There are a few concessions for the enthusiast. Whilst there’s no lens ring or manual control knob, quite a few settings are available once you delve into the menus. There’s even an accessory shoe, although it’s Canon’s proprietary “S” Mini Advanced Shoe so won’t fit anything except Canon’s own peripherals. There’s no microphone minijack, but the multi-function AV minijack doubles as a headphone output so you can monitor audio levels, and audio level controls are available in the menu, as well as audio scene modes, which provide volume and equalisation presets.
In manual mode, Canon’s usual array of priority modes appears, plus the ability to select scene modes. You can adjust shutter or iris, although not both at the same time. However, there is a generalised exposure that is available in either mode, which does effectively give you independent control. All of these are accessed exclusively via the touchscreen LCD. You can even call upon Canon’s Image Effects, which provide adjustments for colour depth, sharpness, brightness and contrast. The range of values is not extensive in each case, but it’s still amazing to see this level of control on a consumer-grade camcorder. The Cinema mode lets you apply a film look to your footage as you shoot, too.
The M56 also sports the same WiFi abilities as the M52. These aren’t anywhere near as elaborate as those offered by JVC’s HD Everio GZ-GX1 and HD Everio GZ-EX215. You can’t control the camcorder remotely over WiFi, and you can’t stream live video. Instead, you can set the camcorder up on your wireless network and then access it as a DLNA server. You can then browse its memory contents via any DLNA-compatible client and watch the clips you have recorded. For example, we were able to watch videos using CyberLink’s PowerDVD 11, VLC Media Player 2 and Windows Media Player. However, MLPlayer Lite on an iPhone would only play footage recorded in MP4 format, as it didn’t have the codec support for AVCHD.
With its HD CMOS Pro, the M56 truly excels in image quality. In bright conditions, colours are rich and vibrant, but still faithful. The level of detail is also excellent, although in this area Panasonic’s top premium camcorders just have the edge. But in low light there’s little to separate the two manufacturers, with the M56 providing a grain-free picture even at poor levels of illumination. Essentially, this is premium-grade video quality for a much more mid-range price.
If you can find the Canon LEGRIA HF M56 for under £400 as we did at the time of writing, you’ve got yourself an absolute bargain. For this price, image quality is truly excellent and the range of features is very good. Although the WiFi DLNA media server options are potentially useful, it’s really the core capabilities that make this such a good choice. For over £500 it would be outclassed by JVC’s HD Everio GZ-GX1, but at the current price it’s a great mid-range option.