Canon Legria HF M31 review: Canon Legria HF M31

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The Good Good video and photo quality for outdoors shots; very high bit-rate setting; 32GB of internal flash memory; excellent image stabiliser.

The Bad Poorly implemented touchscreen control system; image quality degrades in low-light conditions; Dual Shot automatic mode is too limited.

The Bottom Line In the right circumstances, the Canon Legria HF M31's picture quality can easily impress. But poor low-light performance and a sorely misjudged control system let down this otherwise decent camcorder

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7.5 Overall

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A preliminary assessment of the Canon Legria HF M31's vital statistics versus its price point left us somewhat sceptical about the camcorder's potential. Sure, it has a decent amount of on-board flash memory (32GB), as well as the option to add more via an SD card. Yes, the top quality setting promises high-definition, 1080i video recording at an extremely high bit rate of 24Mbps. But, with a total megapixel count lower than that of many camera phones, and a solitary image sensor where many other camcorders in its price range now offer three, this AVCHD camcorder looked like it might turn out to be somewhat overpriced and underpowered.

But, while the M31 certainly has more than its fair share of problems, it turns out that capturing impressive images -- both moving and still -- is not among them. It's available now for around £650.

The great outdoors

Take the small and neat M31 out for a picnic, a trip to the zoo or a day at the beach -- or anywhere else in bright, even outdoor light, for that matter -- and you should find it performs extremely well indeed.

Other than the fact we found ourselves frequently having to manually set the white balance due to the automatic setting's tendency to default to overly cold hues, the M31 performed very well in all our outdoor tests, producing sharp, realistic video even at lower quality and bit-rate settings. Its excellent optical image stabiliser is able to counteract a great deal of handheld wobbles. With the zoom extended to its full 15x magnification, a special 'Powered IS' feature provides further image stability: simply hold down the button on the fold-out screen and your image somehow magically locks into place, resisting even the shakiest of camerawork.

Hold down the Powered IS button to increase image stability, locking the image in place even at full 15x zoom

We were pleasantly surprised by the M31's still picture quality too. The image sensor is only capable of capturing photos at a maximum resolution of 3.3 megapixels, and we were genuinely expecting all our test snaps to come out in a big, squashy, pixellated mess, but the results were far from unsatisfactory. Viewed on screen at their native size or printed out, our M31 photos looked just as good as those from cameras that claim twice the resolution or more.

Things took a sudden turn for the worse when we brought the M31 indoors, however. Even in fairly well-lit interiors, it was clear the camcorder was beginning to struggle. Grain and other artefacts are quickly introduced into both photo and video images as soon as light levels drop. Artificial techniques, such as upping the gain, are used to try and boost light sensitivity, but the results don't look great. Unfortunately, low-light performance isn't the M31's only Achilles heel.

A touch disappointing

Many mainstream manufacturers are equipping their camcorders with touchscreen control systems and some are even beginning to implement relatively useable ones too -- the recent Sony Handycam HDR-CX550VE provides a good example of a well-employed touchscreen system. Canon has been a little late to the game in this regard and, sadly, we have to say we didn't get on with the M31's touch-control scheme at all.

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