As with the last few Canon camcorders we have reviewed, the R38 provides an intelligently switched image stabilisation system. The technology is primarily optical, but it will detect shooting conditions and adjust itself accordingly. If the camcorder is stationary on a tripod, image stabilisation will be turned into tripod mode, which will essentially turn it off. With the R38 zoomed out, dynamic mode will be invoked, which is tuned to reduce the larger, lower-frequency motion of shooting whilst walking. When the R38 is zoomed in, powered mode will be called upon instead, which aims to reduce the higher-frequency vibrations of handheld shooting at a strong telephoto factor. Finally, if you are shooting close-up in macro mode, another appropriate stabilisation setting will be used.
Despite the R38 being from Canon's compact range, it still incorporates the same WiFi abilities as the LEGRIA HF M56 and LEGRIA HF M52. These abilities aren't as extensive as those offered by JVC's recent WiFi-enabled models, such as the HD Everio GZ-VX715 and HD Everio GZ-GX1. The WiFi abilities merely consist of configuring the R38 so it can send files to a destination wirelessly and be accessed on your network as a DLNA server. In this mode, you can view the camcorder's contents using a DLNA-compatible network media player. For this application, the MP4 recordings are the most compatible, although in our testing a desktop computer could play the AVCHD files as well.
There are few enthusiast features here, with no accessory shoe and no minijack microphone input. With the exception of a few mode buttons on the side of the camcorder, all functions are accessed via the 3in touchscreen. However, the AV output can be switched to a headphone output, and there is manual audio level control.
Camcorders based on Canon's HD CMOS Pro offer some of the best image quality currently on the market, but the R38 doesn't have quite such a professional-grade sensor. It can still achieve some great-looking results in good lighting, with Canon's characteristic vibrancy, which doesn't stray into oversaturation. But whilst the image remains bright at low levels of illumination, there is noticeably more grain than Canon's premium models, such as the LEGRIA HF M52 and M56. So whilst low light performance is decent, it does show signs of this being a mid-range model.
At under £400, the Canon LEGRIA HF R38 makes a decent mid-range camcorder choice, with good image quality and a reasonable range of features. It is a shame that Canon chose not to include the slightly more advanced aperture and shutter priority manual settings or the picture modes, with the R38, which can be found on higher-end Canon models. The biggest issue, however, is that the LEGRIA HF M56 can be found for not much more, and occasionally less. This may offer much less built-in memory, but picture quality and features are notably superior, making it a clear choice if your budget doesn't quite stretch to a premium model.