Unless you're a professional movie maker, you're probably wondering if you really need a camcorder. Let's be frank: the answer is probably no, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have one. No one needs a Ferrari, but wouldn't you like to have one? So then the next question is whether Canon's latest high quality consumer camcorder can justify itself in the face of so many other video-capable gadgets.
Better than a compact camera?
Canon has chosen to focus on the main areas in which a camcorder can beat a compact snapper, a phone or even a tablet, rather than filling it with smartphone-style tricks. As a result it takes better footage, has a bigger zoom, better image stabilisation and a longer-lasting battery than most of its non-camcorder rivals.
It also keeps pace with its camcorder peers, beating both the JVC GZ-VX815 and Panasonic HC-V720 with its ability to record 1080p/50fps in either the TV-friendly AVCHD format or MP4 for computer and web projects. In well lit outdoor scenes at wide angles the footage is very sharp, with good control over colours and highlights, and it rarely veers into saturation – it took an encounter with a postman's fluorescent coat to do that. It's also pretty snappy switching focus from a wide shot to a macro close-up. Try shoving the lens into a flake of lichen to reveal a fascinating volcanic landscape in minature.
Indoors, under dim lighting the Canon maintains its 50fps framerate and still captures a lot of detail with acceptable noise levels. In general the footage is about equal to that of the Panasonic HC-V720. Simulated film grain and colour shifts are also available to lend your movies a bit of a retro feel.
Optical zoom, digital zoom
The 32x optical zoom can be pushed to 53x with digital help. Things soften up a bit, and there's some quite apparent purple fringing around the edges of objects at full zoom (more so than with the Panasonic HC-V720). That chromatic aberration fades away if you back it off just a bit from maximum zoom. The image stabilisation is effective and will pan smoothly with your movements so long as you're not too erratic. There are bigger zooms available on rivals but this gives ample scope for all but the most specialist jobs.
Most of camera settings are accessed via the touchscreen which, unlike many other camcorders, is capacitive rather than resistive. That means you can use your finger rather than your fingernail to make selections, and it's also a bit quicker to respond once you've made your selections. The display itself isn't up to much though, looking rather blurry and washed out. As a guide to the kind of exposure and detail you're capturing it's way off but is fine for framing, so long as you crank up the brightness settings.
Internal memory, relay recording
One of the Canon HF R48's best features is its internal memory. With 32MB onboard you're not reliant on the presence of an SD card, which could be a lifesaver. In fact, if you back up your movies often enough you might never need a memory card. It would be a good idea to keep one onboard though, especially as there's the option for "relay recording", in which the camcorder automatically switches from internal to SD storage (or vice-versa) if one fills up during shooting.
A rather ungainly but very practical battery block is supplied in the box, giving the R48 a 1hr 45min shooting time. That's pretty good, and can be extended further with the addition of larger battery packs.
Wi-Fi and transfer
Canon has resisted adding heaps of gimmicky features to the HF R48, which is actually quite a refreshing approach because it simplifies it in use. However, adding a Wi-Fi badge was too much too resist, and as is often the case with cameras and Wi-Fi, the supposed convenience and time-saving advantages are outweighed by the hassles involved in setting up Wi-Fi connections between the camcorder and your computer or smartphone. Just use a cable for faster, easier, better quality viewing and data transfer.
There are a few omissions that may or may not niggle you depending on how you shoot. There's no video light, for example, although the low-light performance was good enough that we didn't find this an issue. If sound recording is important to you, the lack of an audio input or an external microphone attachment could put you off. By way of compensation, sound is captured well from the built-in stereo mics and you can also adjust the mic sensitivity or choose from one of five audio scene modes.
If you're after a camcorder that concentrates on the things that count, the HF R48 won't disappoint, laying down super-smooth hi-def footage with great sound in all conditions. A stout battery and 32GB of internal memory seal the deal.
Review by Tony Horgan.