Canon Vixia HF R300 – disappointing indoor noise + rants

This write-up will be brief.

The Vixia HF R300 captures a lot of noise with the video when indoors at 1920×1080. I’m not talking “dark” scenes by any means (which many cameras struggle with) – we’re talking indoor lighting + daylight coming in through the windows.

It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting at 60i, 30p (which is really recorded as interlaced by this camera), or 24p (again, recorded as interlaced). Noise is marginally better if you shoot at the lower settings (which end up being at around 1440×1080).

Quite disappointing. If you’re looking for quality, it’s essentially an outdoor-only camcorder, and is probably only worth about $200 (particularly since most will want to buy a “real” battery for it for close to $100).

The good news: It’s better indoors than the iPad3. It’s as good as the iPad3 outdoors. If you have a decent cell-phone camera, you probably don’t need to spend the money on this camcorder.

The bad news: The old Sanyo Xacti I have kicking around pulls in less noise indoors. And that thing’s a junker.

(note that the R300 has strengths in other areas, but none of it really matters if you end up with ugly grainy looking video)

Extra rants:

Battery – As mentioned, the battery is weak – you get roughly half an hour out of it. Canon’s taking naughty lessons from their printer department, but instead of stiffing you on initial ink, they’re stiffing you on the initial battery.

Sharpness – Outdoor shots in the sunlight are pretty decent, but the low indoor performance extends beyond simply noise. Images are blurry and drab. Instead of sharp edges (say, on a face), you get a very blurred, pixelated edge.

Touch Screen / UI – Hey Canon: if you can’t make a nice sensitive touch screen…. don’t bother. Fortunately there was only 1 menu area where I had to actually swipe to scroll (doesn’t work well on the Canon). The initial 4 main menu items make navigation look like it’ll be simple, but it’s just not well designed (not intuitive layout, way too many taps to reach certain options, many options are small enough that you’ll either need to use the included “stylus” pen or your fingernail to select, etc).

The only good thing about the touch screen is the ability to tap a face/object and have the camera keep focus of it. The rest sucks. Canon should have ditched the touchscreen and just put more physical buttons on the thing. My weak little Sanyo Xacti is easier/better to navigate and all it uses are 2 buttons (one of which doubles as a directional button).

“30p/24p” claims – From what I can tell, the thing records everything at 60fps interlaced, and dumps it to whatever-you-wanted afterwards (deinterlacing and then probably a frame rate conversion if you picked 24p). That’s not the right way to be doing things.

I could go on with many other things that annoy me (manual shutter…. seriously… are we back in 1990 where this feat of engineering to automatically open a shutter when powered on doesn’t come standard?), but suffice it to say, I was displeased way more than I was pleased.

What really drives me up the wall is that a number of smartphones have pretty decent cameras & can take pretty decent videos. I’d expect a dedicated camcorder to… you know… blow smartphones out of the water. But the Canon doesn’t. And maybe others in the $300 price range don’t either. But if that’s the situation we’re now in, that’s pretty pitiful.

The R300 does have optical image stabilization (which works pretty well), and of course has optical zoom (which you don’t find in smartphones… yet). And the sound is admittedly much better than any smartphone. But for $300, I tend to expect a little more than that. And if Canon doesn’t start really distinguishing their camcorders from what people get in smartphones, I suspect that in a year or two they’ll find they’ve been replaced in the sub-$1000 market.