocker on top, within reach of your index finger. In the LCD recess are Video Snap, Home, and Playback buttons, as well as a 3.5mm headphone and microphone jack, mini HDMI out, and mini USB out. There is no built-in memory, only a single slot for an SD, SDHC, or SDXC card. The lens cover is engaged and disengaged by a small switch to its right, which is less convenient than the automatic cover on the M50.
All controls are accessed with the 3-inch touch-screen LCD. It definitely gives the R300 a clean and minimalist look, but I found navigating the touch menus to be a bit cumbersome. Focus, white balance, and exposure are all buried in touch menus, and getting precise control is too difficult. With this type of camcorder, however, I expect most users will stick to the fully automatic mode, which I found to be fast and accurate in most situations. The 230k-dot LCD is the same as the one found on the M50, and is still a bit too grainy and dim for bright outdoor light.
The R300 uses a smaller 1/4.85-inch HD CMOS sensor, but also packs a far more versatile lens. The 32x zoom lens features a 38.5-1232mm focal length (35mm equivalent) with an f/1.8-4.5 aperture, which is wider and longer than the M50′s 10x zoom (43.4-436mm) with its f/1.8-3.0 aperture. Canon advertises a 51x zoom factor, using what it calls the Advanced Zoom feature, but really this is just a combination of optical and digital zoom.
Performance and Conclusions
Though it lacks the “Pro” designation found on the M50, the R300 is a capable shooter, capturing crisp and clear high-definition video. You can choose from three shooting modes—Auto, Manual, and Cinema—with the latter simulating the look and frame rate of most film projects. Video format and quality can also be adjusted, with the highest setting, MXP, recording 1080i60 video in AVCHD format. Much like the M50, the R300 is limited to interlaced video as opposed to progressive, capturing 60 interlaced fields per second and encoding the video at 30 frames per second.
The resulting video is very similar to the M50, which is to say good, with sharp detail and fine textures. White balance is a bit less accurate with the R300, with colors skewing towards cooler hues. The smaller sensor means smaller pixels, which results in reduced low-light performance. The difference is most evident in the amount of image noise apparent in low-lighting situations. The M50 excelled, while the R300 showed noticeable grain in low-light. It didn’t ruin the video by any means, but it is evident when playing back on large screen HDTVs.
Image stabilization is solid, helping steady shots at both the wide end and telephoto max. The 32x zoom is impressive, and could really come in handy if filming, say, a school play from the back row of a large auditorium. Obviously even powered image stabilization can only do so much, and when fully zoomed, video had the same dreamy wobble found on the M50, though it was a bit more noticeable on the R300. Autofocus was quick and accurate, and I actually encountered fewer instances where the focus would shift to the background inadvertently than on the M50. Audio quality was on par with the M50, with similar issues with picking up wind and other ambient room noises. And as with the M50, the R300 has a 3.5mm mic input for better audio capture with an external microphone.
When compared with video captured by a point-and-shoot camera, like our Editors’ Choice Canon PowerShot S100 ($429.99, 4.5 stars), the R300′s video lacked some of the saturation and vibrancy, but was able to achieve similar levels of detail and sharpness. The R300 does have an advantage in moving shots, like a slow pan, where the S100 turned in slightly choppy video. Still images, which are captured at 2-megapixel resolution, however, don’t loook great on the R300, with too much image noise and loss of finer details.
The Canon Vixia HF R300 strikes a solid balance between performance, features, and price. At $349.99 it’s less expensive than most digital cameras that shoot comparable video. It lacks the built-in memory, Wi-Fi, and low light performance of the M50, but also costs considerably less. A solid camera like the PowerShot S100 is more versatile, taking far better stills and capturing relatively sharp 1080p video. However, if you’re sold on the traditional camcorder form-factor, the R300 is a solid, easy to use, and relatively affordable option for more casual shooters.
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By Eugene Kim, PCMag