Canon HV20 HDV Camcorder Review

The Mini Canon

With so many HD camcorders hitting the market, it may seem to be an overwhelming decision to narrow your choice down to one. Thankfully, Canon has come out with the HV20 HDV camcorder, which may just be the lifeboat you need to stay afloat in a sea of options. The remarkable picture quality, combined with its 24P capability, makes it a truly appealing pick for point-and-shoot consumers.

A Handful

Traditionally, a camera that can capture 24P is a two-handed, few-thousand-dollar beast of a machine. Canon now delivers it in a camera that fits nicely into the palm of one hand. The HV20 is easy to operate, with convenient hand controls for focus, zoom, exposure and back light correction, and a nice little video light. Like the HV10, it takes some time to get comfortable with the hand strap that seems a bit clumsy at first. Canon put together a solid camera weighing in at just about a pound and a half, which makes it easier to perform long-duration shooting.


With picture quality becoming more and more sophisticated, it seems that the biggest differences between pro- and consumer-level cameras are the features. With this in mind, Canon comes close to bridging the two with its 24P mode and some impressive instant focus, advanced stabilization, exposure and image control features. With the function button conveniently located on the back, where your right thumb rests, you are able to switch easily through numerous presets when the camera is set on record program mode. The ability to manually adjust the exposure is a valuable tool. Canon also gives HV20 users more control from such presets as aperture priority to cine mode (which does a fairly decent job of adjusting the gamma curves for a look that is more like film) to beach and night modes, which produce quality footage in almost every situation.

Another impressive feature that really makes this camera stand out in such a big way is the focus. In both manual and auto focus modes, the HV20 scores high marks in our testing. In manual control, you are able to use a dial ring on the left side near the lens to adjust focus. It works moderately well, but the extra juice Canon squeezed in comes with the focus assist button located on the stop button in the LCD playback controls. When you press this, the center of your screen is magnified, giving you a closer look for fine-tuning focus. The instant AF feature is just as impressive. When focus is set to auto, Canon’s instant auto focus works very quickly, and delivers sharp results.

The other striking achievement Canon has put into the HV20 is the super range optical image stabilization (OIS) that reduces shaky footage. Though the system works very well, keep in mind that it is aimed at reducing the natural shakiness produced by just holding a camera.

As with most camcorders, the HV20 comes with the still photo option. Images are recorded onto a flash memory card that can hold a good number of pictures, depending on what resolution you use to capture your images. The highest resolution is 2048×1536, which equals 10 photos on a 32MB memory card or 140 pictures at 640×480 on a 32MB card. The camera is also equipped with a flash for taking still shots.

Capturing quality audio on the HV20 is another benefit that Canon has included on the HV20 to help videographers take their work to the next level. Besides a decent onboard mic, the HV20 also is equipped with an accessory shoe on top of the camera that enables you to attach higher-quality microphones, such as a boom or omni mic. The HV20 does not have an XLR plug-in, but instead it uses a mini 1/8″ mic jack.

Looks Do Matter

As the game to equip cameras with more sophisticated features increases, it may come down to just the quality of the picture you are looking for. Extensive testing in various lighting conditions shows us that the HV20 really is a Goliath in a world of David-sized camcorders. The HV20 is equipped with a 1/2.7 ” CMOS chip that enables it to capture images with stunning detail. The HV20 also handles its auto white balance very well, creating a picture that isn’t oversaturated, like many cameras of similar caliber produce. As with oversaturation, most consumer camcorders artificially heighten the detail sharpness in an attempt to create better-looking detail. This can be, and often is, overdone to a point that makes the footage look amateurish and fake. The HV20 also comes with a handful of color presets to help aid in getting rich, full color quality in different lighting conditions. In addition to manual white balance mode, the HV20 also has fluorescent, tungsten, cloudy, shade and daylight settings. Another interesting group of presets is image effect settings, such as skin detail, vivid and low sharpening to create a distinct and specific look.


The overall impression of this video camera is one that captures a beautiful image with easy-to-use controls and record settings. The menus and submenus are neatly organized and effortless to use. Switching to shutter priority mode and changing white balance to night mode were easy navigations, with no noticeable hassle. The HV20’s ease of use is perfect for consumer shooters. In addition, the 24P HDV mode gives this camera an edge over its competitors with more advanced shooters. The low-light image quality is quite good, and the clarity and crispness of the image are fantastic. Priced at about $1,100, this camera is aimed at the point-and-shoot user who wants to learn what HDV and prosumer videography can be all about – and it delivers.


Format: Mini DV

Image Sensor: 1/2.7″ CMOS sensor

Video Effective Pixels: 2,070,000 in 16:9
1,550,000 in 4:3

Interchangeable Lenses: No

Lens f-stop: 1.8-3.0

Optical Zoom: 10x

Digital Zoom: 200x

Focal Length: 6.1-61mm

Filter Diameter: 43mm

Focus Auto: (instant AF) /Manual

Iris Control: Auto, manual

Shutter Speed: Auto, manual

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/2000

Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/8

Image Stabilization: Super range optical Stabilization system

Internal ND Filter: No

Program Exposure Modes: 8

Manual White Balance: Yes

Zebra Stripes: Yes

Viewfinder: Color .27″
200K pixels (16:9)

LCD Monitor: Color 2.7″
123K pixels (16:9)

Progressive Scan: Yes

HD Modes: HDV

Video In: Yes

Video Out: Composite, component, FireWire HDMI

Color Bar: Generator No

Audio Modes: Stereo

Microphone In: Yes, 1/8″ mini mic

VU Meter: Yes

Manual: Audio

Level Controls: Yes

Headphone Jack: Yes, dual-purpose
AV terminal

Speaker: Yes

Wireless Remote: Yes

External Battery
Charger Provided: No

Battery Type: Lithium Ion

Form Factor: Standard, horizontal

Tape Loading Config: Side

Onboard Video Light: Yes

Accessory Shoe: Yes


  • 24P
  • Easy menu navigation
  • Good color reproduction and image detail


  • Hand strap is awkward
  • Manual focus dial is small


The Canon HV20 is an easy-to-use camera with good image quality and true 24P, which really separates it from the pack.

Nick Strayer is a professional videographer and
commercial producer.

Canon USA, Inc.

One Canon Plaza

Lake Success, NY 11042


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