In the magic HD kingdom, prices have come crashing down. It's now possible to pick up some incredibly cheap pocket video cameras offering full 1080p high-definition recording for as little as £120. But while these are often small and simple to use, they don't always compare well against traditional camcorders in terms of features and picture quality.
At £250, the Canon Legria HF R106 is probably among the cheapest non-pocket HD camcorders currently available, but there are already a number of contenders in the 'best of budget' category, so how does it square up?
The bare facts
We're all making cutbacks these days and there's no shame in the fact that the Canon Legria HF R106 has been stripped right back to the bare basics. As it happens, Canon's smart metallic-grey design does a pretty good job of disguising the camcorder's budget origins. It's hardly a tiddler by modern standards, but it's still pretty compact and well built, with a comfortable grip and sensibly placed buttons. Its 2.7-inch fold-out LCD screen is a good size and, as with several other recent Canons we've seen, the battery compartment encloses the power pack within the unit itself, rather than leaving it to stick out at the rear.
In many ways, the HF R106 can be defined by what features it is missing rather than those it offers. There's no touch-sensitive control system, for example, and no optical image stabiliser (an electronic image stabiliser is supplied instead). Manual controls are thin on the ground and there's no internal memory or hard disk -- you'll need to supply your own SD/SDHC card before you can actually start filming. Depending on your level of expectation, however, these omissions may come as no surprise given the product's price. Also, depending on how you intend to use the device, you may not miss them much anyway.
Perhaps the most obvious instance of cutbacks taking their toll is in the HF R106's picture quality. Canon tries to squeeze as much as it can from a smaller than average (1/5.5 type) CMOS image sensor and does a fairly good job most of the time. The top-quality setting saves recordings at 1080i resolution at 50 frames per second (fps) and a bit rate of 17Mbps. There's even a 25fps progressive mode available to lend your recordings a film-type look.
That might sound good in theory but, compared to other, more expensive AVCHD camcorders, picture quality is frequently compromised by a consortium of blemishes, including areas of electronic noise in solid colours, as well as some over-saturation around the fringes of brightly coloured subjects. Low-light sensitivity is another weakness -- the HF R106 gets very grainy very quickly if it can't find enough ambient illumination.