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Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Lab: Canon Legria HF200

By now, if you still watch television shows, you'd probably have seen the Canon advertisements for the Legria series of camcorders. These products supposedly give a superior image quality that's as good as what you get in modern still cameras, but for a video recording device.

I had the chance to put this claim to the test recently. Based on a short experience, the results do uphold this claim. For one thing, this is a high definition (HD) camcorder, so of course the picture quality would be far better than standard definition camcorders.

But aside from the HD resolution, the colours and sharpness were as good as anything that Canon has produced, and maybe even better. Under ideal settings, like recording under bright sunlight, colours were captured as real as to the naked eye. But even in an indoor environment, lit only by fluorescent lights, images were still captured very well in terms of colours and sharpness, though of course, things were a darker shade due to less light.

The Legria camcorders can also function as still cameras, but I didn't test this out.

Startup time takes no more than 5 seconds, which is standard for consumer digital camcorders. Video (and still images) are recorded to an SDHC card. (The HF200 does not have any internal storage memory, so you must have an SDHC card.) An 8GB card should be sufficient to record a half hour's worth of video at the maximum resolution. If you're worried about the battery power running out before then, fret not. The included battery lasts for more than an hour at full charge.

(Note: the above are estimates. Your usage may vary.)

Video is captured in MTS format. This was the first time I had come across this format, so I don't know much about it. On a Mac, the free VLC player can play these MTS files natively. But if you want to play them with Quicktime, then you'd need to convert the videos to the standard MPEG-4 or Quicktime MOV format. Fortunately, you can also connect the camcorder to your Mac via the USB cable and import the videos into iMovie for editing.

(I don't have a Windows computer, so I couldn't test the Windows connectivity.)

Another thing I liked was its compact size. This is a camcorder that you could carry in a handbag easily. And with its small form factor, it would fit small hands comfortably. I don't know if Canon purposely designed the Legria for the female segment, but its design certainly seems to point that way.

One thing that I had to get used to was with the viewfinder -- or the lack of it. Almost all camcorders come with an LCD screen and a small viewfinder. The Legria HF200 has an LCD screen only. For users who record for long periods of time and are worried about power consumption, this might be a negative factor.

The LCD screen's power consumption could lead to a shorter battery life, which means shorter recording time. Of course, you can still record with the screen closed, but that would only be useful if you never need to move the camcorder, which is almost unlikely in all situations.

Personally, I've always had a good impression of Canon's digital camcorders. The picture quality was almost always on par with Sony's, but at a lower price. And this was validated by expert reviews. (Panasonic camcorders also score well in picture quality.) The Legria HF200 continues to reinforce this impression and I feel comforted by this. Definitely a worthwhile recording device to get. And with PC Show just around the corner in June, you might be able to get one with a few freebies!

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