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Canon Vixia HF M31 (photos)

It's physically well-designed, but the Vixia HF M3xx series incorporates a frustrating touch-screen menu system.

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LoriGruninNewHeadshot.jpg

Lori Grunin

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1 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET

Compact and solid

The M series bodies are relatively small and lightweight, and though plastic feel pretty well-constructed. Plus, they're not too small for large hands to grip comfortably.
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2 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET

Top controls

Canon provides a physical switch for switching between manual and full-auto modes. It's kind of annoying that you can't get into the menus in auto--which Canon calls "Dual Shot" mode--but if you adjust some settings in advance in Manual, they'll stick.
The zoom switch and photo button are comfortably located, and the zoom is easy to control. The mini accessory shoe sits behind them.
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3 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET

Back

The only control on the back is the record button. The 890mAH battery sits flush with the back which means that if you upgrade to the higher capacity battery--to compensate for the camcorder's subpar battery life--it will stick awkwardly out the back.
There's a single button on the LCD bezel which enables Power IS mode (when recording) or downconverting videos to Standard Definition quality.
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4 of 10 Sarah Tew/CNET

Buttons and connectors

In the LCD recess sit the record/playback toggle button, display options and battery release switch. Because opening the LCD doesn't turn the camcorder on (unless you're in standby mode), it's slightly less of a problem here than on Panasonic's models.
In addition to the SDHC card slot, the mic and headphone jacks live in the LCD recess; the miniHDMI, USB and component out connectors are under the handstrap.
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5 of 10 Screenshots by Lori Grunin/CNET

Interface

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; it's on 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.
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6 of 10 Lori Grunin/CNET

Video quality

At it's best, in its 24Mbps mode, the video quality has pretty good sharpness, detail, and lack of artifacts. But you can see a notable increase in artifacts when dropping to 17Mbps, and it's simply bad in its default 7Mbps mode.
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7 of 10 Lori Grunin/CNET

Defaults

Like Sony, Canon defaults the video quality to the second-worst option, 7 megabits per second at not-full-HD 1,440x1,080-pixel resolution. 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.
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8 of 10 Lori Grunin/CNET

Color

Though not terribly accurate with overly saturated reds and purples, most people should find the camcorder's colors pleasing.
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9 of 10 Lori Grunin/CNET

Low-light quality

At its best, the low-light video is just satisfactory. You can see how soft and noisy it is here, but it's also well-exposed and maintains decent color saturation.
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10 of 10 Lori Grunin/CNET

Bokeh

If you're looking for pretty out-of-focus detail, you're going to have to spend more money; the aperture in the M series camcorders produces a diamond-shaped bokeh typical of cheap models.

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