Ghostly Activities took the Canon Vixia HF R800 full-spectrum camcorder to Preston Castle (Ione, CA) to test how it would work during a ghost hunt. Our review on its usability, video quality and audio quality follows.
Canon Vixia HF R800 Full-Spectrum Camcorder Test Conditions
Watch the Canon Vixia HF R800 Full-Spectrum Camcorder at Preston Castle
Ghostly Activities teamed up with AGHOST to investigate Preston Castle (Ione, CA) on July 7, 2018. One major factor was poor lighting. The investigation required the lights turned off. Inside the castle, the site had very long halls, high ceilings and large rooms. This would need the camcorder to adjust to low light conditions in really big rooms–a tough task. If you play the video, you’ll see us approach and enter the dormitory on the second floor. The dormitory is about 50-feet by 70-feet. This would obviously be difficult for any camcorder, especially without an external light. Luckily, we had a wide-angle infrared light.
Besides large, dark rooms, there would be open windows, thick walls and multiple investigators walking around on three floors. The audio would likely become polluted with background noise and echos. On top of that, there were bats and owls flying around inside. We were not sure how the built-in microphone would deal with bat sonar. However, we had a Zoom H1n Handy Recorder available.
Another reason would be battery life. The investigation ran more than 4 hours and the battery needed a direct power connection to charge. Many camcorders record for 30 minutes-to-2 hours on a single charge. We wouldn’t have a chance to charge the camcorder’s battery while we investigated.
Now, on to the review…
This section deals with setting up the camcorder. There are many settings to adjust, so we’ll just focus on the ones you’d use on a ghost hunt. You can easily change the setting from the LCD. Most of the symbols match icons you normally see on other cameras and camcorders, plus there’s text descriptions. It’s a fast learning curve. It’s intuitive, so we didn’t have any complaints on learning how to use it. There’s also a series of managed settings based on the use case, like action for sports.
Note: Jake uses Canon digital cameras, so the icons were familiar to him.
Camcorder Video Quality
Overall, the quality was fine. We set ours to 17Mbps, which is HD quality (720p). On the LCD, the images seemed crisp, but it was different on a larger screen. There was a bit of grain (haziness) on larger screens. If you watch the video on full screen, you’ll notice the ‘dullness’ to the video. If you intend to have short clips (less than 5 minutes) on the Web, then this setting should work just fine. I’d size the video to the default YouTube size settings (560×315) and it will look just fine.
The camcorder doesn’t have a light source built-in like other camcorders. You’ll have to bring an external light to work in low-light situations. This means you’ll need a rig. There are no mounts on the camcorder to attach a light or microphone.
We went with many of the defaults for this investigation. It included Auto, which controlled much of the settings you see in the video above. You can use SCN (Scene) or P (Programmed AE) to change brightness, focus, aperture and shutter speed. We’ll use those for later ghost hunts. The AUTO setting was fine for our investigation and it handled the rapid movement on our hunts.
If you want to take a picture, just tap the camera icon in the lower-left of the LCD.
Camcorder Audio Quality
We had some complaints about audio, more so for accessories than the built-in microphone. There weren’t many settings for audio. You can plug your headphones in to listen along with the video in real-time, which is nice. Overall, the audio quality was fine and as long as you spoke in a direct line to the microphone. The mic did a decent job with ambient sounds, however, it didn’t pick up EVPs captured on the Zoom H1n Handy Recorder, nor the bats chirping (Note: Bat sonar sounds like a twangy guitar note on recorders).
If you listen to the video, my voice was very clear and the creaking from the stairs and floor were also clear. Sounds outside the immediate area did not get recorded, like music from a party down the street and random cars driving by. You can set the camcorder’s audio for speech under Main Functions from the menu. We also used the default audio settings for this test.
Originally, we planned to use a Rode mic with the camcorder, but it didn’t work. You have to use a separate power source for external mics. That means you can’t just jack in the mic. The Vixia doesn’t power external mics like other common camcorders. This information wasn’t available in the Quick Guide.
Camcorder Battery Life
This was a pleasant surprise. It lasted for the full 4-hour investigation. We think it deals with our recording settings (17Mbps) and lack of an external light. This is a good thing because you have to charge the battery by using a micro USB charger. If you’re running around a haunt, stopping to charge a battery is a major drawback.
We don’t really have any complaints on the battery life. Just keep your video quality at 17Mbps for longer recording sessions. The higher resolutions will drin your battery within 2.5 hours.
Ghostly Activities’ Take
All things considered for these difficult conditions, this camcorder worked well. The price ($375) is a bit high, but our unit was made to order. You could buy the standard (not full-spectrum version) for $220, but you’d need an external light. As for video quality, the auto-focus introduced a lot of gain into the picture, but it was able to focus under poor lighting conditions and with full-spectrum light. You’ll need an external light if you go lights-out during the investigation. The audio quality was decent for a tiny microphone, but it’s unfortunate that external microphones need their own power supply to work. Many standard camcorders in this class supply power to external mics, however, many ghost hunters will use a different, and more sensitive, audio recorder. This may not be an inconvenience for them. Lastly, the battery life was very good: We got about 4 hours of recording time, but we did record at lower resolution than the defaults.
Overall, we recommend the product, if you have the funds to buy it. If that price is too steep, go with the standard version, and spend $25 for a Neewer LED light and $15 for a dual shoe mount.
Camcorder Rig Used By Ghostly Activities
After the test, we went back and experimented with different rigs to find something that would work on a hunt. The gallery below shows how we’d set up the camcorder for future ghost hunts. The equipment includes:
- Canon Vixia camcorder
- Zoom H1n Handy Recorder with Zoom-specific hot mount
- Wide-angle infrared light
- Dual universal shoe mount
Here’s the rig gallery:
Jacob ‘Jake’ Rice has always loved ghosts and scary stories. When he’s not being a tech nerd for work, he’s the gadget guy on the team. He hunts ghosts, spirits and other paranormal entities in Seattle and the Puget Sound area.