Canon VIXIA HF S20
In the past couple of years, digital camcorder manufacturers have successfully taken high-definition recording to the consumers. Now, these consumers have another reason to enjoy their large HDTVs by plugging in these high-end camcorders to the TV via HDMI cable. Viewing these videos is nicer compared to the video quality of traditional models, leaving very little room for improvement for future models. Canon knows that and didn’t even bother upgrading the lens or the CMOS sensor in their latest lineup of flagship products. What they did focus on instead is the usability in order to stay strong in the competition. The Canon VIXIA HF S20 boasts better usability for a slightly lower price, keeping the best features intact.
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Design and Interface
Just by looking at the camcorder, the Canon HF S20 looks to be a minor upgrade to the VIXIA HF S10 model introduced last year. It is not designed to replace the S10 just yet, but it still has some interesting additions with the most notable being the larger 3.5-inch touch screen LCD display. This addition doesn’t really make the camcorder much heavier or larger either since the removal of the buttons on the previous model allowed the screen to expand. Only one button remains which happens to be another new feature called the Powered IS. Once the LCD panel is open, all of the other controls can be accessed, including the familiar Video Snap and Display buttons.
Another major change can be seen on the back of the camera where the mode dial is completely replaced by an extendable electronic viewfinder for precision recording. The mode dial is replaced with a simple Auto/Manual mode switch which is now found on the right side just about the strap. The hand strap still possesses its comfortable merits, making this a recommended choice for prolonged recording sessions. Finally, the top of the camera is where the power button is located along with the photo shutter button and zoom toggle.
The comfortable strap isn’t the only reason why the Canon VIXIA HF S20 is best for recording hours of video in a single session. The S20 is packed with more storage options than ever with 2 SD memory card slots and an internal 32 GB flash drive. Although the 10x zoom is weaker than the newer M21 model, the recording potential is much better, thanks to the extra card slots and Relay Recording technology.
Without any SD or SDHC cards inserted, the S20 can already record up to 3 hours of high definition video in the best and smoothest quality possible. Over 12 hours of recording time can be achieved in the same built-in memory if the LP mode is used. By inserting 2 additional 32 GB SDHC cards, the recording time is literally tripled, all without consuming valuable battery power.
The CMOS sensor is similar to the older model as well, but the Dynamic SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization gets a nice upgrade for people who are fond of maxing out the zoom settings. At telephoto focal lengths, the Powered IS button can be held down to further stabilize the recording.
A few other worthy improvements were made to better make use of the Canon DIGIC DV III Image Processor. The color accuracy problems haven’t been fixed, but the low light sensitivity is much better and the motion and sharpness performance stays strong and is backed up with several frame rate options including a 24p mode.
The Smart Auto is another welcome technology which combines the face recognition technology introduced in the previous model with other enhancements that improve the quality of the surrounding environment by applying the correct scene settings automatically.
One of the downsides of the S20 is its inability to record standard definition video. However, videos can still be shared easily, thanks to the support of down-converting HD videos to SD videos. If an Eye-Fi SD memory card is inserted, videos and photos can be uploaded to a number of sharing sites without the need of a computer. The Advanced Video Snapshot feature is also web-friendly, allowing short highlight clips to be recorded and then enhanced using background music.
The S10 was already a nice camcorder to begin with, but the Canon VIXIA HF S20 fixes some of its flaws while adding a nice touchscreen interface. It isn’t perfect when it comes to overall image quality, but it provides enough flexibility in options and storage to make this worth the $1100 price tag.
More user reviews:
• “The LCD panel is gorgeous. It’s a mini HD monitor. It’s a touch panel that works. You can control everything from exposure, focus, aperture, shutter speed, video gain, and more. What’s really cool is the Touch and Track feature. Say you have someone or something (works on objects too) that you want to keep in focus and property expose- just touch the person or thing on the LCD and a box forms around it. It’s so sensitive you can touch someone’s eye and the camera puts focus priority on the eye, vs the nose. This even works with my dog. Really impressed by that.
As for ease of use, the Auto mode is exactly that. Turn it on, point it and record. The camera is very intelligent and almost always selects the best settings for your subject. This is perfect for someone that doesn’t really know a ton about photography/videography but wants to be able to capture life’s precious moments. For more advanced users, there are various settings that will give you hours of fun playing with.
It has a pop-up video light which works well in a pinch. The hot shoe allows for more sophisticated lights and mics.
One gripe I do have is the battery performance. True, the LCD eats power, but come on, the standard battery only lasts 40-50 mins tops. Canon should include a larger capacity battery. Canon should also include a wall charger so when you shell out more money for a bigger battery, you can charge that while still using your beautiful camcorder.
So, to sum up, you will not be disappointed with the quality and ease of use of this camera. Make sure you get a bigger battery and getting a Hoya filter to protect your HD lens is a great idea.” – Andrew Clapp(Auburn,WA,USA)
• “Cannon HF S20 – amazes in many ways. Crisp HD Quality and amazing sound clarity as well. Awesome in daylight shoots. Definitely improved LOW light shoots – from older 2009 models. Powered IS does a great Job in reducing handycam shakes. The Cannons AUTO Settings sShoot works like a charm. And great TOUCH Screen-at last- from Cannon. The 8 MP Photo’s were OK, but I guess thats an acceptable quality. Has lot of Manual Controls to play and experiment with. After lot of research on Sonys and Cannon’s 2010 Models I was pretty pleased with this one. I had an Sony earlier and was a bit skeptical as well as SONY is known for G-Lens Wide shoot and LOW Quality results but I think Cannons CMOS does a great uplift here. Cannon’s had been iffy on Low Light shoots and this Model shows a great facelift.” – Ravindra Singh(Atlanta,GA)
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