Canon HF R30 Review
The HF R30 is an entry-level model, and not a bad budget-choice.
The HF R30 is part of Canon’s entry-level line of Vixia camcorders, and, since it’s a budget model, it does have its fair share of problems. Video performance is limited when shooting in less-than-ideal lighting situations, battery life is abysmal, and the menu interface is far more confusing than it should be. But the Canon HF R30 ($399 MSRP) is cheap, and compared to other models in its price range, it actually scored well in our tests. Heck, it was our runner-up pick for Best Value Camcorder in 2012. If you don't go in expecting stellar image quality, great low light capability, or tons of manual controls from this little camcorder, then you should be satisfied with its get-what-you-pay-for performance.
The Canon HF R30, with its 8GB of internal memory and WiFi functions, is the middle child of Canon’s HF R series of camcorders. The low-end HF R30 has no internal memory or WiFi, while the top-line HF R32 has 32GB of internal memory and includes the same WiFi functions as the HF R30. All three camcorders have identical video performance capabilities, as they each include the same lens and sensor systems.
Design & Usability
Simple, compact design without the pricy frills
If you’ve handled a camcorder made in the past few years, it probably looked like a slightly larger HF R30. This camcorder is light and slim, with a decent grip, but untouched by fancy flourishes of any sort: no flash, no video light, and no special ports or terminals other than a 3.5mm mic jack. The camcorder’s LCD is 3-inches in size, which is substantial, but the screen resolution is so low that it makes images look bland and faded. The 32x optical zoom lens gives you plenty to play around with, but you can get this amount of zoom on nearly any camcorder in this price range.
With its dedicated auto mode turned on, the Canon HF R30 is a simple camcorder to use. Digging into the menu system to work with some of the more complex controls, however, is an arduous process. Located on the left side of the camcorder, the HF R30's new "home" button is the only way to access the main menu system, and the button is very difficult to locate on the fly. Pressing it opens a large menu system with layers of confusing controls. It's easy to get lost among all these menu options, most of which could be organized in a more user-friendly layout. If you don’t mind sticking to auto mode, then the Canon HF R30 will offer a simple user experience. Getting any of those special functions to work, though, especially the spanking-new WiFi features, will not be easy.
Headline-stealing WiFi features aren't as great as they sound.
The Vixia HF R30 is branded with the word "WiFi" all over its box, but the new WiFi features aren't that impressive. These options are astonishingly-difficult to setup, and even after going through that frustrating process, the features don't allow you to do much. You can wirelessly upload video from the camcorder to an iPhone or iPad (no Android) or you can send video from the HF R30 to a PC (no Macs). Those lame features aren't enough to warrant going through the long WiFi setup process, trust me.
The most impressive features on the Canon HF R30 include the camcorder’s multiple recording options, 32x optical zoom lens, and the numerous cinema filters that let you add digital effects to your videos during recording. The HF R30 also has a number of useful auto features like face detection and tracking, zoom speed controls, and auto backlight correction. Otherwise, since this isn’t a professional camcorder, you don’t get many manual controls other than focus, white balance, and basic exposure. If you want full shutter speed, aperture, or gain controls, you need to spring for a higher-end model.
Not a spectacular camcorder, but performance wasn't bad for a budget model
It's not easy to find a camcorder with spectacular image quality that costs less than $500. The Canon HF R30 tries to be just that, but it comes up short in a whole bunch of areas. Videos in bright light look very good, with quite a bit of detail in the shots, but under less-than-ideal lighting conditions things get a bit hairy (and noisy). Shooting inside a dim room like, say, a bar or restaurant, the HF R30 produced video that looked like a blurry, distorted mess. Noise was everywhere as the camcorder tried its hardest to produce a usable image. Worst of all, the camcorder's battery lasted for less than 45 minutes in our test, which is abysmal even for a budget cam.
Of course, the Canon HF R30 does a few things quite well for a budget model. Video recorded in low light was brighter than most camcorders in this price range, and in bright light, things looked sharper than we expected. Colors were also reasonably accurate and vivid in bright light, but that's something we see from most budget camcorders these days.
Even with its setbacks, this is still one of the best budget camcorders we've reviewed all year.
The Canon HF R30 is one of the best budget camcorders we’ve reviewed this year. As with most cheap models, however, the R30 comes with a fairly substantial list of weaknesses, most blatant of which is the camcorder’s horrid battery life. Canon’s provided battery pack lasted for less than 45 minutes in our test, which means you’ll be lucky to make it to halftime of recording your nephew’s football game before you have to recharge.
On top of poor battery life, the Canon Vixia HF R30 also struggled in our low light performance tests. Videos looked bland and noisy when we shot in less-than-ideal lighting conditions, but in bright light the Canon handled itself quite well. Colors were more accurate than many models in the same price range, and the HF R30’s set of three frame rate options are unique for a camcorder that costs less than $500.
Canon didn’t make any bad camcorders this year, but its new Vixia models didn’t blow us away either. The HF R30 should have performed significantly better than last year’s HF R20, but it didn’t. And that leaves us with a bad taste in our mouth. Don’t get us wrong, the HF R30 is a fine camcorder for the price, but we expected more improvement from Canon.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.