With the Vixia HF M4xx series of HD camcorders, Canon maintains its reputation for delivering a solid midrange consumer camcorder, once again at slightly higher prices than those of the competition. The series consists of three nearly identical models. The cheapest, the M400, has no built-in memory, the M40 adds 16GB, and the M41 adds another 16GB plus an electronic viewfinder. All use the same HD CMOS Pro sensor found in the, but paired with a smaller, less expensive lens. This review is based on the Vixia HF M41.
Overall, the camcorder's video looks relatively sharp--and like most looks even better played directly on a TV. There is some aliasing on edges, generally a result of the interlaced video format; one difference between the M4xx series and its step-up sibling is the lack of a native 1080 progressive encoding format instead of the AVCHD standard of encoding 24fps and 30fps video as 60i.
Exposure and color rendering look very good, with a broad tonal range--there's no excessive clipping in the highlights or shadows. Though the M4xx series uses the same sensor as the more expensive HF G10, the lenses are very different, and it shows in a variety of ways. In this case, the more pentagonal aperture renders less pleasing out-of-focus highlights. That probably won't matter to most potential users of this model, but will affect those seeking a more artistic look.
The camcorder's low-light video (about 17 lux) looks quite good; a little soft, but with a nice balance between sharpness and color saturation and accuracy in its noise reduction. Lower light--dim living-room quality--displays more softness and color noise, but I think most people would consider it acceptable.
For shooting stills, the low-resolution sensor may not suit some folks' need for large still photos. Like the G10, the stills look sharp and fall just short of looking too digital; they look fine onscreen and printed, but I wouldn't recommend printing them larger than 4.5x8 inches.
As for audio, the stereo microphone is quite sensitive with a bright sound, but the automatic wind filter doesn't work as well as I'd like. It has a decent set of audio tools, including the ability to mix internal and external levels, set directionality (mono, normal, wide, zoom), equalize (boost LF, low cut, boost MF), boost HF+LF), and attenuate.