Canon VIXIA HF S21 HD Camcorder Review

We remove the VIXIA HF S21 from the box and find its compact yet beefy build gives a professional feeling immediately. The VIXIA HF S21 appears to break away from the pack with its sleek body design, manual focus, revolutionary instant auto focus, massive storage capabilities and HD format. The lens is always an important primary detail, and the VIXIA HF S21 won’t disappoint with its large lens and manual focus. Fully equipped with all the audio and video outputs for even the broadcast pro, this camera comes loaded, including the ability to attach lens accessories. We were impressed before it was even turned on.

Powering on the camera leads to fingers running across the feature-rich camera body with satisfaction. Canon spared no expense on buttons, dials and switches with this VIXIA HF S21. Component out, two SD memory slots, HDMI out and an 8-megapixel snapshot function starts us off in the right direction for a great camera.

Gently fastening the petite battery to the VIXIA HF S21 for the first time leaves one sad, as the battery is packaged with no charge. Locating the DC input may also be a challenge, yet spend a moment looking over this beauty, and any camera operator can soon find the connection tucked elegantly beneath a tiny foldaway flap.

Let the Shooting Commence

Now it is time to see if this camera can live up to its outward appearance. With its handy pullout viewfinder and its crystal clear 3.5″ touch-panel LCD screen, which may both be active at the same time, this camera seems to more than meet the expectations. Running through all its operations, the camera performs well. The focus is crisp and clear, as one would expect from Canon. Canon boasts of a revolutionary Instant Auto Focus, and we can gladly say they succeeded with this camera and its fast, accurate auto-focus. Manual focus is a must for professional-style videography, and Canon hits a home run again with the VIXIA HF S21’s precise focus dial. With no lag, the focus dial allows you to get exact results and the perfect desired look. Great rack focuses are nicely achieved with this compact camera. A neat little feature displays the focal length on the LCD for precise and simple focus calculations. Simply stand ten feet from your subject, and dial your focus into 10 feet. If you wish to rack focus between two objects a foot apart, just twist the focus dial and read the numbers. If you like shooting in a narrow depth of field, then you’ll love working with the Canon VIXIA HF S21 and the look when zoomed in fully.

Performance

Low light, bright light, contrasting lighting, fast movements… HD footage shot on the VIXIA HF S21 truly shines on its 3.5″ high-resolution LCD with touch-panel features. Don’t call Fox Studios too quickly, though: once the footage is imported to an editing station, the footage reveals a slightly dull color and low saturation. This is common with Canon’s video series dating back to the L1 and XL1. One solution would lead you to post production editing software, where even an inexperienced editor could simply fix the brightness and contrast. Keep in mind the importance of a crisp image with clean focus vs. rich colors. In post, you are always able to adjust the colors if you have a good base video to work from. If your footage has a soft focus or oversaturated color, then you are stuck, leaving you no ability for corrections in post without deteriorating the footage. Using the clearest, most accurate images leads to the best results in editing, and the Canon VIXIA HF S21 provides exactly that. When adjusting the brightness and contrast, be sure to adjust your levels as well. Fixing the blacks in level options allows you to increase the brightness without creating huge contrasts resulting in heavy shadows.


Feature Rich

Once shooting with this handy little HD camera, you’ll intuitively begin working the switches and dials with ease. Its smooth variable zoom gives you great clarity and distance up to a 10x optical zoom. Pan, tilt, even shake the camera, and Canon’s notorious image stabilizer strikes again. With optical image stabilizer, Canon adds an amazing fluidity to the footage with almost childproof image stabilization, great for handheld videography on the move.

Storage is never an issue with the VIXIA HF S21. Its enormous 64GB internal hard drive holds up to 24 hours of video footage. If that wasn’t enough, the camera comes equipped with not only one, but two SD memory card slots. Switching between internal hard drive and either of its two memory slots is easy and can be automated. Since there are no moving parts in the solid-state memory and no tape to load, you could have this camera out of the bag and recording as fast as your hands can move.

The VIXIA HF S21 sports both 24p and 30p recording modes for achieving that professional “film-look”. With all these features packed into a compact camcorder at this price point you can’t go wrong.

Tech Specs

Video Recording Format: MPEG4-AVC / H.264

Image Sensor: 1/2.6-inch CMOS

Total Pixels: Approx. 8.59 Megapixels

Video Effective Pixels: Approx. 6.01 Megapixels (3264×1840)

Photo Effective Pixels: 16:9 approx. 6.01 Megapixels (3264 x 1840); 4:3 approx. 8.02 Megapixels (3264×2456)

Frame Rate: 60i, native 24p (records at 24p), 24p progressive (records at 60i), 30p progressive (records at 60i)

Maximum Recording Time: 64GB internal Flash drive: recording time based on internal Flash memory only. Greater capacity is possible when SD memory cards are also used (2 card slots). LP (5Mbps) 24 hours 30 minutes; SP (7Mbps) 19 hours 10 minutes; XP+ (12Mbps) 11 hours 30 minutes; FXP (17Mbps) 8 hours 20 minutes – allows 1920×1080 full HD recording; MXP (24Mbps) 5 hours 55 minutes – allows 1920×1080 full HD recording

Flash: Built-in

LCD: 3.5-inch high-resolution touch panel widescreen color LCD (approx. 922,000 dots)

Viewfinder: .27-inch, approx. 123,000 dots

Manual Exposure: Yes

Shutter Speed: Auto/manual

Maximum Shutter Speed: Movie: 1/2000; photo: 1/500

Lens f-Stop: f/1.8 – f/3

Filter Diameter: 58mm

Minimum Illumination: 0.3 lx (Low Light Mode)

Zoom: 10x optical; 200x digital

Focal Length: 6.4 – 64mm

Recording Media: Internal Flash drive (64GB) or SD memory cards (2 slots)

Microphone Terminal: 3.5mm stereo mini-jack

Weight (fully loaded): 1.2 lbs.

Strengths

  • Native 24p
  • Component and HDMI output
  • Ultra-crisp focus
  • Effortless video transfer to computer

Weaknesses

  • Grain in low light
  • Colors are a bit dull

Summary

This camera makes a great little tool for video creators of all levels. Handy, compact and takes great HD footage. A definite buy.

Luke Scherba is a video producer and small business owner.

Canon USA

One Canon Plaza

Lake Success, NY 11042

www.usa.canon.com

$1,399

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