Canon Legria HF M406 review
1/3in CMOS sensor, 1,920x1,080, 1,440x1,080, 10.0x zoom, 350g
While Canon divides its digital camera line-up into a variety of ranges - most notably EOS, PowerShot and Ixus - all of its HD camcorders bear the same Legria branding. This is a shame, as it leaves consumers without an easy shorthand to finding the model they need. For those familiar with Canon's camera brands, the Legria M-range camcorders are certainly the PowerShots of the lineup; by which we mean they are easy-to-use but include some enthusiast features, and value handling over tiny dimensions.
As is typical for modern camcorders, the M-range consists of three different models, which are distinguished mainly by their storage capacities. The M41 (pictured here) has 32GB of built-in memory, the M46 has 16GB and the M406 relies solely on memory cards. The three models do come in differing colours, but they are largely identical and shoot identical-looking video. Unless you can find one of flash-memory equipped models on sale later in its lifespan, we find that the card-only option invariably provides the best value for money.
This fact is reinforced on all of Canon's latest camcorders by the inclusion of two memory card slots. This allows you to add a pair of affordable 16GB memory cards, for around £30, which the camcorder will switch between automatically when one is full. On the M-series, these slots sit side-by-side under the handgrip, so they should still be accessible when the camcorder is one a tripod (depending on the size of the head unit). Two card slots may take up more space than one, but it’s a good example of practicality winning out over size.
The M41 has a couple of features the cheaper models lack. The most obvious is the viewfinder - something that has become almost extinct on consumer camcorders, appearing on only the most high-end camcorder models. This adds 10g in weight and 6mm in length to the M41. It's a fairly basic example, with no extension to meet your eye nor the ability to tilt upwards. Image detail is good with 260,000 dots (30,000 more than the LCD), but everything had a distinct bluish cast on our review model. Still it's a handy addition, especially when you're shooting in bright sunlight or in dark conditions where you don't want the wash of light from the LCD. On the M46 and M406 the viewfinder is entirely absent, and you wouldn't notice anything was missing.
The other addition to the M41 is the microphone input jack, so you can capture sound from any external mic. The cheaper models aren't entirely without audio options, though, as the all the models have Canon's proprietary Mini Accessory Shoe. This is powered and has data connections, so you can use one of Canon's own external microphones without any external cabling. That said, such microphones start at around £150, so though convenient, such an upgrade isn't cheap. The internal microphone does a pretty good job, generating atmospheric-sounding Dolby Stereo, but you wouldn't want to rely on it for picking up clear-and-crisp speech, ie. for doing interviews or shooting a wedding ceremony. We found it very hard to distinguish between this and the similarly priced Panasonic HDC-SD800 when it came to audio quality.