After setting the standard for premium HD camcorders in 2008 with the HF10 and its derivatives, Canon’s 2009 models didn’t quite whet our appetites so much. But the company doesn’t rest on its laurels, and 2010 has scarcely begun before we’re seeing the first examples of the next generation trickle through. First to reach TrustedReviews is the mid-range Legria HF M31, top of a trio of siblings which includes the HF M36 and HF M306.
The HF M31 is essentially another enhancement of the Legria HF20 and HF21. Like the latter, it relies on a 1/4in CMOS sensor with a gross 3.89-megapixels, uses a Canon HD lens with the same specifications, provides a 15x optical zoom, and integrates an identical DIGIC DV III image processor. The HF M31 has 32MB of flash memory built in, which is enough for three hours of footage at the top quality mode. This shoots Full HD resolution AVCHD at the maximum possible 24Mbits/sec data rate. The HF M31 also sports a slot for SD memory, should you need more storage. So in this respect it’s identical to the HF20.
The biggest news is not the core specifications, then. What has changed is the control interface. With the HF M31, Canon has followed Sony and Panasonic and switched to a touchscreen LCD. In regular shooting mode, there are three onscreen buttons. One simply switches between camcorder and camera modes. The other enables onscreen buttons for operating the zoom and toggling recording, so you can use the camcorder two-handed from a more waist-oriented position.
The final FUNC button calls up the camcorders settings, and this menu has been totally redesigned from previous Canon camcorders for easier touchscreen operation. The initial screen presents just 12 options in two screens, which you can switch between with a finger flick across the screen, in a similar fashion to an Apple iPhone’s main app interface.
The first screen provides access to focusing, white balance, exposure, mic level, program modes, and the full menu. The second screen offers controls for zoom, AGC, the video light, the Pre REC function, digital effects and image stabiliser settings. Although most of these operate in the same way as with other Canon camcorders, there are some new additions. The focus and exposure options take full advantage of the touchscreen, providing one-touch operation where you simply indicate which point within the frame you would like to use as reference. However, Canon doesn’t provide the facility to combine the two into a single action, unlike Sony and Panasonic. You can also operate both with onscreen sliders, if you prefer.