Our First Take
Canon may not have released a flagship camcorder at this year's International CES, but that doesn't mean there's a dearth of things to talk about. The company announced a total of four new Vixia camcorders at the show, and we made it to the show floor to kick their metaphorical tires.
The cameras we saw aren't going to challenge Canon's XA25 in terms of high-end performance, but the Vixia HF R52 (MSRP $449.99) does bring some of the more social-friendly features of the G30 down to a much more affordable price point.
Design & Usability
Cramming more in
The new R52 doesn't rock the boat in terms of design, but it's the most tricked out of the three new HF R-series camcorders. The camcorder comes packed with premium features, including 32 gigabytes of internal storage, WiFi connectivity, and the bevy of advanced shooting modes available on all R-series camcorders.
Like the others, this camcorder is built around a 32x f/1.8-4.5 optical zoom, a 3.28 megapixel CMOS sensor, and the DIGIC DV4 processor. The monster zoom is responsive, but effectively tuned to provide smooth transitions while zooming. In other words, you won't be accidentally recreating any of those vomit-inducing zooms from the Bourne movies.
Capturing 1080/60p video in either MP4 or AVCHD formats, the R52 covers the bases today's consumers care about. It also boasts WiFi live streaming and compatibility with the newly-released pan-table accessory, which adds significant versatility over previous and lower-end Canon camcorders.
Because there's no viewfinder, you'll find yourself using the 3-inch, 230k-dot touchscreen LCD to frame and view your shot. The screen can be swiveled around almost 360 degrees, so you can put it flush against the body of the camcorder for playback purposes. Of course, doing so would block the various ports and card slots on the left side of the body.
The rather basic hand strap is plenty to handle the R52's light weight. A small, contoured lip at the top of the camera also allows for comfortable finger placement, and lets you easily stabilize the camera in your hand.
Versatility in video
In addition to its capable hardware, the HF R52 introduces a whole suite of WiFi-related features that should entice those looking for easier video sharing. Canon seems to have built the R52 around WiFi, and loaded it with internet features not commonly found on cameras.
Though the R52 functions well as a standard-issue, standalone camcorder, you can also use it to live stream to compatible devices via the Android or iOS CameraAccess app. Though the app needs polishing, it's an undeniably cool feature—especially since you can stream over the internet as well as your home network. If you're an iPhone or iPad user, Canon's movie uploader app (in conjunction with its Image Gateway service) will allow you to easily upload and convert your video files to be shared over social media.
Canon also released a pan-table accessory that's controlled by an app. You can simply fasten the R52 to the mount on the accessory, download the app, and use it to zip your camera left and right by up to 270 degrees. As you can see below (with the Vixia Mini X), the pan-table's motor is a bit slow, but the $99.99 accessory is a potentially nifty addition to the R52.
In-camera shooting features are somewhat limited, but no less useful or interesting. For example, "Baby Mode" continuously buffers video, even when you're not actively recording, and tacks on the previous three seconds of footage when you hit the record button. If your reaction time isn't Olympic caliber, it might be the difference between getting your baby's first word on film and having to make do with the memory alone. For the utilitarian, dual-capture mode will simultaneously record MP4 to an SD card, and AVCHD to the R52's internal memory.
Canon knows its audience
The R52 isn't a groundbreaking device, but it's notable on the strength of its feature list alone. WiFi is a little old hat at this point, but entry-level cameras and camcorders have often struggled to implement it effectively. With the Vixia HF R52, Canon is looking to make the most of what it has learned about the technology, and enable users to do more with their equipment.
From our brief time with the camcorder at CES, we can say that the R52 makes a good argument for the continued existence of consumer camcorders, doing things few if any stills cameras can match. Its intelligent WiFi implementation, quality 32x zoom, and time-tested ergonomics are a potent package that just about anyone can get along with.
We hope to get a production sample into the lab soon for some standardized testing, but our real interest lies in checking out the R52's WiFi functionality in the real world. Stay tuned for all the details in our full, in-depth review, coming later this year.