This article first appeared in HWM Jan 2012.
Currently in the Canon Legria M series, there are two camcorders: the HF M41 and the M400. Under the hood, both have several similarities, such as a large 1/3-inch, 2.07-megapixel CMOS sensor, DIGIC DV III processor, 10x optical zoom lens, and a 3-inch color touchscreen LCD. But there are a couple of things that set both apart and to account for the $300 price difference. In addition to the dual SD card slots, the M41 has built in 32GB of flash memory. It also crams in a 0.24-inch electronic viewfinder.
The M41 is solidly built, though the chunky chassis can be uncomfortable for smaller hands. However, the weight distribution is good. The controls are logically located and fall into place nicely. For example, the record button is just next to where your right thumb would naturally rest, the mode selector at the right, and the zoom lever at the top are also within comfortable reach of the index finger. However, there’s no physical button to capture a still image; you’ve to rely on the touchscreen.
The LCD can be rotated 180 degrees, which is good, but the sensitivity of the panel wasn’t always accurate. At first glance, the menu layout seemed confusing, but we came to terms with it soon enough. Most of the time, you’d be in the Function panel where most shooting settings reside.
For non-technical users, leaving the camcorder to do its job in Smart Auto mode is recommended. It’s clever enough to predict the type of situations you’re in, what you’re shooting, and adjust settings accordingly. You can also record video snapshots, which are a series of short scenes in lengths of 2, 4 or 8 seconds. Switching to Manual mode gives you full access to the menus and you can adjust parameters like exposure, focus, and white balance. At the highest quality (MXP) setting, the M41 records 1920x1080 pixels resolution footage at a bit-rate of 24Mbps. This full HD resolution applies only to the MXP and FXP modes; for the lower quality modes, video is recorded at a resolution of 1440x1080 pixels.
If you like to plan for your shoots or wish to personalize them, the M41 has built in features to make it easy for you. Story Creator has five predefined themes for you to choose from (such as Travel and Kids & Pets), along with corresponding lists of suggested scenes. In Cinema mode, there are nine filter effects to choose from; Nostalgic and Dynamic B&W are our favorites. It’s also possible to doodle on your videos with comments (a stylus is included), animation effects and stamps.
Autofocus was accurate, even when switching quickly from a distant subject to one just in front of the camcorder. Zooming was smooth too; we recommend engaging Powered IS to get stable shots. Image quality was top notch - sharp and full of details. You can record in either 50 interlaced fields per second, or 25fps (progressive). Low light performance was also excellent; the bigger pixels play a role in increasing light sensitivity. In Low Light mode, 0.1 lux of illumination is all that’s required. A full charge lasted 2 hours 15 minutes
All in all, the M41 is suitable for both enthusiasts and beginners alike, as it provides a good blend of pro features and nifty software functions without being overly complicated to use, while also having the image quality to boot.