In the past I have always relied on the video function on my standard camera to take film, but I always had a nagging feeling that a dedicated video camera would be far superior at producing moving images than a standard camera and therefore make much better films of my safari holidays.
This combined with the fact that I have become more and more interested in producing wildlife films, made me decide to take a video camera as well as my standard camera with me on my next safari – the choice I made was the Canon LEGRIA HF M406 Camcorder and below are my findings:
- Canon M-Range Camcorders
- Example Video
- Main Features
- Example Photos
- Camcorder Exterior
- Cost & Where to Buy
- Camcorder vs Video Function on Camera
- Optional Extras
The M-range of Canon Legria video cameras consists of three different models, which are distinguished mainly by their storage capacities. The M41 has 32GB of built-in memory, the M46 has 16GB and this M406 that I decided upon only uses memory cards (SD / SDHC / SDXC). I decided that the card-only option provided me with the best value for money and flexibility. This was because I already had SD cards from my camera and if I was to fill up the card on holiday, I could always add another one, which you can’t obviously do with built-in memory.
The three models do come in differing colours, but they are largely identical and shoot identical-looking video.
Below is a video that I have put together from footage that I took with the Canon Legria HF M406 whilst on safari. After editing my footage using the free Windows Live Movie Maker, I then uploaded it to YouTube.
[To see the video in the best possible resolution, press play, then select 1080p HD on the menu bar and then open the video to Full Screen.]
[To see the video in the best possible resolution, press play, then select 1080p HD on the menu bar and then open the video to Full Screen.]
I guess the most important feature of this Legria video camera is the fact that it shoots video in High Definition (HD), with a maximum resolution of 1920×1080 producing a quality of video that is far superior to standard definition camcorders. The sensor’s Full HD resolution also means that you can shoot and view footage on HDTVs with no re-sizing.
10x Zoom (35mm camera equivalent: 43.6 – 436mm)
This Canon video recorder uses a very high quality HD Video lens that features a 6-Blade iris diaphragm for soft background blurring and a smooth, 10x optical zoom.
The diaphragm is a thin opaque structure with an opening (aperture) at its center. The role of the diaphragm is to stop the passage of light, except for the light passing through the aperture. The iris diaphragm in most modern still and video cameras like this one is adjusted by movable blades (six in this case), simulating the iris of the eye.
As you can see from my example video, this combined with the 2.4 MP HD CMOS Pro sensor produces what I feel are very good quality films.
I think my example video above also shows that this Canon Camcorder produces accurate colours and well-balanced exposures, motion is also very smoothly captured as well. It’s large sensor definitely makes this camera far superior to many cheaper camcorders in a wide range of conditions.
According to Canon, their HD CMOS Pro sensor has been adopted from their professional camcorder range, which has also had the effect of drastically improving it’s performance in low light, thanks to a 160% increase in the sensor’s light sensing area. This is because larger pixels are able to gather more light, increasing sensitivity and producing a wider dynamic range for greater tonal gradation between highlights and dark shadows.
My low light tests on my sample video include sunrises and sunsets and they clearly show that there was barely any noise and the frame rate stayed smooth – very impressive.
The Smart Auto setting instantly detects your scene conditions whilst you are shooting and automatically selects one of 38 different settings to record the best possible footage. I found this worked very well, for example it would automatically know when I was shooting a sunset, or shooting people or if I was in bright light.
There is also new Tele Macro function that helps with giving you the best possible close-ups of objects even as near as 40cm away.
The Auto Focusing on the Legria HF M406 was very impressive as it was really fast and accurate. This is crucial for producing high quality HD video. This is one area where this dedicated video camera was far, far better than the video setting on my Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR, that often takes ages to focus on a subject and then often goes out of focus halfway through a scene.
The Face Detection on the Legria camcorder also worked very well to ensure that any faces that I was filming were singled-out as the point of focus and were well-exposed.
Overall, I found that zooming in and out was very smooth with the M406. This action also makes almost no camera noise, which is something that you do sometimes find on lower quality handycams, which is very irritating as this zooming noise can be heard on the video that you produce.
For most people the 10x magnification should be more than enough, but if like me you are always wanting to get closer to your subjects, the good news is that Legria HF M406 comes with a 43mm threaded lens. This means that with an adapter you can attach a tele-converter lens to the video camera, thus increasing the magnification up to 22x or even more – See more on Teleconverters below.
All of the M-series camcorders from Canon have optical image stabilisation including this M406, which is a big advantage to cheaper camcorders that only have an electronic system.
On the M406 you actually get two systems of image stabilisation- Dynamic Optical Image Stabiliser to reduce the effect of camera shake in situations when you are moving, like walking or in a vehicle. Then there is the Powered Image Stabilizer that helps to steady telephoto shots. This Powered IS can be activated using a dedicated button on the flip out screen that I found worked really well, and even made it possible to shoot half decent footage from a slow moving safari vehicle possible which I was very impressed with.
Almost all of the footage that I took was without the use of a tripod (see my example Video below)
Of course no amount of Image stabilisation is better than a completely steady platform, and if you have the space and want the best possible results I would recommend the using a tripod. The Canon LEGRIA HF M406 has a thread under the body like most cameras that will allow it to be easily attached to a tripod. For more see my section on Tripods for Travel & Safari.
This video camera comes with a very sensitivity built-in zoom microphone, that I found worked really well an more than enough for my needs and managed to capture even the quietest sounds.
What is clever is that the "Zoom Mic" automatically increases the audio level when zooming in to ensure that audio of distant subjects is of optimum quality.
This function is customisable and an audio equaliser allows the tone of the sound to be optimised for the best results, allowing you to adapt the audio to suit the subject, scene or content.
All of the Canon Legria HF M Series camcorders come with their proprietary Mini Accessory Shoe. This is powered and has data connections, so you can use one of Canon’s own external microphones without any external cabling. That said, such microphones start at around £150, so though convenient, such an upgrade isn’t cheap.
Another feature that I really like on the Canon LEGRIA HF M406 is the fact that you can take 2.07 megapixels (16:9) photos whilst you are recording video. This is achieved by pressing a "button" on the touch screen.
Below are a few sample photos (Click for larger version) that I took whilst recording film at the same time. The only editing that I have done is to crop and re-size them to optimise them for the web.
It still impresses me just how small personal camcoders have become, especially when l remember the old days where you almost had to have a dedicated suitcase to take a video camera with you on safari!
Weighing just 350g and with dimensions of just 7.4 ×7.1 × 13.1 cm this LEGRIA HF M406 is very light and compact and will take up hardly any extra room in your luggage.
As with most camcorders these days, it comes with a hand-strap on the side which makes it very simple to carry in your one hand, even when you are not actually filming.
Dual Memory Slots
A rather unique and I think excellent idea from Canon are the two memory card slots. These will take standard SD cards as well as the latest SDXC cards and are located side-by-side under the handgrip, so they should still be accessible when the camcorder is one a tripod (depending on the size of the head unit).
With Relay Recording they allow you to continue shooting for longer by automatically switching to the next available storage source when the one in use becomes full.
I really liked this feature as it allows you to always have a back-up card ready should one full up whilst you are taking some unmissable footage.
Another advantage of having two memory slots rather than one is you can purchase a pair of affordable smaller memory cards, rather than just 1 large one with double the memory which can be more than double the price.
This Canon Legria Camcorder, like most others has a 7.5cm (3.0") flip out LCD screen with a resolution of 230k dots that is also touch sensitive. This means that it gives you simple fingertip access to shooting and playback functions.
I found the menus on the LCD to be simple to navigate and once I was used to it most functions were pretty easy to find.
I am always a little unsure about touch screens: On one hand they are great in the way that they make accessing certain functions very simple and intuitive. But on the other hand, if you are in a hot place (like in Africa) and have sweaty hands, touching the screen can result in having smudge marks all over it.
Fortunately with the Legria M406, you have a choice as you can also access all the functions using buttons located on the side of the video camera.
The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) on the LEGRIA HF M41 also gives you another way to capture video which is especially useful when you have direct sunlight shining on your screen.
The supplied Lithium Ion BP-808 battery fits onto the back of the Canon LEGRIA M406 where there is a really big battery compartment, which is only half filled with the included batter that is said to last just over two hour and 10 minutes. So it is possible to purchase a much bigger replacement, that can last almost seven hours.
43mm Threaded Lens
This may not seem like much of a feature to many of you, but to me it means that with an adapter you can attach a tele-converter lens to the video camera, thus increasing the magnification – See more on Teleconverters below.
The LEGRIA HF M-series camcorders also come with eight filters stored onto the device that you can use to easy to change the look and feel of footage instantly.
You can preview different effects and pick the one that best suits the scene: ‘Vivid’ effect adds colour and vibrancy to footage, while ‘Dream’ softens focus to create a magical, dreamlike effect, and ‘Cool’ effect gives scenes a feel similar to that of a sci-fi movie. All these filters are applied in-camera, giving you another way to creatively enhance your video without the need for a PC or additional software.
The Story Creator mode is ideal for people who need a little guidance regarding the type of scenes that you should capture to tell your story and you can think of it a bit like a personal movie director.
So for example if you select a "holiday diary" from the available list of "stories", it will remind you that you should take some footage of you getting ready for the holiday, going to the airport, arriving at your destination, etc.
This is accessed via the touch screen whilst you are recording and is a fun feature that allows you to add animations, stamps, frames and messages to your video in real time. Although with most video editing software, you can do this during the editing stage, which will be more precise.
At around £500, the Canon Legria HF M406 costs a little less than many of their competitors equivalent camcorders including the popular Panasonic HDC-SD800:
The Canon LEGRIA HF M406 has many features that I love, these include it’s compact size that was very comfortable to hold. I also really like the duel memory card slots and the fact that if you were to buy a larger battery to improve battery life, it would still fit within the camera. Video and sound quality was excellent and for my money is overall a really good video camera to take with you on safari.
Comparing it to the video function on my Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR, it is far easier to produce quality films using the dedicated video camera. A big difference is in how quickly the Legria focuses on a subject in comparison to the camera. Another huge advantage is that you can smoothly zoom in and out of a subject using the camcorder without any noise from the lens zooming mechanism. The Fuji has a manual zoom ring and it is almost impossible to zoom in or out smoothly whist filming.
On the flip side, whilst you can take pretty good quality pics using the Legria, the camera is still far better at this. So my advice is if you want to take really good holiday photos, use a camera, or if you want great safari videos, use a camcorder like the Canon LEGRIA HF M406 rather than the video function on your camera. Or if you are like me and want both …. take both – the Legria is easily small and light enough not to worry your luggage allowance too much.
For the Legria to have been an even better video camera to take on Safari, I would have probably preferred to have had a more powerful optical zoom. For most situations the 10x magnification should be enough, but if like me you also like taking shots of birds, you will sometimes wish that you had a little more reach.
The good news is that there is a 43mm thread on the lens meaning that it is possible to attach a teleconverter to the Canon LEGRIA HF M406. I have also found out that Canon themselves produce a 1.7x converter (TL-H43) that will fit this camcorder, thus increasing the zoom to a very good 20x, which should be more than enough for most people. (See more on Teleconverters below)
Unless you are sure that you will always have access to electricity, I would also suggest getting a second battery as 2 hours a filming does pass by rather quickly. Again for most people this will not be a problem, but I often go to pretty wild places where there is often no electricity at all.
The Legria comes with the following software: PIXELA ImageMixer™ Video Browser v1 and Transfer Utility v1 and a "digital video solution disc".
Also included is a USB cable, an Av cable, HDMI cable, a wireless controller and the battery charger.
There are a number of accessories that you can get and use with the LEGRIA HF M-series camera:
The 43mm thread on the lens can be used with a variety of lens filters as well as teleconverters (see below).While the integrated mini-hotshoe provides compatibility with a range of external microphones and video lights.
Canon have a new Wireless Microphone that connects to the camera via Bluetooth and which they say enables you to capture vivid audio up to around 50m away. This setup will also enable two-way communication which the camcorder operator can use to direct their subject without having to move from the controls.
Canon produce a 1.7x converter (TL-H43) that will fit this Legria camcorder, thus increasing the zoom to a very good 17x, which should be more than enough for most people.
It is also worth mentioning that because the lens has a 43mm thread on it, with the correct adapter ring, you should easily be able to attach other tele-converters to the camera. The excellent Raynox 2.2x DCR-2025PRO teleconverter lens actually comes with a selection of adapter rings, including a 43mm one and so will work "out of the box" with the Legria HF M406 giving you a huge 22x magnification.
Additionally, a new WP-V3 waterproof case designed for the Legria HF M406 is ideal for capturing underwater scenes.
Whilst the camcorder obviously comes with it’s own charger, but if like me you take quite a bit of electrical equipment with you on your safari holidays, I would highly recommend getting an all-in-one-charger that will save you a whole bunch of space and weight in your luggage.
The one I use is the Braun 1-For-All-Plus Universal Battery Charger that I highly recommend:
Universal Battery Charger
This is a real space saver as the best ones can charge all your equipment (camera, camcorder, mobile phone, mp3 player and more) with one device. For the one that I use and recommend, check out my article on the Braun 1-For-All-Plus Universal Battery Charger