The Canon Legria HF200 is a midrange high-definition camcorder for videographers on a budget.
It records AVCHD video to SD/SDHC memory cards, which is swiftly becoming the dominant video format in the consumer market.
While it's not the best HD video camera we've seen, the Canon Legria HF200 provides good image quality and a decent set of features for the asking price. Serious users will be especially impressed by the inclusion of an external microphone jack; something that most midrange units lack. Otherwise, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the Canon Legria HF200 - it does its job well and keeps the gimmicks to a minimum.
So why does the Canon Legria HF200 favour removable flash memory? We've reeled off the benefits of flash memory-based camcorders many times in the past, but in a nutshell: they're quieter, smaller and more energy efficient than all other video formats - including HDD. It's no coincidence that most vendors are phasing out their hard disk-based models in favour of flash memory. (Canon currently offers 12 flash memory camcorders, compared to precisely zero HDD models - the writing's on the wall.)
The Canon Legria HF200 can be viewed as a more affordable alternative to the Canon HF20. It lacks the HF20's 32GB built-in memory, which means you're forced to use the SD card slot at all times (an 8GB SD card is included in the sales package).
Otherwise, the Canon HF200 is virtually identical to its big brother - even the dimensions are the same. Highlights include a 15x optical zoom lens, a 3.31-megapixel 1/4in CMOS sensor, Full HD 1080p recording, a maximum AVCHD bit rate of 24 megabits per second (24Mbps) and the afore-mentioned 3.1mm microphone jack.
If you're serious about video, the inclusion of external audio is not to be underestimated; most sub-£750 camcorders remove this output as a matter of course. The benefits of a 24Mbps bit rate are considerably less obvious, though we suppose it's good to have the ‘best' - even if the difference is barely perceptible.
Compared to Canon's high-end offerings, the HF20 didn't exactly knock our socks off and the Canon Legria HF200 is in the same unfortunate boat. While there's nothing especially wrong with its video performance, it lacks the marked leap in quality we have come to expect from each new generation. In fact, when compared to 2008's Canon HF11, it could be argued that the HF200 has actually taken a turn for the worse. For one thing, the Canon HF11 had a larger 1/3in CMOS sensor that did a good job of combating noise. The Legria HF200 seemed to have a tougher time in our low-light tests, with grainy footage ruling the day.
But we're being a bit unfair here. When compared to almost any non-Canon camcorder on the market, the Canon Legria HF200 acquits itself incredibly well. Colours were rich and vibrant; especially in optimum lighting, while images remained consistently sharp throughout testing. With a Full HD resolution of 1080p, the Canon Legria HF200 is tailor-made for playback on HDTV. We previewed our footage on a Samsung Series 8 (UA46B8000) LED TV and didn't notice any obvious aberrations. Provided you stick to natural daylight, the Legria HF200 will rival almost anything on the market.
Canon has also seen fit to include a stills mode, but at 3 megapixels, its output is barely suitable for regular-sized prints. If you're looking for a hybrid device, you'll need to plum for something a little more expensive, such as the 10-megapixel Sony Handycam HDR-SR12. (For what it's worth, the auto mode did a good job of keeping things focused and properly exposed.)
The Canon Legria HF200 comes with a reasonable array of options for hands-on users. Shutter speed, exposure and aperture (from f/1.8 to f/8.0) can all be adjusted manually. For menu navigation, Canon has doggedly stuck to a miniature joystick; located on the outer lip of the LCD. We feel it's only a matter of time before Canon succumbs to the lure of the touch screen, so if you prefer a traditional interface - get it while you still can!
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