We'd all like James Cameron's bank balance, but that doesn't necessarily mean we want to go about wielding the latest in high-end HD or cameras. Assuming you are more concerned with filming family holidays and suchlike, rather than some over-simplified morality play about a bunch of lanky CGI Smurfs, something like the Canon Legria HF R18 should be all you need. It doesn't have all the latest bells and whistles, but it's easy to use. At £380, it might not be dirt cheap, but you certainly don't need James Cameron's bank balance to buy one.movie
Talking tech for a moment, the Legria HF R18 combines one of Canon's own HD video lenses with a single 1/5.5-type CMOS and the company's DIGIC DV III processor. HD resolutions of up to 1080i can be recorded to either the camera's 32GB internal memory or a removable SD/SDHC memory card. A 20x optical zoom is provided though, sadly, the Powered OIS image stabiliser found on many other Canon camcorders is not present here. An electronic equivalent is on hand, but it's not as effective at keeping things on an even keel as the optical variety.
The shiny black and silver design looks pretty suave and, while it’'s not exactly pocket-sized, the compact HF R18 is sculpted to fit snugly into your palm and is deceptively light. Its battery pack is secreted away inside the body, streamlining the design further and making it even more comfortable to point and shoot with.
Almost anyone can use the HF R18 and get reasonable results. Simple operation is simplified further by Canon's 'smart auto' feature, which selects the most appropriate scene mode (from 31 available), based on things like brightness, distance from subject, type of subject and so on. For example, it can tell if you're filming something close up and automatically switch to macro mode.
Further family-friendliness comes in the form of face-detection, video snapshots (short bursts of 2-8 seconds of video) and a fast autofocus. There's no touchscreen control but menus and settings are all easy to navigate using the mini-joystick. Connections include HDMI (though there's no cable provided), component, USB and standard-definition AV. The Legria can also 'downmix' HD recordings to standard-definition in camera, should you need lower-res versions of your movies.
If there was a stand-out feature here it would probably be the 32GB of ready-made storage space tucked away among the HF R18's innards. There are two main reasons for buying a camcorder with a large amount of internal storage space: convenience and value. Sometimes -- particularly with hard-disk-based models like-- it can work out cheaper to pay for storage up front, rather than shelling out for separate memory cards.
Unfortunately, the HF R18's built-in flash memory is there for convenience' sake only. In this instance, you won't be saving any money. In fact, at Amazon's current prices, it would work out roughly £120 cheaper to buy the flash-free Legria HF R106 along with two 16GB SDHC cards instead of the all-in-one HF R18, which is a little disappointing.