The camcorders use the same menu interface design as their higher-end siblings, but the barely functional touch-screen implementation on those models fares even worse on the HF M series' smaller, less sensitive displays. It doesn't matter that the camcorders have nice manual feature set, because actually trying to get to and use the features is an exercise in frustration.
While the menus are structured straightforwardly and the interface is laid out in a logical manner, the horrible scrolling design makes it almost impossible to use; you slide your finger along the inside edge, so your hand blocks the display while you're scrolling. Second, the multitouch-like scroll operations make it impossible to accurately move a single entry at a time, so I always scroll past the entry I want and repeatedly select the wrong entries along the way. At best, it will take some getting used to, at worst, it will make you nuts.
|Canon HF M300/M30/M31/M32||JVC Everio GZ-HM400||JVC Everio GZ-HM550||Samsung HMX-S10/S15||Sony Handycam HDR-CX300 / CX350V|
|Sensor||3-megapixel CMOS||10-megapixel CMOS||10-megapixel BIS CMOS||10-megapixel CMOS||4-megapixel Exmor R CMOS|
|1/4 inch||1/2.33 inch||1/2.3 inch||1/2.33 inch||1/4 inch|
39.5 - 592.5mm (16:9)
48.5 - 485mm (n/a)
48.3 - 483mm (n/a)
29.8 - 357.6mm (16:9)
|Min recommended illumination (lux)||recommended: > 100
low light: 0.4
low light: 3
|LCD||2.7-inch 211,000-dot touch screen||2.8-inch 207,000-dot||2.7-inch 123,000-dot||3.5-inch 1.2-megapixel touch screen||2.7-inch 230,000-dot touch screen|
|Primary media||0GB/8GB/32/64GB flash; SDXC||32GB flash; SDHC||32GB flash; SDHC||0/32GB flash; SDHC||16GB/32GB flash; SDHC|
1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 12, 7, 5 Mbps
1080/60i @ 24, 17, 12, 5 Mbps
1080/60i @ 24, 17, 12, 5 Mbps
1080/60i, 30p; 720/60p
1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 9,5 Mbps
|Manual shutter speed and iris||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No|
mic, headphone jacks
|2 channels, mic, headphone jacks||2 channels||2 channels; mic jack||2 channels|
|Body dimensions (WHD, inches)||2.7 x 2.4 x 4.8||2.7 x 2.9 x 5.4||2.3 x 2.5 x 4.4||2.6 x 2.7 x 5.1||2.1 x 2.6 x 5.0|
|Operating weight (ounces)||13.1||17 (est)||10.6 (est)||15.2 (est)||13.3 (est)|
|Ship date||March 2010||September 2009||March 2010||March 2010||February 2010|
The feature set is similar to its predecessors'. A virtual function button pulls up both the frequently used settings as well as the full menu system another level down. In addition to the usual--white balance, image effects, digital effects, video quality, and still-photo size, program, and a handful of scene modes--the camcorders offer real shutter- and aperture-priority shooting modes with a shutter speed range of 1/6 to 1/2,000 second and aperture options ranging from f1.8 to f8, giving you more control over depth of field than you generally see in a consumer model, especially a compact one. It also offers Canon's Cine mode for adjusting color and gamma to go with its 24F progressive modes, though it and 30F get recorded as 60i. In still mode you can select metering and drive modes as well. Other high-end features accessible via the menus include three fixed or variable zoom speed and x.v.Color mode.
Performance is mixed. I have no complaints about the HF M series' autofocus. The system generally does a very good job of differentiating subject from background and adjusts quickly to changes. As a rule, the camcorder tends to slightly underexpose scenes, though like most consumer models it still blows out highlights. There's very little fringing, however, and the image stabilization is dependable. However, the battery life comes up short--maybe about 45 minutes in practice--and the LCD gets difficult to see in direct sunlight, plus it's too low-resolution to accurately judge focus. The audio sounds good, if somewhat bright, though the wind filter doesn't do a great job.
At its best, in its 24Mbps mode, the video looks reasonably sharp, with solid detail and lack of artifacts for its class. Though not terribly accurate with overly saturated reds and purples, most people should find the camcorder's colors pleasing. But you can see a notable increase in artifacts when dropping to 17Mbps, and it's simply bad in its default 1,440x1,080 7Mbps mode. That means the video you get out of the box looks soft and rife with compression artifacts. This might make sense if it was a cheap model with videos destined for nothing more than quick-and-dirty Web upload, but not in a $600 model. There's no reason not to default to the second-best, 17Mbps full HD mode, which looks quite good and likely won't have the playback issues you might run into with the best-quality 24Mbps mode. The low-light video is just satisfactory; soft and somewhat noisy but well exposed and with decent color saturation.
Canon's Vixia M3xx is a solid series of camcorders and competitive with other models in its price class, and if you're not as sensitive to the issues with the touch screen as I am, you'll probably find them a good midrange choice, with the M300 the best value of the bunch. That said, I think the Vixia M3x models aren't quite as good as their predecessors, which are slowly disappearing from the market (at least at reasonable prices). That's frustrating and sad.