The HF M40 uses the same CMOS Pro sensor found in the more expensive HF G10, but it's paired with a smaller, less expensive lens.
Overall, the camcorder's video looks relatively sharp — and, like most, looks even better when played directly on a TV. There is some aliasing on edges, generally as a result of the interlaced video format; one difference between the M40 and its step-up G10 sibling is the lack of a native 1080 progressive encoding format.
Exposure and colour-rendering look very good, with a broad tonal range — there's no excessive clipping in the highlights or the shadows. Though the M40 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 it will influence those seeking a more artistic look.
It meters and exposes correctly and consistently most of the time, but, like many camcorders, tends to underexpose in situations where there's not necessarily backlighting, but rather a large subject surrounded by a lot of ambient light (think of a flag waving against a blue sky).
The image stabilisation is solid; the Dynamic setting works well up to about 75 per cent of the way through the focal range and Powered IS is rock-steady at maximum telephoto. It focuses quickly, though you can somewhat adjust how gradually that happens (Instant and Normal). The autofocus works well, but not significantly better than we've seen in previous models, and, like all camcorders, it can inappropriately lock onto the background instead of the subject. Zooming feels smooth and it's easy to keep it at a consistent rate.
The camcorder's low-light video (about 17 lux) looks quite good; a little soft, but with a nice balance between sharpness and colour saturation, and accuracy in its noise reduction. Lower light — dim living-room quality — displays more softness and colour noise, but we 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 on-screen and when printed, but we wouldn't recommend using them for prints larger than 4.5x8 inches (11x20cm).
As for audio, the stereo microphone is quite sensitive with a bright sound, but the automatic wind filter doesn't work as well as we'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), equalise (boost LF, low cut, boost MF, boost HF+LF) and attenuate.
It's not a very compact camcorder, but it has a nice heft and it feels comfortable to grip and shoot single-handed. A mic input sits on the right side of the lens, and a flip-up cover beneath the strap hides the dual SDXC slots.
Like the higher-end HF G10, the HF M40 has three operating modes: auto, manual and Cinema. However, the Cinema mode in this camcorder doesn't support a 24p-encoded format — just 24p capture that's encoded as 50i. The mode is just a quick way to invoke 24F plus a selection of filters.
We're not crazy about the LCD; although it's slightly larger and a higher resolution than that of the preceding M31 and M300 models, it still feels too small, and coarse and frustrating for navigating the menus. However, because of the relatively large virtual buttons, it's not bad for accessing the frequently used shooting settings. We had a tough time viewing it in direct sunlight, though, so if you shoot outdoors a lot you might want to look at a model with an electronic viewfinder.
A membrane button in the LCD recess invokes Canon's Story Creator, a guided shooting mode intended to help you capture a variety of content on a given topic. Basically, you choose a theme, such as Party or Travel, and the camcorder provides a list of scene options, like "Planning for the trip" and "Taking off!". They're organised in-camcorder, and you can rate individual scenes for playback filtering. There's also a generic, theme-less story if you just want to use it for organising a shoot. The files reside in the normal AVCHD directory tree; however, the organisation is strictly for camcorder-based playback.
Also in the recess, you'll find membrane buttons for playback, Video Snap (to take 2-, 4- or 8-second clips) and information, as well as uncovered mini-HDMI, component, USB and headphone connectors.
A fine follow-up to last year's M31 and M300 models, the Canon Legria M40 should please most home movie-oriented videographers despite its relatively high price. If you don't need an electronic viewfinder, the M40 is a good buy.