The Canon Legria HF M31 is a flash memory–based camcorder that records Full HD video in the AVCHD codec.

With a retail price of £849, the Canon Legria HF M31 slots somewhere between the HF S10 and HF M300 as Canon’s upper midrange offering. It can be viewed as a jack-of-all-trades, providing an above-average performance across the board.

With just 32GB of built-in memory, a lowly 1/4in CMOS sensor and a gross pixel count of 3.89 megapixels, at first glance the Canon Legria HF M31 seems modestly equipped compared to many of its rivals. (For instance, Panasonic HDC-HS60 boasts a 5-megapixel resolution and 120GB of inbuilt memory). In fact, the HF M31 shares the same specifications as last year’s Canon Legria HF20.

Yet, despite its lack of grunt, the Canon Legria HF M31 proved to be a very impressive camcorder. It comes with a solid array of modes and features for the asking price, including plenty of manual options for hands-on users. It is also capable of taking excellent looking video — especially in bright lighting. It will not only suit casual users, but also more ambitious shooters, such as budding filmmakers on a budget.

The Canon Legria HF M31 is an ultra-compact camcorder finished in an attractive glossy black. With dimensions of 68x60x123mm, it should fit inside your jacket pockets with a minimum of hassle (unless you’re a skinny tie-wearing mod, natch). This is one of the advantages of going with flash memory over inbuilt hard drives: by contrast, the HDD-based Canon HG21 bloated out at 81x75x129mm.

The Canon Legria HF M31 handled like a dream during our test shoot, with the zoom rocker, record button and shutter release all within easy reach. Canon has included no fewer than three image stabilisation modes to keep your footage nice and steady. We were particularly impressed by the Powered IS tool, which smoothes the bobbing motion in moving shots. (In other words, we can finally retire those makeshift steadycams that never really worked properly anyway.)

After years of doggedly sticking to a joystick interface, Canon has finally decided to embrace the all-conquering touchscreen. This is something that chief rivals like Sony and Panasonic have been offering for several generations. The Canon Legria HF M31’s video menu is divided over two pages which can be flicked between iPhone–style. The touchscreen interface is responsive and well laid out, although some of the icons are a bit too small (especially if you have thick fingers). Nonetheless, we think it’s an improvement over the directional sticks of yore: it just feels more intuitive.

Canon has crammed an impressive selection of manual modes into the Canon Legria HF M31. Using the touchscreen LCD, you can tweak everything from exposure to skin tones. On the downside there is no manual control dial, but these tend to be restricted to top-of-the-range camcorders, so we really can’t complain.

Surprisingly for a mid-range camcorder, the Canon Legria HF M31 comes with external microphone and headphone jacks. This is sure to be a boon for serious videographers who require crystal-clear sound. However, Canon has neglected to include an accessory shoe on the camcorder’s body, which means you’re forced to hold non-proprietary microphones by hand. This is obviously less than ideal, but nothing a bit of gaffer tape won't fix. Other ports include USB 2.0, component AV and the obligatory HDMI.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

See also: Group test: what's the best digital camcorder?

Canon Legria HF M31: Specs

  • CMOS 1CCD(s) x 1/4.0ins 3.89MP RGB Primary Colour Filter
  • Effective Pixels (Stills): 3.31Megapixels
  • Effective Pixels (Movie): 2.99Megapixels
  • Focal Length: 4.1-61.5mm
  • 15x Optical Zoom
  • 300x Digital Zoom
  • Shutter Speeds: 1/2-1/2000thSeconds
  • Minimum Illumination: 0.4 lux
  • TTL White Balance
  • 2.7in Widescreen Multiangle Vivid LCD 211,000pixels
  • 32GB internal memory
  • 1920x1080, 1440x1080
  • Dolby Digital 2ch (AC-3 2ch)
  • 5.1ch surround sound
  • HDMI
  • USB 2.0
  • 68x123x60mm
  • 0.32kg
  • CMOS 1CCD(s) x 1/4.0ins 3.89MP RGB Primary Colour Filter
  • Effective Pixels (Stills): 3.31Megapixels
  • Effective Pixels (Movie): 2.99Megapixels
  • Focal Length: 4.1-61.5mm
  • 15x Optical Zoom
  • 300x Digital Zoom
  • Shutter Speeds: 1/2-1/2000thSeconds
  • Minimum Illumination: 0.4 lux
  • TTL White Balance
  • 2.7in Widescreen Multiangle Vivid LCD 211,000pixels
  • 32GB internal memory
  • 1920x1080, 1440x1080
  • Dolby Digital 2ch (AC-3 2ch)
  • 5.1ch surround sound
  • HDMI
  • USB 2.0
  • 68x123x60mm
  • 0.32kg

OUR VERDICT

To assess the Canon Legria HF M31’s video performance, we shot a variety of footage in different testing conditions and then played back the footage on a Pioneer KURO PDP-C509A plasma TV. In sunny environments, the Canon Legria HF M31 produced exceptional images, with plenty of fine detail in complex areas and rich, vibrant colours. Noise rushed to the fore in dim indoor areas, though its output remains perfectly acceptable for personal home videos.

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