Canon VIXIA HF M4 review: Canon VIXIA HF M4

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 a large subject surrounded by a lot of ambient light (think of a flag waving against a blue sky). The image stabilization is solid; the Dynamic setting works well up to about 75 percent 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 can inappropriately lock on the background instead of the subject. Zooming feels smooth, and it's easy to keep it at a consistent rate.

I'm not crazy about the LCD; though it's slightly larger and higher resolution than that of the preceding M3xx series, 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. I had a tough time viewing it in direct sunlight though, so if you shoot outdoors a lot you should seriously consider the M41 for its EVF. While small, it's serviceable and comes in very handy when you can't see the LCD.

  Canon Vixia HF M400/M40/M41 Panasonic HDC-SD90/ TM90 Samsung HMX-H205 Sony Handycam HDR-PJ10 Sony Handycam HDR-CX360V
Sensor (effective resolution) 2.07-megapixel HD CMOS Pro 2.6-megapixel CMOS n/a CMOS
(3.3 megapixels gross)
1.49-megapixel Exmor R CMOS 2.65-megapixel Exmor R CMOS
1/3 inch 1/4.1 inch 1/4.1 inch 1/4 inch 1/4 inch
Lens 10x
28 - 729mm
Closest focus
0.4 0.4 0.4 0.4 inch 0.4 inch
Min illumination (lux) recommended: 100
standard: 1.5
low light: 0.1
standard: 1400
low light: 4
Color Night record: 1
recommended: n/a
standard: 3
low light: n/a
recommended: n/a
standard: 11
low light: 3
recommended: n/a
standard: 11
low light: 3


None/None/ 0.24-inch 260,000 dots None None None None
LCD 3-inch 230,000 dots 3-inch 230,400-dot 2.7-inch 230,000 pixels 3-inch 230,000 dots 3-inch 230,000 dots
Primary media 0GB/16GB/ 32GB internal; 2 x SDXC 0GB/16GB flash; 1 x SDXC 32GB flash; 1 x SDHC 16GB internal; 1 x SDXC 32GB internal; 1 x SDXC
HD recording AVCHD: 1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 12, 7, 5 Mbps
(also encodes 30p and 24p as 60i)
AVCHD: nonstandard 1080/60p 28Mbps;
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9, 5 Mbps
H.264 MPEG-4 1080/60i; 720/60p
(bit rates n/a)
AVCHD: nonstandard 1080/60p @ 28Mbps;
1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps;
1440x1080/60i @ 9, 5 Mbps
AVCHD: nonstandard 1080/60p @ 28Mbps;
1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps;
1440x1080/60i @ 9, 5 Mbps
Manual shutter speed (video) 1/6 - 1/2000 sec 1/30 - 1/8000 sec 1/60 - 1/10000 No No
Manual iris f1.8-f8 f2-f16 f1.8-f16 No No
Built-in ND filter No No No No No
Accessory shoe Yes Yes No No Yes
Audio 2 channels (5.1 via optional mic);
mic, headphone jacks
2 channels;
mic jack
2 channels 5.1 channels; mic, headphone jacks 5.1 channels; mic, headphone jacks
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.9 x 2.8 x 5.2 2.0 x 2.5 x 4.7 2.3 x 2.3 x 4.4 2.4 x 2.6 x 5.1 2.3 x 2.6 x 5.1
Operating weight (pounds) 14.3 10.1 (est) 12 (est) 12.9 (est) 13.1 (est)
Mfr. Price $649.99/ $699.99/$799.99 $549.99/ $599.99 $549.99 $699.99 $799.99
Ship date April 2011 March 2011 April 2010 April 2011 March 2011

It's not a very compact camcorder, but it has a nice heft and 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 and HF S30, the HF M4xx series 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 60i. The mode is just a quick way to invoke 24F plus a selection of filters.

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 organized in-camcorder, and you can rate individual scenes for playback filtering. There's also a generic, themeless story if you just want to use it for organizing a shoot. The files reside in the normal AVCHD directory tree, however; the organization 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 M3xx series, the Canon Vixia M4xx series should please most home-movie-oriented videographers despite its relatively high price. If you don't need the EVF, the M400 is your best buy, but if you'll be shooting a lot in sunlight, it's worth it to step up to the M41.