Canon Vixia Camcorder Review : Vixia HF20

A Tiny Canon

It’s hard to imagine that something so small can pack in this much technology. This reminds us of the differences in portable stereo technology in the eighties (very big shoulder-mounted) and today (iPods). The truth is that camcorders have been heading in the same direction, and few are more impressive than Canon’s VIXIA HF20. It’s the perfect lightweight consumer shooter for those looking to make impressive video and shoot HD.

The Bang and the Buck

When the F20 first arrived in our offices and we pulled it out of the box, we thought it felt more like a very big new cellphone, rather than a lightweight HD shooter. It weighs in at a whimpering 12 ounces. And it stands 2.4″ with width of 2.8″ and depth of 4.9″. This means that this one is easy to carry, can be held in a purse and in general has the feel of a thick digital still camera. It’s impressive to think of the 15x HD video lens, which sits up front. How can something so small capture video that looks so good? The answer lies in Canon’s exclusive 3.89-megapixel HD CMOS image sensor. According to Canon, this CMOS sensor prevents quality reduction from video noise and shooting in low lighting conditions. In our tests, we shot some video in a dimly-lit closet, and indeed the video came through clearly, and we were still able to notice color separation and detail.

The on-board light neighbors the lens and is probably one of the brighter LEDs we have ever seen, to the point that it can give off the deer-in-the-headlights look to the subjects being shot. It’s very good at lighting up a darker scene, and having a light that is almost too powerful is always better than having one that is too weak. The battery pack sits at the back end, next to the mic input, component and DC plugs. The mini accessory shoe finds its home directly on top of the back end, instead of the middle, and HDMI and USB jacks hide under the strap on the right-hand side. We like that the jacks nestled under the strap, since they stay protected and out of the way. Opening up the 2.7″ LCD reveals a covered SD/SDHC card slot, the Video Snap Shot button and the AV output/headphone jack. The camera comes with USB, component, AV, a wrist strap and charger. Pixela’s ImageMixer 3SE software is also included to do some basic AVCHD conversions and disc burning.

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A Small Operation

At first, the extremely small size of the HF20 can throw shooters for a loop, but we discovered that, once we got used to the feel of such a lightweight camera, we began to like the ease with which we could grab tricky high- and low-angle shots, which we couldn’t do with a regular-size shooter.

The VIXIA HF20 packs in a very impressive 12 hours of shooting time, with the help of its 32GB internal memory and the use of an SDHC card. Just think about that for a moment: a full day of shooting HD, powered by what looks like a small camcorder accessory!

Video Snapshot Mode is another impressive feature, exclusive to Canon. It allows cinemaniacs to shoot short movie clips in the same nature that they would shoot still pictures with a SLR camera. Essentially, this means taking four seconds of video and then beginning a new clip. This allows shooters to quickly grab descriptive shots, instead of long boring ones. Canon also provides 10 music tracks that we promptly used, setting the shorts to the beat. Before we knew it, we had just completely edited our own video, set to music with a multitude of shots without ever sitting down at a computer! Other impressive features were the face detection technology, augmented Auto Exposure system and the 3.89-megapixel CMOS image sensor combined with Canon’s DIGIC DV III image processor.

Toss It Over

Years ago, the VHS-C camcorder was the latest and greatest technology to hit the market. It was a very big handheld camera, and VHS-C tapes could only store 30 minutes of video. Compare that to the beautiful HD quality found in Canon’s VIXIA HF20! And the HF20 can also fit inside a jacket pocket or a purse. In addition, it can record video for an entire day! Oh my, how far we’ve come. Canon’s VIXIA HF20 is a reflection of that movement. This is the perfect camera for family vacations, weddings and sporting events. For places that you couldn’t get with a handheld camera, you have a much better chance with the HF20. Small, sleek and sharp. This is Canon at its best… and smallest!


TECH SPECS

Recording Media: 32GB internal flash memory, 1 SD SDHC card slot

Data Format: AVCHD (1080i)

Image Sensor: One 1/4″ CMOS, 3.89 million pixels/sensor gross, 2.99 million pixels/sensor effective

Lens

Interchangeable Lenses: No

f-Stop: f/1.8

Optical Zoom Power: 15x

Focal Length: 4.1-65mm

Filter Diameter: 37mm

Focus: Auto/manual (menu)

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/2000

Image Stabilization: Optical

Internal ND Filter: No

Video Features

Manual Shutter Speed Control: Yes

White Balance Control: Auto, manual, preset

Direct Iris/Gain Control: Yes (Aperture-priority AE)

Zebra Stripes: No

Viewfinder: No

LCD Monitor: 2.7″, 16:9 aspect ratio

Frame Rate Modes: 60i, 24p

HD Focus Assist: Magnification

Face Detect: Yes

Color Bar Generator: No

Audio Features

Audio Modes: Dolby Digital Stereo

Standard Mic Input: 1/8″

VU Meters: Yes, on-screen display

Level Controls: In menu

Headphone Jack: Yes

Speaker: Yes

Video Input/Output

Analog Video In: No

Analog Video Out:Composite, component

FireWire In/Out: No

Analog to DV Conversion: N/A

USB (for Video File Transfer): Yes

Other Digital Video Out: HDMI

Miscellaneous

Wireless Remote: Yes

Battery Charging:On camcorder

Form Factor: Standard

Media Loading Orientation: Side

Onboard Video Light: LED

Accessory Shoe: Yes, Mini Advanced Shoe

Strengths

  • Tiny
  • 15x HD video lens
  • Video Snap Shot Mode

Weaknesses

  • Some users may want more weight to their cameras
  • Manual focus through menu

SUMMARY

The biggest little consumer camera around, perfect for family and event shoots.

Tom Skowronski is Videomaker‘s Associate Editor

Canon USA

1 Canon Plz.

New Hyde Park, NY 11042

www.usa.canon.com

Price: $900

Canon VIXIA HF20 Manual

View the Manual for the Canon VIXIA HF20.

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