Canon VIXIA HG21 HD Camcorder Review

Load Up Your Canon!

Canon’s new VIXIA HG21 is a high-definition hard-disk-drive powerhouse, with 120GB of hard-drive space and a ton of exclusive Canon-only features. Prosumers rejoice: the HG21 is the perfect fit for family events, weddings and entry-level professional videography. At $1,300, the HG21 is a welcome addition to the HDD library.

How Does It Look?

Capturing 1920×1080 high definition, the HG21 provides a ton of space to play in with its 120GB hard drive. Not only that, it offers up to 45 hours and 15 minutes of recording time in LP mode! And it still looks good, capturing 1440×1080 resolution. Videographers are also able to record up to 11 hours and 5 minutes in MXP mode, which captures video at 1920×1080 resolution.

The 12x HD lens offers breathtaking video that we found looked great even when zooming in from far distances. We liked that Canon offered three different levels of zoom control, to ensure clean-looking movement. The digital zoom is very powerful at 200x. Remarkably, it stayed very sharp and didn’t get too shaky until close to the 200x mark. The SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization manages to handle the task very well, even under extremely harsh movement. The DIGIC DV II Image Processor adds advanced color reproduction in dark and light scenes, as well as skin tones.


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Autofocus responds quickly to motion and didn’t seem to lose much image detail, even under the shakier conditions. Canon calls the quick reaction time of the autofocus the Instant AF. This works by using an external sensor to find light more quickly, to reduce focus lag time. The HG21 also has a peaking option, which helps to focus images by using an outline defining what you should focus on. Manually, adjusting the focus and exposure took a little longer than we expected, and it seemed that the toggle made things more confusing. Toggling down took us through the options: up let us make our selection, and left and right were the adjustments. It didn’t feel as intuitive as the rest of the camera.

The mic found its home just under the lens. We were pleasantly surprised to find that, in test after test, our audio ended up sounding very clear and picked up very well. Even from fifteen feet away, we still heard our subjects talking almost as well as we did from four feet away. Plugging in the mic left us with even better-sounding clips.

Canon also provides the option of capturing video on an SDHC memory card. We thought this was a good prospect for viewing clips right away, since all we had to do was insert our memory card into a computer. Since you get only 35 minutes of captured video per 2GB-memory card, we recommend that you capture the majority of your clips on the hard drive. The HG21 offers impressive color saturation, due to the CMOS image sensor. Unique to Canon is the noise-reduction technology that maintains quality in low-light shooting conditions. We liked how our photos came out at the 3.1-megapixel size. Canon brings an element of the digital camera world into the HG21 with the display of a histogram as you take each photo. This gives you the option to adjust exposure as you shoot, based on a graph that displays how much brightness you are exposing your subject to. The Grid Marker feature helps you compose your shot by lining up the image to the grid. We were also able to capture still frames during video playback – an exclusive to Canon.

Size It

It’s small, comfortable and very pretty. The HG21 clocks in at a meek 1.1 pounds and fits like a glove. Unlike on most HDD camcorders, the power button resides just on top of the viewfinder. The battery pack attaches to the back, and the hot shoe sits on top. The toggle, which stands just right of the battery pack, controls all of our functions. The HDMI, A/V and component cable outputs all land on the right side of the camera, as does the mic input. The light makes its home next to the lens and sits just under a flash. The USB output and SDHC card slot lie on the inside of the LCD. We liked the 211,000-pixel 2.7-inch widescreen LCD. This was where we found our menu, the gatekeeper for most of our functions, including the presets: portrait, sports, night, snow, beach, sunset, spotlight and fireworks. Here too are the standard Canon shutter options, including AE (Automatic Exposure), P (Programmed Automatic Exposure), TV (Shutter Priority Automatic Exposure) and AV (Aperture Priority Automatic Exposure). We found the menu itself very easy to navigate, and it turned out to be very intuitive. The HG21 comes with a battery pack; power adaptor; wireless controller; component, USB and stereo video cables; Digital Video Solution and Pixela ImageMixer 3 SE editing software.

That’s a Wrap

Canon’s VIXIA HG21 fits in a jacket pocket, weighs 1.1 pounds and gives meaning to the term “good things come in small packages.” The VIXIA HG21 is a very impressive camera that handles well and feels very nice. It’s easy to work with and even easier to capture impressive HD video with. It’s a great entry-level prosumer camera that meets the requirements of both high-quality capture and high-quality comfort. Very innovative and fun to play with, too!


Format: AVCHD, 120GB HD, SDHC

Image Sensor: 1/3.2″ CMOS sensor, RGB primary color filter

Video Effective Pixels: Video: approx. 2.07; megapixels (1920×1080); still image: approx. 2.76; megapixels (1920×1440)

Interchangeable Lenses: No

Optical Zoom: 12x optical/200x digital

Focal Length: f4.8 – 57mm

Zoom Speed: Variable/3 fixed zoom speeds

Max f-Stop: f1.8 – 3mm

Manual White Balance: Yes

LCD Monitor: 2.7″ multi-angle vivid widescreen LCD (approx. 211,000 pixels)

Video In: No

Video Out: AV cord (S-video, composite, stereo RCA), USB port

Progressive Scan: No

Microphone In: Yes

Headphone Jack: No

Speaker: Yes

Wireless Remote: Yes

Battery Charger: External charger provided

Battery Type: Lithium ion

On-Board Video Light: Yes

Accessory Shoe: Mini advanced

Dimensions: 3.1″Wx3.0″Hx5.5″W (80x77x139mm)

White Balance: Daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, auto, manual

Recording Media: Internal hard-disk drive (120GB) or SD/SDHC memory card

Programmed AE: Auto, program, AV, TV, cinema, portrait, sports, night, snow, beach, sunset, spotlight, fireworks


  • Extremely user-friendly
  • Great picture quality
  • 45 hours of shooting time


  • Manual controls difficult to control, due to toggle


The VIXIA HG21 is ultimately a very easy-to-use, highly-advanced and very intelligent camera. It can fit the needs of almost any type of shooter and produces great HD-quality video.

Tom Skowronski is Videomaker‘s Associate Editor.

Canon USA, Inc.

One Canon Plaza

Lake Success, NY 11042


The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.