Canon Legria HV40 HDV video camera

A feature-packed high-definition camcorder that records to (gasp!) MiniDV tape

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Canon Legria HV40
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Superb 1080i video quality, good low-light performer, plenty of advanced features and controls

Cons

  • Slightly fiddly control scheme, limitations of MiniDV

Bottom Line

The Canon Legria HV40 must surely be the HDV format’s last hurrah in the consumer sector -- and what a send-off it is! If you’re keen to stick with MiniDV, you won’t find a better camcorder than this.

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The Canon Legria HV40 is a high-end HDV camcorder that records in the MiniDV format. It’s essentially a tweaked version of last year’s Canon HV30 with some minor extras thrown in, including native 24p recording and a multipurpose Custom Key on the side of the lens barrel. As product refreshes go, it’s pretty nominal stuff — which makes the $250 markup more than a bit cheeky. Nevertheless, if you require a tape-based camcorder for serious videography, the Canon Legria HV40 is unquestionably the best performer on the market.

So why go HDV? We have to admit; we were a little surprised to see the Legria HV40 in Canon’s 2009 camcorder line-up. Most vendors have turned their backs on the sturdy workhorse that made their fortunes, with consumers all too eager to embrace newer technology. (Indeed, the HV40 has just one serious rival in the consumer space: Sony’s HDR-HC9.) However, before you shriek and whinny at the thought of using a tape-based camcorder, there are a few points to consider.

Despite being the oldest high-def video format, HDV more than holds its own when it comes to image quality; in fact, it’s often superior to AVCHD due to its higher bit rate (25 megabits per second vs. 16-24Mbps) and fewer compression artefacts. HDV is also more widely supported by editing programs and will offer a smoother ride on older PCs. You don’t have to worry about the format becoming obsolete either: MiniDV tapes will continue to be manufactured long after compatible camcorders have disappeared from the shelves (hell, you can still buy analog Super 8 tapes from most supermarkets). While MiniDV tapes will only store around 90 minutes of HD video, they’re a lot cheaper than removable flash memory.

But there is, of course, a downside. MiniDV is a lot less convenient than the inbuilt hard drives and removable flash memory found in most modern camcorders. In addition to being fiddly and cumbersome, you have to transfer footage to your computer in real time (i.e. you can’t simply drag and drop files). On top of this, you may end up looking like a big antiquated ninny, which is never a good thing. Still, if you can get past these notable deficiencies, you’ll find an excellent camcorder in the Canon Legria HV40. It truly does produce some of the best video on the market.

The Canon Legria HV40’s core specifications are identical to its HV30 predecessor, with the same DigicDV II processor, 3.1-megapixel CMOS sensor and 10x optical zoom lens. All of the same modes and features have also been carried over, including a comprehensive suite of manual options. Unlike some of its flash memory equivalents, the Legria HV40 is much more than a point-and-shoot camcorder. The inclusion of a manual servo ring will be especially prized amongst serious videographers — it allows you to make minute adjustments to focus and exposure for perfect video.

To test the Canon Legria HV40, we shot video in a variety of environments and lighting conditions, before playing the footage back on a Pioneer KURO PDP-C509A307112 plasma TV. As expected, Canon has pulled another winner out of its hat with the HV40, which performed just as well as its illustrious predecessor. Colours were bright and accurate, especially outdoors, while images remained razor-sharp and full of detail in all but the dimmest environments. We were particularly impressed by the HV40’s performance in low-light conditions, with less image noise than we are typically used to. (This is courtesy of an enlarged 1/2.7in CMOS sensor.)

The Canon Legria HV40’s video performance is impeccable, yet it handled a little awkwardly during operation. The shape simply didn’t feel right in our hands, with some of the controls difficult to locate by touch. While Canon has begun to embrace touch-screen LCDs with its recent camcorder offerings, the Legria HV40 sticks with a traditional joystick interface. (This has nothing to do with the HV40’s adherence to MiniDV — Sony was flogging a tape-based camcorder with an inbuilt touch screen almost 10 years ago).

But these are relatively minor quibbles. If you require HD video in the MiniDV format, you won’t find a better camcorder than the Canon Legria HV40. Get it, before the chance disappears forever.

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