Saturday, November 12, 2011

Using Canon Legria HF R16

So, my good old FLIP camcorder broke and I picked up a Canon on sale. Thus I present: Notes on the joys and horrors of using a Canon Legria HF R16 camcorder on Linux and Mac. Practical notes and first impressions, mostly. Probably useful for most Canon camcorder models.

Believe it or not: I asked the two people working in my local camera shop if Canon camcorders worked well with Macs. They looked horrified at me, assured me Macs were nothing but trouble and that neither Canon nor JVC or any other brand would work with Macs or Linux. Of course it works (more or less) with both systems, of course it's fool proof on the Mac.

Unpacking and shooting

One's low expectations go nowhere as the package reveals the camera, a couple of cables and some CDs. Because the cables are the least you can expect, the CDs contain some PDF manuals and some - you guessed it - Windows-only software (Pixela). You'll have read what's worth reading in the printed manual long before the battery has charged.

Basic settings are set from three resolutions ("LW" 1920x1080 aka 16:9 format in 1080p, "L" 1600x1200 and "S" 640x480 both being 4:3 format) in "Normal" (grainy), "Fine" or "Super Fine" (sharp) quality and four levels of picture quality ("Long Play" 5 Mbps, "Standard Play" 7 Mbps, "XP+" 12 Mbps and "FXP" 17 Mbps) - that's 36 possible combinations already. Then there is also nine specialized settings ("Portrait", "Low light" etc), something called "Cine" mode, three specialized white balance settings beside the automatic plus some digital and image effects settings. That's a lot of possible settings just on this low end model - plus, of course, the everything "AUTO" setting.

Exciting...

Using it with Linux: The resolution settings are fishy

The camera mounts as read-only USB "stick". Open with a file browser (Dolphin, Konqueror, whatever) and find the recorded clips in CANON > AVCHD > BDMV > STREAM. Unfortunately, WYSI-not-WYG.

Apparently, all format settings produce *.MTS files of 1440x1080 pixels (4:3)! Where did the pixels go? If you can create a 1920x1080 pixels clip after import with Canon software on Windows - where do the extra pixels come from? Are they what the magical Windows-only software can do?

Might not be entirely cheating because the settings do appear to result in files of some difference in file size and there are some other weird files on the memory card. As usual: Avidemux can re-encode the clips to any other format.

Using it with Mac and iMovie

iMovie detects the camcorder as you connect it with USB and start an import program that lets you select which clips to transfer to which projects. Very easy. It then converts all 50 fps clips to 25 fps. Very annoying. But of course, other geeks have already worked out a very simple hack for allowing iMovie to handle both 25 and 50 fps clips. Let me guess: Apple has some other, more expensive program that will do the same at an exorbitant price?

Anyway both "L" 1600x1200 and "S" 640x480 result in imported clips of 1440x1080 pixels (encoded in "icod" which cannot be viewed in VLC). However, the "LW" 1920x1080 does yield clips that actually are - fanfare - 1920 by 1080 pixels. The people at Apple have probably paid Canon for the privilege of performing this magic.

Conclusion

If you know more than I do about this, please comment! I guess video clips in some cases are like sausages and politics...
"To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making."
Either way my videos should drastically improve from now on. Compared to the FLIP the Canon offers much better optics, settings (portrait, low light etc.) for special recording situations and (obviously) better specifications on pretty much every other parameter. Except battery time which amazingly appears to be little more than an hour.